Watching sunrise at Angkor Wat has always been a bucket list goal of mine. Without consciously ever working towards it, it has just always been one of those things I’ve wanted to do. Something that marks your travel experiences really. While I was living in Singapore, the perfect opportunity arose for me to visit this bucket list milestone.
What is Angkor Wat?
Angkor Wat is the most renowned temple that sits in the Angkor temple complex in Cambodia. It is part of Cambodia’s World Heritage of Temples and signified as a UNESCO heritage site. The Angkor temple complex is the largest religious monument in the world measuring up to 400 km². The archaeological remains represents the different capitals of the Khmer (pronounced Kh-my) Empire, ranging from the 9th to the 15th century. The Archaeological site became more familiar to the masses after Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Angkor Wat was built by King Suryavaman II, in honour of the Hindu god Vishnu.
The three most well known temples in the Angkor Archaeological Site are Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm (from the Tomb Raider film).
Facing west, Angkor Wat is the most iconic temple in the Angkor Archaeological temple complex. It was both capital city and temple. King Suryavaman II built the Hindu temple around 1112-1152. The temple is inspired by Mt Meru, an important mountain in Hindu literature. It features a center tower and is surrounded by an impressive moat.
Angkor Thom, was a city complex was built by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th Century. Covering 360 acres, it hosts a number of temples. Two of the temples frequented often by tourists are Bayon temple and Baphuon. Bayon temple is a Buddhist temple, marked by its many smiling faces. On the other hand, Baphuon is a Hindu temple, recognised by its pyramidal structure. Climb to the top for beautiful views of the ground.
Built in the 12th century, Ta Prohm is a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII. It is a perfect example of the force of mother nature. This is where you will witness jungle tree roots clambering over stone blocks to claim back the land it once had.
There is obviously a great more detail and depth I could share with you on the Angkor Temple Complex and its history, however this guide is aimed to be a taster, preparing you for your journey.
You will need to purchase a ticket to the archaeological park to visit Angkor Wat. Passes are available for 1 full day ($37 USD), 3 full days ($62 USD) or a 7 day pass ($72 USD) [as of Jan 2017]. However, visitors must use passes on consecutive days. In addition, entrance tickets also include your photo, taken on the day. Although the queues are long, they move fast. It is advised that you do not lose your ticket as you will have to show it to enter the temples. For more information about ticket entrance to Angkor, click here.
There are many tours available for Angkor Wat and it is worth shopping around. I used TripAdvisor to get in touch with a few guides and came back with ‘Angkor Guide Sam‘ as the winner. Reason being he provided what I wanted in a tour at a very reasonable price ($70 USD for two people in a clean, air-conditioned car!). You can find out more about the tour we booked here, and read my review on TripAdvisor here. If you do go with ‘Angkor Guide Sam‘, ask for Phanna as your tour guide. The man takes amazing photos and always managed to find the least crowded spots for us, which really is what you want at such a crowded tourist spot. The sunrise tour will start at 4:45 am (in January) and end around 3pm. Definitely worth the early start!
Travel tips for Angkor Wat
How many days do you need:
Planning a trip to Angkor really depends on how long you wanted to spend visiting the archaeological site. A 2-3 day trip would suit those wanting to dip their toes into the temple complex. This would allow you the full day to tour Angkor and a day rest. We visited Angkor over a weekend. However, I would recommend 3-4 full days to enjoy Angkor Wat and Siem Reap properly.
How to get there:
The Angkor Temple Complex is in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Many major Asian cities provide flights to Siem Reap. Budget airlines such as Jetstar, AirAsia, Silk Air, Cambodia Angkor Air and Vietnam Airlines also fly to Siem Reap, amongst many others.
Cambodian visa: Everyone needs a visa to enter Cambodia. Therefore it is not necessary to process your visa prior to arrival. Bring a passport sized photo of you and $30 USD cash per person/visa. More information about the Cambodian visa can be found here. We completed our visa upon arrival. They even allowed us to pay in Singapore dollars cash.
Where to stay:
There are three main areas for travellers to stay while visiting Siem Reap. Firstly, for those wanting to be close to nightlife, the Angkor Night Market is a great spot. It is famous for Pub Street, the center of all action. Across the river from Night Market is Siem Reap Riverside. This area is a little bit quieter with access to nice restaurants and the art market. Finally, there’s Charles de Gaulle Boulevard. This area features bigger hotels and is only a tuk tuk ride away from the night market. This area is better suited for those wanting to relax at their hotel.
While there are no hotels withing walking distance of the Angkor complex, most tours offer pick ups/drop offs from hotels. We stayed at the Silk D’Angkor Boutique Hotel on Charles de Gaulle Boulevard. Tuk tuk into town cost $2 USD one way and only 5-10mins away.
Here are some useful tips before you go!
- Carry US dollars. However, notes must not have rips as Cambodians do not accept ripped notes.
- The Archaelogical site is huge. You cannot walk it (and wouldn’t want to in the heat). Hire a driver, tuk tuk, or cycle.
- Temple etiquette: Angkor is a religious site and therefore tourists are reminded to be respectful when visiting the grounds. Visitors must dress modestly, with men and women covering shoulders and knees.
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