The lost city of Angkor Wat, Cambodia (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), was on my travel list for a long time. While it's the largest religious monument in the world, until recently, the Western world knew very little about Angkor. It was believed that the religious complex was discovered in 19th Century by the French naturalist Henri Mouhot. However, later scholars studies showed, that in fact, Angkor Wat was never "lost" for the Khmer people, and the Buddhist monks continuously worshiped the temple complex over the centuries.
Angkor was built by the Khmer Empire -- a powerful state in Southeast Asia which existed between the 9th & 15th Centuries. At its peak, it covered much of what is today Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Southern Vietnam. The main evidence for its existence remains in numerous religious buildings, designed in different architectural techniques that started as Hindu temples and gradually adopted Buddhist features. One of the most intriguing facts about the temple architecture is that they weren't meant to be a gathering place of the worshipers. Their sole purpose was to serve as a palace of the Hindu gods. The apogee of the Khmer architecture was reached in the 12th century with the construction of Angkor Wat. Generally, "Angkor Wat" translates to "Temple City" or "City of Temples", and the whole complex is indeed the size of a small city (about 402 acres).
Due to limited time, we only had a single day to spend at the archaeological site which wasn't enough. Most knowledgeable guides will recommend dedicating at least 3-4 days, if not a full week. At least though, as I mentioned in my previous article, we stayed at Pavilion d'Orient Hotel and a tuk-tuk driver was included during our entire stay. He truly saved us time and $$. We started our exploration from Angkor Wat, followed by Ta Keo and Ta Prohm Temples (where the movie Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie was filmed), the Royal Palace, Bapuon and ending in Bayon Temple.
Travel Tip: The temple sites are not really a (practical) walking distance between each other. You must reserve a tuk-tuk driver ahead of time that will drive you between temples. There are alternative ways to hop between sites, such as organized bike tours. However, when making your decision consider that the typical temperatures are in the 100s F, which makes biking extremely difficult after few hours of climbing the temples.
Travel Tip: Start your exploration at Angkor Wat and move to the rest of the temples within the complex. We managed to see 5 temples time efficiently with the help of our tuk-tuk driver.
Travel Tip: Start your exploration early to avoid the blazing sun and the tourist crowds. The Angkor complex opens at 5 am and closes at 6 pm
Travel Tip: The ticket office accept only cash! An online reservation system is scheduled for later in 2017. One day pass is good for the temples within Angkor vicinity. Always carry your ticket. It will be checked upon each park entry and major temple.
Travel Tip: If your budget allows, get a private guide. He/she can explain the meaning of different architectural structures and show you the highlights.
Travel Tip: Bring comfortable shoes, hat, sunscreen, umbrella, sunglasses, dress modestly. And stay hydrated -- our tuk-tuk driver had a cooler and we had ice cold water to refresh ourselves between sites.
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