Angkor: The Three Main Temples

So I’m now back in the U.S., just caught up on sleep after recovering for a sleepless 24 hours. It feels really strange to be back. I still have mixed feelings at the moment. I think coming back was probably the right thing for me as of now (for a few reasons) but I did have a pretty good life in Korea. I think coming back is really more of an adjustment for me than moving to Korea was, since now I have to actually start driving, get my own apartment (at some point) and work harder to find a job (or at least a decent job).

Anyway, I finally made it to the Angkor temples in Cambodia en route back to the States, and they really are spectacular to behold. It’s definitely a must-see while travelling through South-east Asia and perhaps even the continent of Asia in general.

The main temple, Angkor Wat, was built in the 12th century, during the height of the Khmer Empire, which stretched into much of mainland South-east Asia. It’s only one of many, many temples built during the Empire, but it’s the largest and considered the most impressive of all, and one of the world’s largest religious buildings. It was originally built as a Hindu temple, dedicated to Vishnu. Later in the 14th century, it was converted to a Buddhist temple.

The Bayon is another on the “must-see” list, and it’s almost nearly as spectacular as Angkor Wat. Built in the 12th or 13th century, the face of King Jayavarman VII is carved into several of the temple towers.

The temple also contains many impressive reliefs.

Bayon is located in Angkor Thom, which was a walled city and the Khmer Empire’s last capital. The Terrace of the Elephants was a part of Angkor Thom, and used by Jayavarman VII to see his victorious army return.

A restored lion on the Terrace.

The Terrace of the Leper King nearby is equally impressive.

Ta Prohm temple was made famous by the movie “Tomb Raider” and it’s generally on every visitor’s list.

The effects of the jungle can be clearly seen here.

Most of the Angkor temples were abandoned after the Khmer Empire fell (with the exception of Angkor Wat itself, which remained in use as a Buddhist house of worship). Therefore most are currently being restored.

All of these temples are on virtually every tourist’s circuit, so be prepared for crowds, particularly at Angkor Wat. The temples’ tourist numbers have substantially grown over the years. Angkor Wat gets very crowded during sunrise, but the other two may have less people early in the morning. Cambodia is also very very hot, even when I was there (in February) so bring water and wear sunscreen. However, although it is hot, in South-east Asia it is generally considered inappropriate to visit temples if wearing very short shorts or tank tops. I doubt many visitors get turned away because of this, but I do think it is important to be respectful of a country’s customs, and wear pants or at least cover the knee and shoulders.

Also, there are plenty of vendors at every entrance pushing tourists to buy their wares, from souvenirs to drinks to food so that can be annoying to deal with as well, but there aren’t many vendors actually inside the temples.

While it’s generally recommended to stay at least 3 days to see Angkor, some tourists come for only one or two nights to take in the major temples. With so little time in the area, these are the three temples that should be at the top of the list.

In the small city of Siem Reap, the gateway point to Angkor, there are several tuk-tuk drivers that will happily call out and ask you to use their service. Scams probably happen however, so it might be safest to use a driver recommended by your hotel or hostel. I arranged a pick-up at the airport with my hostel and used the driver that picked me up.

The tuk-tuk drivers will generally take you to the temples you ask (or do a pre-set circuit tour of a few temples) and wait near the gate. Obviously there are tons of drivers at the gate so make sure you remember what the rickshaw on your tuk-tuk looks like. Many drivers will have their names painted on the rickshaw.

To get into the temples, there are a few options for passes. The one-day pass costs $20, the three-day pass $40, and the seven-day pass $60. They are supposed to be used on consecutive days.

In the next post, I’ll go into detail on some of the smaller Angkor temples.

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