After being lost to the jungle for hundreds of years, reconstruction and further research into Angkor Wat began in the early 1900s. Now, it is recognised as the world’s largest religious monument, one of the seven wonders and a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s a complex of many different temples that Harmony and I had to see whilst we were in Siem Reap!
The tour that we we were going on was a part of our package that we bought before we came to Cambodia. A day ticket would’ve cost $20 each, but that was already included in the tour. Our day started with a mini-van picking us up from our hostel at 7:30am. We were the first of about fourteen people on the tour and had to spend a fair amount of time doing laps of the local hotels, picking up the other people. Finally, we made it out of the city and into the ticket controlled area.
The first thing we saw of Angkor Wat was it’s moat - 5km in circumference! We came in on the east side, drove around the south side and entered on the west side via the incredible, stone causeway. There were no words to describe it. We were immediately struck with awe! The four lotus shaped towers poked out from the temple walls and we all marvelled at the sheer size and the detailed design. As we made our way through the temple grounds, our guide showed us even more of the details and intricate stone carvings that depict Hindu stories. Harmony asked about some holes in the stone walkways and our guide explained that they were used to aid elephants in dragging the large, hand-carved bricks from place to place.
As a photographer, I found myself getting frustrated with the crowds. So, instead of fighting them, I thought of ways to include and incorporate them whenever I had to. Because of how popular of a place Angkor Wat is to tourists, there were certain things we all had to wait to do. Specifically, there is a central viewpoint that you have to climb up to see the ancient architecture from above. We all waited 30 minutes to go up, which we honestly didn’t mind doing, but you’re only allowed a 10 minute look around when it’s finally your turn. Still, it was cool to see how the temple is still surrounded by the jungle.
Seeing as we were only doing what’s known as the “petite circuit”, we were always sharing the sites with a lot of other people. The best thing to do would’ve been to get a three-day ticket and visit each and every temple on the “grand circuit” as well. That said, the main temples that we saw are the most popular for good reason. The second temple that we explored was Ta Prohm – the filming location for Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones’ Temple of Doom. The temple has undergone some serious reconstruction, but some trees can still be seen snaking in and around the brickwork and walkways, which is what makes it so special.
Even though we might not have spent time exploring every temple there is in the Angkor complex, we still got to see a fair few smaller temples from the mini-van. On the way to our third temple, we saw Kravan Temple, Banteay Kdei and Thommanon. After eating lunch at a super expensive restaurant, that at least had a nice view of Srah Srang reservoir, we got to spend lots of time at Angkor Thom. This is where the scale and size of the complex really hit me. We entered through the Victory Gate and were allowed to walk around a bit, admiring the bridge, the statues, the huge faces on the gate and the strange, bone-like pillars supporting the gate. On the other side of the gate was a city of ruins with Bayon Temple at it’s center. Here, we explored the maze-like temple, tried counting the many smiling faces in the stonework and finished the visit by photographing some monkeys.
For what we thought was our final treat, we went to see the sunset. The mini-van took us to a mountain and, with a swarm of other tour groups, we walked up the footpath. Little did we know, there were the ruins of another temple (Phnom Bakheng) at the top and we would have to wait for forty-minutes before we could actually see the sunset. When it was finally our turn to go up, it was a little disappointing at first, but it was awesome to see Angkor Wat above the treetops in the distance. Still, I wasn't sure if I'd get any good photos. Only after doing some laps and just taking photos for the sake of taking photos did I get something that I was happy with. The sky turned colourful and the sun showed itself from beneath the clouds. People were overjoyed when our tour group walked down the stairs and those queuing could have their turn.