“The City of Temples”
Angkor Wat is a palace complex, a collection of temples that’s quite clearly falling apart, and hands down my favourite archaeological site.
It is, according to the almighty Wikipedia, the largest religious monument in the world that began as a Hindu site, and ended as a Buddhist one.
It is not just one or two complex, and it’s not a pseudo-country like Vatican City is – it does have the size of a big ancient city and a modern small city!
Most tourists opt for a “tok-tok” driver (sort of like your private taxi without the luxury) and usually a three-day ticket. You negotiate the price for the former, and it’s up to you to make your money’s worth with the latter. Whilst some may want to observe even a tiny spot for hours, it is entirely possible to rush through the whole town in half a day.
…Given that you have a very early start, that is. And you do want an early start. It’s not because it’s terribly far from Siem Reap, the wonderful city you’d be staying at; it’s not to avoid the tourist traffic; it’s because Cambodia, and Angkor Wat especially, is incredibly hot.
Look! It’s the Face of
Boe a Buddha!
Since it’s so seriously tropical with little wind, one has no choice but to rise at 5am and retire before the blistering sun reaches its peak power after noon. A fan of some kind is highly recommended and water is essential.
Although of course nothing is really essential, since you can quite easily buy stuff on site. There are many, many Cambodians – many children – selling different things, trying to speak to you in English (“buy sumsing” is code for “would you like to buy something?”) or Mandarin. They sell, apart from the essentials and souvenirs, musical instruments. Presumably traditional and handmade. You can use US dollars there no problem (and when I was there, most things seemed to cost only a dollar each), but if you require change, you may get some Cambodian money back, which is not ideal unless you’re a collector.
One thing exorbitantly cool and unique about Cambodia is that you practically have unrestricted access to everything.
Angkor Wat is certainly a major tourist attraction, but Cambodia still isn’t that popular on a global scale, or at least it wasn’t when I went, so you get lots of space to yourself.
What’s even cooler, despite the heat, is the fact that you can hardly see any guards of any kind there. Even though that’s not necessarily good from the point of view of preserving the valuable, priceless world heritage site, as an individual tourist, hopefully a responsible one, it’s totally possible for you to just walk into everything and even to take a piece of the temples as a souvenir (I’m not endorsing this).
As somewhat of a historian, and self-proclaimed historical sites lover, I’d discourage you from actually taking a piece of the building home. Many of the buildings are already substantially damaged with only temporary fixes apparently funded by the Chinese or something, and I do think we all have the responsibility to preserve it for our future genrations to appreciate the palaces.
Nevertheless, there’s perhaps a balance here. Many of the stones that made up the buildings have fallen, and more than a few monuments have been heavily weathered. It won’t be rare for you to see a tiny piece of weathered rock on the path somewhere, and if you insist, I guess that’s the lesser evil, as it’s at the same time a part of Angkor Wat, but may not actually have been a part of the structures.
It’s illegal though, I think.
Apart from the grand buildings, something I didn’t capture was the fine patterns on some of the walls. True story: a single white male tourist stood for three hours looking at one brick.
As its size is comparable to an actual city, it may not be possible for you to walk to all the different sites. Your tok-tok driver will need to negotiate with you as to when to meet you again to take you to which part of the ancient municipality. They don’t necessarily speak English but you should be able to communicate simple messages with the help of body language. We did not use Google Translate or learn any of the local language,
Speaking of that, we were quite worried at one point – we were supposed to meet the driver at 1pm but he wasn’t waiting for us. I think we waited for more than an hour before he showed up, apologizing, saying he was at a wedding or something. It was OK, we weren’t mad or anything. Our meeting point was outside of a restaurant anyway, so it was honestly just the heat and the mosquitos. In any case, it was some much needed rest.
Very interesting sign. If you pay close attention to the blue ones, you can see one of them being a t-shirt. Can you guess what it means?
Yes, it means you are obliged to put a shirt on. And it’s actually a much needed reminder. On the site, you will most definitely see some guys, most likely young white
boys adults walking around shirtless. Remember, it’s boiling there! And white tourists do seem to have the tendency to walk around topless – I’ve seen many in the steaming Mayan sites in Mexico.
And once again I think this is a genuine legal requirement. There were two French girls posing for nude photos (not quite the same thing, I concede) and were fined or jailed or something. It’s still a religious site after all, even though the country’s monarch may be a
raging closeted homosexual (it’s not an insult, Your Majesty, it’s a marvellous thing to be gay, regardless of what your subjects think!), it doesn’t mean the country is particularly open-minded socially speaking.
If you want, you can conduct other activities such as riding an elephant. But as Harvard’s Humanitarian of the Year Grammy winner de facto queen of Barbados Rihanna found out, it’s not always an ethical thing to do, as the animals may have suffered quite a bit.
I didn’t do it (though I might’ve done in Thailand in the past) and I don’t think you should, just to be on the side of probably being moral.
Furthermore, there’s the smaller complex where honorary dame, United Nations Special Envoy Angelina Jolie filmed one of her more famous films. You can look it up, it’s a rather nice temple, especially with the big tree eating it up with its massive, visible roots. Promise.
Not to mention there are several raised areas, mostly artificial, for you to climb up and look at the brilliant architecture. Keep in mind though, nothing is well-maintained in Angkor Wat and as a result, climbing anything could be dangerous.
In addition to the major structures, there are smaller, separated temples/palaces that are real nice to look at. You may even see some exhibition somewhere on site.
One last thing – you will see more than a few vendors attempting to do business with you. Some of them are very small children and so they could hide somewhere and scare you (children need to have fun). Oh, and it’s never too early to get there. The sun is up and it’s not right next to the city so 5am is the perfect time.
The hotels are incredible though! So you may want to stay in the city for a bit longer if only to enjoy your place.