Siem Reap Area Temples known as Angkor Wat
March 11, 2017
The Siem Reap Area Temples are generally all referred to as Angkor Wat and encompass 400 sq km. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the actual Angkor Wat temple is the largest religious monument in the world! To help put some of this into perspective, many of these structures were built before or at the same time as the massive cathedrals of Europe, by a people living with limited tools in the jungle. According to some web sources, they completed the construction in only 35 years.
We spent 4 days in this area. I’ll begin with some background and history. The next post will continue with descriptions of the other places we visited besides Angkor Wat temple itself.
Getting to Siem Reap
We took a bus from Phnom Pehn to Siem Reap which takes about 5 1/2 hours on pretty good highways. They picked us up at our hotel and drove us to the Giant Ibis bus terminal. We transferred to a big charter kind of bus and had a chance to see the countryside of Cambodia. There was no toilet on board, but we stopped for a break after about an hour and stopped for lunch in about 2 hours more. They even switched drivers halfway through. This trip cost us $15 each.
We stayed in the city of Siem Reap at the Golden Mango Inn. It was a great place for us for a few reasons. It was a away from the high energy part of town, it had its own restaurant and the pool was shaded and cool in the afternoon after a morning of touring.
We arrived to register and were led to the couch seating and given cold lemonade and towels to refresh ourselves after our journey. They helped us plan an itinerary for the 4 days that we were there. Breakfast was included and the day that we went to see sunrise at Angkor Wat, we were given a breakfast to “take away.” We upgraded to the deluxe room by the pool and paid $217 for 4 nights. Their customer service was outstanding.
This price included pick up at the bus and delivery to the airport when we left. Our tuk-tuk driver at the bus became our driver for the whole week. Chatting with him at the bus station gave us a chance to check out his English, which was great. You can find him on Facebook. The set fee for the driver was $15-$20/day, depending on the distance. The hotel booked him for us for 3 days, and we arranged to have him take us to the Angkor National Museum on the 4th day ourselves.
- Hire a guide unless you are an expert on Buddhist and Hindu legends and symbolism. They know the stories, the history and where it’s best to take pictures. There are few signs showing the names of the temples, there are no descriptions on site, and no wifi to look things up yourself. We had the guide all to ourselves for $45/day. The hotel booked the guide for us for the first day. We booked her again for the fourth day of our visit.
- Hire a tuk-tuk driver. They will drop you off at one gate and pick you up on the other side. Ours also drove us on a loop of temples without our guide, then accompanied us on the boat trip to Tonle Sap.
- Get some local advice for planning. It’s hard to remember all the names and to know the distances between them. Our hotel was excellent at providing that information. There are many travel offices in town to help as well. There is lots of information on line, but it was difficult to make our own itinerary, just because there so much.
- Wear a big hat. There is not much shade in the temples
- Take lots of water-see above
- These sites are large and there is lots of walking.
- Wear sturdy shoes. The temples are not very accessible. There is lots of climbing over high sills between rooms and large steps to get up to the other levels. There are no railings or warnings about low doorways.
- Take a camera, or your phone at least.
- Stay at a hotel with a shady outdoor space.
- If you can’t walk it, check out Google street view–Angkor Wat
There is a great museum in Siem Reap called the Angkor National Museum. It has many artifacts, historical context and a room with 1000 Buddhas. Their audio tour is very informative. We spent 2 hours there, but I could have spent longer. We visited there on day 3 after a day with a guide and a day with just our driver. Some other travellers recommended going there first, but this timing worked for us.
Great Kings who ruled in the area from about 950 to 1180 AD are responsible for these monuments. Kings were not always crowned because of their birth, but often because of victory in battle. The temples and City of Thom were built for the gods, to commemorate battles, and honor family members. The interesting thing is that some of the Kings were Hindu and some of them were Buddhist, although both religions originated in India. The gods they worshiped were different. The Buddhist Kings left the Hindu statues but the Hindu kings removed the Buddhas from the temples. Some of the carvings showing Buddha sitting in lotus position were re-carved by adding a beard and moving the knees up to a new, higher level. Others were removed altogether leaving an empty Buddha silhouette.
Angkor Wat Temple
Angkor Wat temple represents the gods in the center, the walls are the mountains and the moat is the oceans. The outer walls of the temple complex are huge and completely covered with carvings that represent Hindu legends and great battles. It is hard to imagine a society so advanced that they can employ and feed so many workmen to not only build these monuments, but cover them with beautiful art and stories.
The temples were built with a kind of brick called laterite. It looks volcanic but when the clay is dried in the sun, small holes form but the blocks are strong. They were faced with sandstone that had to be moved 30 km to the area. Some of it was covered with a kind of stucco and even painted.
I will include the names of each temple with the pictures. There is lots of information on line if you want to know more about these temples and the history. I found the Travelfish site the most useful for me.
After visiting all the amazing structures, the idea that stayed with me was that these were powerful leaders who built cities and temples as well as conquered large areas of southeast Asia. Cambodia is very proud of this history.
Some pictures can be found within this post. I will also add them and others to the travel page found at the top of my webpage. If you are reading this blog by email, click the link to the site, found at the bottom of the email.
Have a look at some of the comments shared by other readers. Thanks for the interesting conversations.