The first time I saw something about Cambodia was through the famous movie stared by Angelina Jolie (my muse <3 ) – Tomb Raider-Lara Croft (maybe most of us hehe) – I was so fascinated by the mystery of those temples that I decided that this would be my first destination when I go to Asia. After 15 years that goal became true and I cannot describe how impressive it is to see it in real life!
VISITING THE TEMPLES
Most of the temples are located in Siem Reap, a city that from the capital Phnom Penh is 5 hours away by bus. The tempels are a short travel outside of the city, therefore, the best option to visit them would be by taking a tuk-tuk (also the most fun an educative option we discovered later). Many people decide to do this journey by bike but with the heat and short time, I do not recommend that. Time for me is valuable and as the temples are far from each other, it takes a big amount of time to get around.
As researching about the temples can be very overwhelming because there are so many of them, below I made what I call a Marathon of temples to see in three days. Of course, we couldn’t see all of them but I can proudly say we cover a big amount of them (again, thanks to our tuk-tuk guy!), but we still have a feeling of attraction to this place to discover it further and indulge in its beauty. I’m sure you will feel the same after being there!
Wake up, take a quick breakfast and GO! As I mentioned before, get yourself a Tuk-Tuk to help you throughout the Gran Circuit- where most of the temples are situated. The best is to buy the ticket pass for 3 days as it’s cheaper because you will regret to go less than 3 days.
Openings times: 8am to 3pm Entrance fee: 3 Days $ 40 – 2 Days $30 – 1 Day $20
Hiring a Tuk Tuk
Many Tuk tuk drivers are open to be hired exclusively for a day or multiple days wich will mean: you pay a X amount for the day and they bring you to the place you want to eat or visit while they wait for you to finish an continue the journey. This saves you the hassle of waiting an searching for a tuktuk an gives you a solid price. We were very happy that we decided to do this as our tuktuk driver showed up at our appartmen everyday at the scheduled time bringing a full box of cold water for our day – saved us a lot of stress!
Our Tuk tuk Driver (aka Tour Guide): Mean Heang!
Tel: +85599366219 / +85592849548
Where the magic starts! These are the kind of gates you will be going into to start your temples journey.
Insiders tip: Temples are divided by being Hindu or Buddhist and sometimes even both as each ruler of the time would adopt one of these religious consequently destroying all from the old religion and building over it.
Preah Khan temple was built in the 12th century and is one of the largest complexes at Angkor. This temple is a perfect fusion of Hinduism and Buddhism elements, the eastern entrance being dedicated to Mahayana Buddhism, therefore, equal-sized doors while the Hinduism entrance is dedicated to the three Hindu gods: Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu with smaller doors as the Hinduism inquiry.
PREAH NEAK POAN
Preah Neak Poan or also known as The Fortune of the Kingdom – is currently a Buddhist temple, (yep it was Hindu before), that has a large square pool surrounded by four smaller ones with a circular island in the middle. This lake was famous for its miracle healings properties and as the source of four great rivers issuing from the mouths of a lion, an elephant, an ox and a horse.
Also known as the famous temple of Tomb Raider – there is always a queue to make a picture with this exact tree below! This temple was chosen by the archaeologists to be left in ‘nature state’ as an example of how most of Angkor looked on its discovery in the 19th century. Here is clear the nature battle against the man work trying to get its territory back by growing around the temples sometimes even swallowing them. Partly overgrown and gently declining, Ta Prohm is definitely one of my favorites to visit!
The imposing brick towers of this temple dominate the surrounding plain, which makes for a great upper terrace pick – aka insta worthy! Prae Roup means “Turning the body”, just don’t ask me why as guides already loose an amount of time trying to explain it. What I can say is that we learned it is a Hindu temple made to honor the god Shiva, therefore considered a female temple.
BAYON TEMPLE (Angkor Thom)
The last temple to be built in Angkor is easy to catch, the Bayon Temple, for its astonishing giant faces. Angkor Thom took monumental to a whole new level! The temple is extremely complex both in terms of structure and meaning. It was built in parts after the Chams invaded whereas the King Jayavarman decided that his home would never again be vulnerable to any thief, building a huge moat around it.
Visiting this temple was ravishing and so much fun because most of the time I seat on each window trying to find a good spot so I could touch mine nose with one of the statues! (super instaworthy, again!).
We close the second day by visiting these two temples which are one in front of the other. Banteay Kdei is a little temple compared to the others that we saw that day and if I may say, a smaller version of Ta Prohm and Preah Khan in the look hence easier to explore!
And the other temple – Srah Srang is frequently visited to check the sunrise, it offers a beautiful, tranquil resting place.
ANGKOR WAT – And The Sunrise
Angkor Wat is the biggest temple and the most expected to see. Some might say it’s the best one, therefore, I left it for last so we don’t get disappointed when seeing the rest. The truth is there is no way to be disappointed, each temple has its own beauty. Angkor Wat is the heart and soul of Cambodia, hence I really enjoyed to leave it for last as a memorable goodbye.
They say there are just two moments in the year that are good to behold the sunrise in Angkor Wat, the time I went was none of them but still it felt magical for me to have that moment of peace and realization of how great life is.
Be aware that is normal that the tuk-tuk charged an extra fee for going early in the morning to check the sunrise.
After Angkor Wat…
After checking the sunrise and the interior of the Angkor Wat we dedicated the rest of the day to check the temples around this area. As we were already aware of the immensity of this site it is difficult to classify all of the temples, so just enjoy the time there and contemplate as much as you can!
It is true when they say photos can’t capture the true beauty of a place. Cambodia is indescribable you have to go and experience it!