Getting the best from Angkor Wat in 2 days – part 1

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The impressive sight of Angkor Wat

Little known fact about me, my university degree was in Archaeology. I spent three years of my life learning about all things ancient and aspiring to become a combination of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. Obviously since I ended up working in marketing this didn’t quite work out but I still have a love for all things ancient and find it incredibly fascinating to visit remains of past civilisations. Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia is one of those places that has astounded me from afar and I couldn’t wait to explore it.

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Angkor (meaning great capital) was founded and developed by the Khmer people between the 9th and 12th Centuries AD and this vast city was a marvel of ingenuity and architecture. The Khmers are famed for developing reservoir and irrigation techniques that allowed them bountiful harvests and great wealth from trade. They used this wealth to build enormous religious monuments that are still standing today.

 

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The beauty is in the encroachment of the jungle

When most people think of Angkor they envisage the most famous temple of all, Angkor Wat. The largest religious building in the world it is a huge 3.6 km from one side to the other. What people don’t realise is that this is just one small section of a vast complex with distances of up to 50km between some sites. The Khmers built their religious and high status buildings with stone but everything else was made from wood, as the jungle has reclaimed all but the most solid of stone structures we only get a glimpse of the grandeur of this ancient city.

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Macaques enjoying the scenery

To visit the park you can buy passes for 1 day ($20), 3 days ($40) & 7 days ($60). For us it was a no brainer, we knew we wouldn’t enjoy trying to cram everything into one day so we sprang for the 3 day pass. If we saw everything we wanted to in 2 days then we wouldn’t be out of pocket. One great benefit of this pass is you can visit the park in non-consecutive days for a full week. This allowed us to visit one day and then take a day off which meant that we still felt excited when we returned to the park after a break.

 

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One of the 4 enormous reliefs that cover the entire outer cloister of Angkor Wat

We’d get up at 4am to try and avoid the massive crowds and aim to be done by no later than 11am each day before it got blisteringly hot. We didn’t want to get bored or become blasé about what we were seeing and after a few hours every day it was enough for us. We hired an excellent tuk tuk driver through our guesthouse who would navigate the park for us and wait at each site whilst we wandered around.

 

You can of course do more in one day, and if you’re a massive enthusiast find enough things to keep you occupied for a week. Here’s what we did and it worked perfectly for us, we weren’t ‘templed out’ and still felt excited setting off into the park for more.

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Looking back at the main temple from the west entrance – Angkor Wat

 

Day 1

 

Tip -  choose your first temple wisely. As with anything new you are likely to be awed by the first temple you see, whether you like it or not you will become more familiar with the architecture and get used to seeing examples as time goes on. Do your research and make sure you desperately want to see the first one as it will be the one you remember forever.

 

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Ta Prohm at dawn

For me this was Ta Prohm. Most people head to Angkor Wat on their first day and usually for a sunrise. We’re anti-social and hate being amongst crowds at these sort of things so decided to do the exact opposite. I had always been fascinated by Ta Prohm as the jungle has reclaimed so much of it that it has an otherworldly feel to it, it didn’t hurt that I’d seen it featured in Tomb Raider many years before and declared that I had to go there. On the advice of some traveller friends we headed to Ta Prohm at 5am while it was still dark.

 

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One of my favourite shots, we didn’t appreciate the scale until having seen the photo

We walked through the jungle with a torch listening to the sounds of the birds waking up and the monkeys creating havoc. We reached the entrance to the temple and it was absolutely deserted. For a wonderfully quiet 45 minutes Paul and I had one of the most famous temples in Angkor to ourselves. We watched dawn break and explored the temple by torch light, it was a magical experience and one I treasured as I ran around like a kid at Christmas with a big grin on my face.

 

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The entrance to Banteay Kdei

Next up we visited Banteay Kdei and the Srah Srang reservoir. Banteay Kdei “City of the Cells” was supposedly an enormous dwelling for monks built upon a previous Buddhist temple. It had some beautifully detailed carvings and was very quiet since it’s not one of the more famous temples. Adjacent to Banteay Kdei is the incredible 700m x 350m Sran Srang reservoir and a restored landing stage for boats. Viewing this serene body of water and realising that it was dug from hand is incredible.

 

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One of the carvings at The entrance to Banteay Kdei

Our last temple on day 1 was Angkor Wat. We decided to arrive at 7:30am when most of the sunrise crowd has dispersed. We were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to lose people and have areas to yourself. The most impressive thing about Angkor Wat is the scale, to imagine the enormous complex once filled with up to 20,000 people going about their daily business. You enter Angkor Wat via a wide causeway spanning a 200m moat that circles the complex, it’s an incredible sight. We spent a good 3 hours exploring just this temple, it’s so vast that you need this time simply to circle the complex.

 

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The west entrance of Angkor Wat

We headed back to Siem Reap just in time for a late breakfast at our guesthouse and a full day left to enjoy the city. There are some positives to getting up at 4am!

 

You can check out Part 2 f this post hereIf you enjoyed this post please let us know by clicking on the heart or perhaps leaving a comment.

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10 Responses to Getting the best from Angkor Wat in 2 days – part 1

  1. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    “We’re anti-social and hate being amongst crowds…” Ha! Boy do I understand that! As you know, we did the same thing and went to Ta Prohm first, and I think it might have spoiled the rest of our visit for me just a bit because I got greedy and then wanted to have all of the ruins to myself. Whenever anyone else would show up at ones that I felt ought to be abandoned, I would groan and get a bit huffy and hostile. I am definitely not a morning person, but to visit the Angkor complex, those pre-dawn wake-up calls were so worth it!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..In Beitou, Some Like It HotMy Profile

    • Maddie

      It was through your great suggestion that we ended up there first! We were so lucky that there was only one temple where I turned around and walked straight out due to how many people there were. We are such night owls too but it was amazing being up and about as the sun was coming up, what a magical place!

  2. Taking The Big Break

    Such great ideas. And beautiful photos! I have been so excited to go to Angkor Wat since we first talked about Cambodia. And, now I am even more excited. I know we will be in some beautiful places but I feel like I am most excited about the Angkor. And, you have convinced me (we shall see about the rest of my family) how important it is to get up early, and then have a pool to go back to!
    By the way, do you have a recommendation for a place to stay in Siem Reep?
    Love your blog. Thanks for the info!

    • Maddie

      Thanks :-) The worst bit is getting out of bed and then you’re fine, it’s so lovely and cool outside at that time in the morning. I wouldn’t recommend the guesthouse we stayed in but I did here great things about The Golden Temple Villa, not sure if they have a pool though. It really is stunning and worth going to Cambodia just to experience it, bizarrely archeologists have just found another enormous city in the jungle nearby. It’s crazy to think there are still places like that out there.

  3. Pingback: Getting the best from Angkor Wat in 2 days - Part 2 | Two for the Road

  4. Carmel

    We’re good at getting up early for things we WANT to do…definitely seems worth it. Shawn REALLY hates crowds. If it’s too hot and I don’t feel well, I am definitely in that same boat. This looks amazing.
    Carmel recently posted..BILINGUAL SUMMERMy Profile

    • Maddie

      I get really cranky when it’s hot and we’ve been walking around for ages so it was a win win. It is completely worth it!

  5. mike

    great write up – just posted mine with pictures here:
    http://www.igobyplane.com/2014/03/23/angkor-archaeological-park/

    love some of the effects you applied to yours!
    mike recently posted..The Greatest Car Rental on the Planet (Nürburgring)My Profile

  6. borgyv

    Hi,
    Nice write up and we (my husbnd+2kids) will be at angkor this dec, will follow your route. Do you thinks my 3yo.and 2yo can catch up with all the walking? Btw, is a map included with tickets? Thanks

    • Maddie

      Thanks :-) From my experience with kids that age, you would definitely need to either cut some stuff out or stretch it over 3 days. The distances between and within the temples are pretty big – it was taking us a while to walk around them all and we’re pretty speedy walkers.The good thing about hiring a tuk tuk is that you can get them to stop anywhere so if the kids get tired you can just keep on driving.

      I don’t remember getting a map but I think we managed to find one when we were in Siem Riep. Last thing to remember is that this info is a year old now, ticket options/prices may have changed.

      Have a great trip!

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