Asia is famed the world over for its incredible wealth of temples and holy sites. But when it comes to temples, there’s one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Join me today on a little adventure to the heart of Cambodia to discover more about one of the most incredible World Heritage Sites around…
Those of you who have seen the photos of Angkor Wat at sunrise will know exactly why I’m so fascinated by this mystical temple. The sandstone sculptures and buildings look otherworldly – almost as if they’ve always been there since the beginning of time. In fact they’re one of the largest religious buildings in the world! The site was built upon and extended up until 1200AD. Today, I’m going to take you on a small journey of discovery through the magical world of the temple – wanderlust is guaranteed!
Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious site, spanning an area of just over 400 acres. The name derives from the Khmer language, translating roughly into the “City of Temples” or “Capital Temple”. Originally built as a place of Hindu worship, it eventually went on to serve as the capital of the Khmer Empire and Buddhist temple, and is still used by monks to this day. The Khmer King Suryavarman II would eventually be buried here – a later successor, King Jayavarman VII would eventually go on to establish the temple city of Angkor Thom, situated north of Angkor Wat.
There are lots of very interesting mysteries and details that surround Angkor Wat. It’s normally customary for temples like this to be oriented towards the East, but Angkor Wat is unique in that it faces towards the west. Another interesting feature is that the murals and bas reliefs that adorn the walls tell their story in reverse! The stories proceed in a counter-clockwise direction rather than clockwise. Two very small details, but are nonetheless super interesting in my opinion!
Where is Angkor?
If you’re planning a trip to Angkor, then your best bet is to head to the city of Siem Reap, the closest town to the temples. Siem Reap has its own airport, but there are no direct flights from Ireland – you’ll have to stopover along the way, with a journey of roughly 20 or so hours ahead of you. But trust me – it really is worth the effort! In fact, you should make the most of your time there by combining a trip to Angkor Wat with a voyage around Cambodia. Once you’ve arrived in Siem Reap you can choose from one of the many hotels in the region. Since Angkor is one of the most famous sights of South-East Asia, plenty of hotels – both big and small – have popped up around the temple complex. One that really stood out to me is the newly opened Resort Phum Baitang, where you can relax in the pool after a long day of exploring the ruins. The resort is in a secluded location in the jungle and offers all kinds of luxury. The perfect starting point for your expedition to Angkor Wat!
Angkor Wat – a magical world
The archaeological park of Angkor has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for many years. There’s been lots of efforts to preserve and restore the intricate sandstone carvings – 25 temples have been restored so far. You’ll see many Cambodian conservationists and preservation societies from all over the world going about their daily work here. Sandstone is a porous material, and as you can expect, centuries of natural weathering and even the roots of the trees take their toll on the stonework.
Opening times and prices
The entire area is so large that it’s almost impossible to view all the temple complexes in detail in one go. If you’ve only got a little bit of time, then you can get yourself a day ticket for around €33, but there are also 3-day and 7-day tickets for roughly €56 and €65 respectively. Upon entry a picture will be taken of you, so the tickets are non-transferable. But trust me, you won’t want to give your tickets away any more when you finally see the temples with your own eyes! Angkor is open daily from 5am to 5:30pm.
Dreamy pictures at sunrise
Be sure to get here really early to experience the sunrise up close. You won’t be the only one there by any means, but it doesn’t change anything about the sheer beauty of this moment when the skies over the temple turn a deep red and orange as the sun rises between the spires – it’ll knock your socks off! When wandering through the temple city you’ll hardly be able to believe just how impressive all the buildings are. The importance of these buildings can be compared to the most sacred cathedrals in Europe. Just imagine having all of the major cathedrals of Europe in one place, each one with its own area, and being able to wander around them and view each one up close. It’s hard to believe how much extraordinary and unique architecture there is in just one place. We can’t even see all of it either, as some of the city is still hidden beneath the ground!
Going by bike through Angkor
There is a short and long path that leads around the area, and it’s best to explore both of them by bike. That way you’ll be able to see more in a shorter amount of time. If you want to start off small, start with the 16km path. That way you’ll be able to see the Ta Prohm Temple which will be familiar to all the Tomb Raider fans out there – this is where they filmed one of the movies! Particularly impressive is the fusion of the old, venerable architecture and the vegetation – the buildings are covered by the roots of trees, almost as if they were being reclaimed by Mother Nature herself. If you have the time, you shouldn’t shy away from the longer path either as a lot less visitors take this route. You may be lucky enough to be able to explore parts of the city by yourself and enjoy the peace and quiet that reign over the temples. The Preah Khan Temple that you’ll pass along the way is particularly beautiful.
I hope I kindled your curiosity about Cambodia and the breathtaking temple city of Angkor and you feel the need to go and see this unique and magical place for yourself. There’s so many fantastic and extraordinary places on Earth to discover that we’d have to travel to a different place each month just to try to see them all!
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