A Magical Adventure Exploring Angkor Wat
Let me first explain, for all of those who didn’t know me as a child, how much I was in love with ancient history, temples, and kick butt heroic women. Specifically, Xena and Lara Croft. I was so obsessed with them as a kid, I collected tons of figurines (which I still have in their original boxes), cards, shirts, accessories, calendars, and so much more merch. I would study ancient mythology and read all kinds of books on temples and history. I was a complete geek about that stuff! So for ages I would fantasize about visiting those ancient sites and standing where those heroins once stood. Ok, I know it was fiction, but still, I can dream can’t I? Anyway, one in particular that always stood out to me was the “Tomb Raider Temple” in the city of Angkor.
The name Angkor Wat refers to the entire temple complex, not just the main temple you most commonly see in pictures. The entire complex is enormous at about 500 acres! It’s impossible to visit all the temples in one day, even three days is difficult.
As I grew older, I put away those toys but not the dream of visiting the ancient site one day. That day finally came when I decided to take a detour on my trip in Thailand and hop over to the adjacent country, Cambodia. The plane ride from Bangkok was quick and I landed in Siem Reap’s airport. I stayed in a cozy little hostel in the heart of the city where pretty much everything was in walking distance. With only three days total in Siem Reap, I knew I wouldn’t be spending much time in the room.
The first evening, after landing, I spent exploring the main tourist area. Filled with street food, shops, tattoo parlors, bars, restaurants and lots of foot massage places. I would soon come to find out why everyone was getting foot massages! The night market with lots of food and souvenirs was entertaining. I went to bed early because I knew I had a very long day ahead of me. I really only had time for one full day of sightseeing in Angkor to fit in as many temples as I could. I’m not a huge fan of organized tours. They are great for some folks, but I like the freedom to spend as much or as little time in one spot as I want. There is also an option to rent a bicycle and cycle to and around the temples, with limited time though, I needed a faster option.
Tuk tuk’s were my answer. I hired a driver of a tuk tuk to take me to the temples. He was a local and said he would drop me off and pick me up in certain locations around the temple complex so I could get around but still explore on my own. It was perfect! He even knew where to get the best lunch in the area. I wanted to stay for the sunset and I would then need to leave in the dark, which was another reason I didn’t want to chance cycling on dirt roads with no street lights.
I woke up before dawn to meet my driver, and we set off to the temple complex. The entrance to buy your tickets is in a different location than the temples themselves, so be sure you leave in plenty of time to wait in line for your ticket. It does get crowded.
The whole ride there was exciting. All I kept thinking was, “I’m finally going to see it! The Tomb Raider Temple! Finally!” I couldn’t tell you how long the drive was because I was just too dang excited to think about anything else. The first temple was the main complex, with the tall spires. I stood there for a few moments, just staring. The sun was behind the temple, so from my view it was a silhouette. It was magical.
Walking through the complex (despite the congestion of tourists) was amazing. There were ancient carvings and so many rooms within in each temple. Not to mention tons of stairs. It was also very hot (don’t forget to bring water with you). Unfortunately, I couldn’t stroll around carelessly for too long, I had little time and lots to see. The main temples I visited were Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Prohm and few smaller ones.
The “Tomb Raider” temple was my favorite, of course! I especially loved that they left so much of the fallen pieces and nature that had grown around the temples alone. Fallen rocks and giant trees overtake parts of the temple walls. It’s quite marvelous to see in real life.
I should mention, that inside some of the temples there are alters with monks that will say a prayer and give bracelets for a small donation. TBH, I had no idea what they were chanting, but I did give a donation in appreciation of their time.
The local dishes were not to my liking. There was nothing wrong with them, except they were just a bit too bland for me. I like spicy and considering I had just come from eating Thai food everyday, I was disappointed. Still, after hours of walking in the heat, it was nice to take a break in the shade for some rest.
Then it was more and more walking from temple to temple. I now understood the purpose of all those foot massage parlors! I also understood why some other tourists would talk about being “templeted out”. So my suggestion...don’t try to fit it all in just one day! Many suggest three or five days and you can purchase a pass for several days too.
My favorite time of day now came as the sun was starting to set. Remember, how I mentioned my tuk tuk driver was so helpful...well he also knew a good spot to catch the sunset. You see, most tourists go to the main complex to see the sunset and sunrise, but it becomes so crowded that it really just isn’t a great view. My driver suggested a different temple, Takeo, where you can see a similar view of the sunset but way less people around. I climbed to the top of that temple and waited for the magical time to come. The backdrop was very pretty with the towers and trees on the horizon.
I have seen the Lost City with my very own eyes, explored it’s complex alcoves, projected myself to another time, said some prayers in complete gratification for the opportunity. A childhood dream came true.
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