Before I even begin to write about my recent experience at Angkor Wat, I need to give some serious praise to Cambodia. This country has completely captured my heart. I first became entranced with it three years ago, when I was traveling through Southeast Asia with my sister but had to skip Cambodia due to lack of time and finances. I had been reading a book called First They Killed My Father, and if you happen to be totally addicted to Netflix like I am, you probably saw the movie. That said, if you haven’t read the book — do it. It’s way better, no offence to Angelina Jolie.
But this post isn’t about the Cambodian Genocide (though there’s some on that to come). This one dates back much, much further, to the 11th century when Angkor Wat was erected by the Khmer King Suryavarman as a temple to worship the Gods. It’s so extravagant that I had assumed that the King actually lived here, and was surprised to find that this was not the case. Rather, the King would visit with his wives, bathe in the pools (there are four, one to represent each element of earth, wind, fire, and water), and pray. This incredible structure — which is still to this day the largest religious monument in the world — spans several buildings and more than 160 hectares. It took an estimated 37 years to build, and 1000 years to carve all the detail into the stones. That’s entire generations, chipping away at the rock to make a lifetime of work, only to be passed on to the next person, still incomplete.
Angkor Wat took an estimated 37 years to build, and 1000 years to carve all the detail into the stones.
As I’m sure you can imagine, the result is outstanding. I had seen pictures before, but what sat before me just a few days ago was completely different than what I expected. It was far more spread out, far more detailed, and far more accessible than I assumed it would be. I’m so used to areas being off limits to tourists, particularly for the very real threat of rapid deterioration… but Angkor Wat was not like this. Sure, there were areas blocked off so you don’t fall off a wall and break your neck, but all in all you can walk where you want to walk, and touch what you want to touch (though it’s recommended you not rub down the detailed carvings in the stone).
When we first arrived by Tuk Tuk, a tour guide popped up out of nowhere and introduced himself. I was caught a bit off guard and hadn’t thought about whether or not I wanted to spend money on a guide ($30 for one hour), but figured why the hell not because it might be nice to learn something from an actual person and not just Google for once. The decision turned out to have both its perks and downfalls, as the guide was able to tell us some pretty cool stuff (like how there are 8,700 ‘dancers’ on the walls of the temple and the red stone shows where gold and diamonds once were) but also encouraged us to buy things from all of his friends (not so cool).
I figured why the hell not because it might be nice to learn something from an actual person and not just Google for once.
If you decide to visit Angkor Wat for yourself (which I highly recommend), you can get a one-day pass for $37, a three-day pass for $62, or a seven-day pass for $72. A tuk tuk from central Siem Reap will also take you there for about $20 USD return, with a stop at the ticket office along the way. As for whether or not the added cost of the tour guide was worth it… well I’ll just leave that decision up to you. Madison and I only had time (and strength in our legs post-accident) for a one day pass (which is good essentially until sunset, at 5:30 pm), there’s tons to see and explore, and we hardly skimmed the surface. All in all, I would suggest staying in Siem Reap for at least a solid week if you can manage it, and set aside at least one whole day for Angkor Wat. That city is gorgeous and has an unexplainable charm, and Angkor Wat is waiting on the outskirts. I ended up liking it more than Phnom Penh.. but that’s another story to come.