“At the center of the Khmer kingdom rises a golden tower, the Bayon, flanked by more than 20 smaller towers and several 100 stone chambers. On the eastern side is a golden bridge guarded by two lions of gold, one on each side, with 8 golden Buddhas spaced along the stone chambers.”
– Zhou Daguan
Cambodia was one of my “first list items”. The first countries I knew I wanted to see when I started planning this trip. Angkor Wat had, like Petra, been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember. Turned out Angkor Wat was not to be my favourite temple after all though…
I took a bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. My hostel arranged for buses everywhere, like so many other hostels and hotels in Cambodia’s capital these days. A miniva picked me and several others up in the morning and drove us to another bus (where you can only hope your luggage gets transferred properly because sh*t happens quickly) and the they speed you towards your destination (hopefully with a toilet break or two). I realized halfway to Siem Reap that in my haste to checkout I still had my hostel locker key in my pocket… Nothing to be done for that really, no one is sympathetic to such things in Asia and Africa. Unless the hostel owner is a relative no one will take responsibility for returning the key. They might take it off you, but it wont reach home ever again. So I had this key with me trying to figure out a way to return it until I finally gave up and threw it away. (Sorry, Longlin Hostel! Don’t hate me!)
Reaching Siem Reap we were immediately swarmed by tuktuk drivers who wanted to take us to our hotels for fees as varied as a rock stars sex partners… I ended up with a dude who quoted pretty much what I heard it was -supposed to cost- (always a good idea to research this beforehand) and I went with him. He dropped me off at my hotel safely and quickly enough and asked if I wanted to see the temples (because why else was I there, really). He then went on to offer to be my driver for the day and quoted exactly what I had checked that that should cost so I agreed and told him I’d meet him the next morning.
He showed up outside my hotel and drove me around the whole day for $15 (+ $5 I tipped him extra because he was a funny, polite and awesome guy who deserved it).
Now, you can’t just “go see the temples”. You can’t even buy entrance tickets AT the actual place the temples are. You have to go to a specific building that’s quite a bit out of the center of Siem Reap (at least it’s on the way TO Angkor Wat), where there are about 65 million other tourists at any given time, so get up early or buy the ticket the day before. I got an early start and my trusty tuktuk driver took me to the ticket salesplace. I queued for only half an eternity before getting my ticket. You can buy tickets valid for 1 day, 3 days or 7 days (the full week ticket gets laminated for durability).
- 1 day at US$ 37
- 3 days at US$ 62
- 7 days at US$ 72
After paying they take your photo because this goes on the actual ticket, then they print it immediately and you’re good to go.
FUN FACT: ATM’s in Cambodia give you US dollars and you can (of course) pay with US dollars everywhere. They give you change in US dollars, except if they need to give you 1 dollar or less, then they give you Cambodian Riel. So it’s perfectly normal to receive 15 dollar in US and then the 75 cents in Riel
ANGKOR THOM AND BAYON TEMPLE
My favourite of the temples I visited was my first one. The temple with the many faces adorning the walls. The Bayon temple features a sea of over 200 massive stone faces looking in all direction. Each face has an enigmatic smile, an instantly recognizable image of Angkor, as familiar as Angkor Wat itself. In fact, many people assume that the faces are an integral part of Angkor Wat but it stands in fact at the center of Angkor Thom.
It was built in the 12th century by King Jayavarman VII as part of a massive expansion of his capital Angkor Thom, the Bayon is deliberately built at the exact center of the royal city. The Bayon is the only state temple at Angkor built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to the Buddha. Following Jayavarman’s death, it was modified and augmented by later Hindu and Theravada Buddhist kings in accordance with their own religious beliefs.
Zhou Daguan was a Chinese diplomat who stayed at Angkor in 1296-1297. He gives us the only first-hand account of the splendor of Angkor Thom and the Bayon of olden days. This was when the temples were still covered in gold, I would have loved to see that. He wrote: “At the center of the Khmer kingdom rises a golden tower, the Bayon, flanked by more than 20 smaller towers and several 100 stone chambers. On the eastern side is a golden bridge guarded by two lions of gold, one on each side, with 8 golden Buddhas spaced along the stone chambers.”
I was in awe of the Bayon. The faces, the relieffs, the carvings – I spent an inordinate amount of time there, but I didn’t regret it, even if it ate into the time I allocated to the rest. (Not because of my driver, he had explained emphatically that he had all day, but I would find that my energy drained towards the end). The Bayon temple has such an atmosphere about it, even with all the tourists milling about it, if you ever get to it, be sure to not rush to “get to the famous Angkor Wat”. Bayon deserves your time.
In between all the famous temples there are several other, lesser known, but equally impressive temples, buildings, monuments etc. I can understand why they have 3-days passes available for purchase. I went for a 1 day pass and felt that was enough to be honest. I mean, I loved the whole day I spent there, but I was pretty done and ready to go home at 5pm to be honest.
VARIOUS TEMPLES BETWEEN BAYON AND TA PROHM
TA PROHM (BECAUSE TOMB RAIDER YO!)
Ta Prohm: “Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm is in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples with visitors. UNESCO inscribed Ta Prohm on the World Heritage List in 1992. Today, it is one of the most visited complexes in Cambodia’s Angkor region.”
Those trees were insane. It was legitimately crazy seeing how they grew out of and into the stone and buildings around them. They reminded me a little of the petrified forest in Khorixas, Namibia, but more majestic and still alive. This is a temple you definitely need to see if you’re heading to Siem Reap.
ANGKOR WAT (BECAUSE THAT’S WHY I WAS THERE, BUTITTURNEDOUTNOTTOBEMYFAVOURITE OMG)
To get to Angkor Wat you have to traverse a floating bridge. The bouncy nature of this surprised me and I nearly lost my footing (mostly because I am extremely clumsy), but I made it safely to the other side along with about 7 billion other tourists.
Angkor Wat (Khmer for “Capital Temple”) itself is a temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world. It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple of god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century. It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century and has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag. Angkor Wat is considered Cambodia’s prime attraction for visitors, admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.
Some fun stuff I remember clearly from my “day of templing” was A) getting so lost around Ta Prohm… I think it might have been the heat, but that place was confusing and we were randomly guided around by guards who probably tried to create a steady flow out of the visitors, moving in the same direction, but it asn’t exactly intuitive… and B) The “Brotherhood of the Travelling Pants” *lol* The three tourist guys who all had the same pants #BuyTwoGetOneFree ;-D I first saw them at Ta Prohm, then again in the sacred temple area of Angkor Wat ❤