I’m sure you’ve heard of Angkor Wat often, even though you’ve never visited Cambodia or any other country in Southeast Asia. And even if you haven’t even heard of this place, you’ve surely seen some pictures online, in travel magazines, in documentaries; even if Angkor Wat’s name doesn’t sound at all sure that you identify some of the images that we attach in this post because you’ve seen it in some other occasion.
The builders of Angkor Wat: the Khmer empire
The Khmer (Khmer) Empire was the predecessor state of modern Cambodia and builder of Angkor Wat. It was a Hindu-Buddhist empire that controlled much of Southeast Asia for centuries. The empire, which arose from the merger of the ancient kingdoms of Funan and Chenla, during certain periods ruled and/or controlled most of continental Southeast Asia and parts of southern China, extending from the northern tip of the Indochina peninsula to the modern Chinese province of Yunnan, and from Vietnam in the east to the coast of the Andaman Sea to the west (present-day Myanmar). From the 14th century onwards, the Khmer empire began to suffer an unstoppable decline due to the progressive conversion of its population from Hinduism to Buddhism, internal revolts, invasions, epidemics (the Black Death) and the ecological and environmental collapse of the environment.
Angkor Wat is -attention to data- the largest religious monumental complex in the world. Originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire (Khmer in its original name), it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple by the end of the 12th century as the empire’s population changed its form of worship. Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the mountain temple and the subsequent temple design with galleries. After the abandonment of the city, the great majority of it remained hidden under the jungle, which slowly but inexorably seized all that territory. Only one of the temples was permanently inhabited by Buddhist monks. Although Angkor Wat had always been known, Angkor Wat’s fame reached the West in the 19th century, when the French naturalist Henri Mouhot visited the area during an expedition.
Great, very big
Angkor Wat’s extension is enormous. We are talking about a total area of 82 hectares, or 114 football fields. We therefore recommend that if you visit it you do not do it in a single day as it will only give you time to see a very small part of its total area. The architectural complex is made up of more than 1000 temples, so prepare well for the visit to go to the most interesting ones.
How to get to Angkor Wat
The closest town to Angkor Wat is Siem Reap. Getting to Siem Reap is easy with an internal flight from any airport in one of the neighbouring countries or by bus from Bangkok, Chiang Mai and most major cities in Southeast Asia. Siem Reap is also a very touristy city (partly thanks to Angkor Wat himself) so you can take the opportunity to visit the city and its surroundings when you are there. To visit Angkor Wat you should also arrange your accommodation in Siem Reap itself, as the monumental complex is just 7 kilometres from the city. The best option to get to Angkor Wat, for price and comfort, is the TukTuk: it will pick you up at the same hotel and you can agree the price in advance to avoid surprises in the rate. If you have rented a car or motorbike during your trip, the tour will take you a mere 10 or 15 minutes from Siem Reap, depending on the exact area where you are.
How to visit Angkor Wat
If you want to visit Angkor Wat effectively, there is only one solution: plan ahead. Planning is the key to not wasting time or money, because Angkor Wat has several peculiarities:
- It is extremely large: the temples are separated from each other at a distance of kilometres, surrounded by moats that make it necessary to make detours and distanced by a lot of jungle, which means that each movement within the enclosure implies a considerable investment of time.
- The ticket is not exactly cheap: at 2019 prices the one-day ticket costs 37 dollars. There are ticket packs for three or more days, reducing the daily price as we contract more days than once.
- There are more than 1000 temples to visit: so it is a great idea to program and decide in advance which ones we want to see and in what order to optimize as much as possible each movement and time of visit.
- Learn before you arrive: we are in front of the largest religious complex on Earth, so to appreciate and value what you have before you is a good idea to read and learn about it in advance to understand what we see the first time we have it in front.
- If you want to go on safe : hire a guide or a guided tour in group. The guide will help you to understand and value each of the buildings you visit.
Times of Angkor Wat
The complex is open every day from 5.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. Since many people stay in the complex to watch the sunset, those responsible sometimes extend the closing time until the sun has disappeared from the horizon, especially during the months in which the days are longer.
Dawn in Angkor Wat
The opening time also allows you to see the sunrise from the enclosure, with the dark silhouette of the temples drawing on the orange and golden morning sky. Early morning is also recommended if you want to see how the animal life in the area wakes up: listen to the morning song of the birds flooding the whole environment with their melodies or see the monkeys that go to drink water to the river as soon as they wake up. The sunrise in Angkor Wat requires a good early morning (calculate leaving your hotel around 4:30 am) but will allow you to enjoy breathtaking views that if you are a lover of photography you can not miss. Any simple application for your smartphone or a quick query on Google will allow you to know the exact time that dawns in Angkor Wat the specific day in which you are there to prepare the move.
To simplify things for visitors, there are two pre-designed circuits, one longer and the other shorter, which allow you to see the main monumental complexes of the enclosure.
Angkor Wat short circuit
It is 18 kilometers long, visiting the main temples of the enclosure, such as Angkor Wat, Elephants Terrace, Ta Prohm and Bayon. You will also visit many other secondary temples
Long circle of Angkor Wat
It has about 28 kilometers of travel and allows you to visit those temples that are also relevant but are far from the nerve center of the area as Neak Pean or Pra Khan.
Move within Angkor Wat
There are several ways to cover the vast territory that covers the monumental complex of Angkor Wat. As you can guess from what you read in the previous section, 18 kilometres (short circuit) or 28 kilometres (long circuit) on foot is impossible. That’s why all visitors to Angkor Wat move on wheels, motorized or not. You have the following options to move within the enclosure.
It is the best option both in terms of displacement and in quantity and quality of the information we can obtain about the complex. Normally the private tours include the displacements, bottles of water for the group and the guide who will explain us the details and the history of Angkor Wat. Contact us to organize a customized tour.
If you are a large group, the Tuk-Tuk is the best way to get around inside the venue, as each of you will end up paying a fairly competitive price for all-day travel. The Tuk-Tuks don’t normally act as a guide and they only act as “taxis” for you.
It’s the most expensive option by far. You pay for an air-conditioned car and driver in Angkor Wat and almost anywhere in the world.
If you are brave and athletic and in shape the bicycle is an option to consider. Renting a bicycle is by far the most economical option you will find. In a world increasingly concerned about the environment bicycles are an increasingly common option for many visitors. However, if you are going to move around on a bicycle, bring enough water and food because you are going to sweat and spend a good handful of calories that day.
Angkor Wat has been accessible on your own motorcycle for some years now. It is the most agile and fun option if you ride well on two wheels.
The main temples in Angkor Wat
There are about 1,000 temples (yes, you read it right, 1,000) in the compound. However, the main ones are the following.
The King of the complex and the most photographed silhouette. It is the largest religious building in the world. Today there are still Buddhist monks in this temple and it is preserved in good condition as it has not been swallowed by the jungle like many other temples in Angkor.
Angkor Thom is not a temple in itself but an intramural city, with several temples inside. Inside Angkor Thom are several of the most famous temples of the enclosure, which we will see below.
This is the most relevant place of worship within the city of Angkor Thom. The faces perfectly carved in stone are the most characteristic feature of this temple. You will find more than 200 of them.
Ta Prohm is the temple that best shows the consequences of the abandonment of Angkor Wat by its inhabitants and how the jungle recovered the territory that humans had taken from it. The roots of the trees have engulfed Ta Prohm creating a fusion of nature and human structures of impressive beauty and uniqueness. In fact, the Ta Prohm temple was the setting for the shooting of Tomb Raider’s first film.
Baphuon is a pyramid-shaped temple that can be climbed to its top to enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding area at 25 meters high.
Still within the walled city of Angkor Thom we find the Elephant Terrace, a terrace or elevated platform from which Emperor Jayavarman could observe the return of his army after a battle from which he had emerged victorious. Its name comes from the sculpted elephants found in columns and bas-reliefs.
It is one of the temples that has tried least to recover its original appearance and therefore have left the trees that grow inside almost intact with respect to the day it was found. It is located to the northwest of the aforementioned citadel of Angkor Thom and Preah Khan was an important organizational center, with many employees and service personnel living in the vicinity.
Preu Rup is important because it is a Hindu temple within the Angkor Wat complex, whose temples were gradually transformed into Buddhism. The temple has a central pyramid and several lateral and secondary pyramids and we can see many details, engravings and structures explicitly dedicated to Hinduism.
Other tips for an optimal visit
- Wear comfortable clothes and bambas.
- Prepare water and if you want to save some money bring food with you. Inside the complex you will find restaurants but they are a bit more expensive than the ones in the surrounding area.
- The ticket is personal and non-transferable (in fact you get a photo when you buy it), so avoid at all costs resale offers and the like outside the usual channels: they will be scams.
- Try to cover your shoulders (don’t wear tank tops) and don’t wear shorts, there is a dress code for entering temples and some guards are totally inflexible with non-compliance.
- Again we recommend a private tour for a quality visit with first hand information from a local guide. You can find more information about our daily tours at Onemoredestination.
- 1 How to visit and what to see in the temples of Angkor
- 1.1 The builders of Angkor Wat: the Khmer empire
- 1.2 How to get to Angkor Wat
- 1.3 How to visit Angkor Wat
- 1.4 The main temples in Angkor Wat
- 1.5 Angkor Wat
- 1.6 Other tips for an optimal visit
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