Cambodia may be one of the world's poorest countries in terms of wealth, but they have something special that I believe makes them culturally one of the richest.
What do you get when you combine Khmer temple architecture, several kinds of religion, and Hindu mythology? You get Cambodia's Angkor World Heritage site, home to ancient remains of the Khmer Empire including Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom, and of course, Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Here I am in the image below with the distinctive massive stone faces of Bayon Temple in the background. Last year the image below won first place in the International TEFL Academy's 2015 Best Experience Photo Contest.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992, the ancient structures of Angkor date all the way back to the 9th century when the Khmer Empire ruled most of present-day SE Asia. In addition to the amazing temples that are sprawled out across Angkor, other architectural accomplishments include hydraulic structures (basins, canals, dykes, reservoirs) and a myriad of communication routes.
The site is massive and I was able to visit several times with the monthly pass I purchased at the main entrance. Angkor includes too many timeworn structures to count and is full of all sorts of artistic treasures carved in stone, all of which tell tales of struggle, triumph, and survival of the Khmer Empire all the way through the 15th century.
Recent satellite imagery has revealed Angkor to be the largest pre-industrial urban center in the world and after wandering around the site for a couple of hours, it was evident that the Khmer people were skillful planners and seemingly ahead of their time.
Before heading to Cambodia I purchased a used book on Angkor to read while traveling to other destinations either by minivan, bus, plane, boat or train. What I realized as I walked around Angkor was that no matter how much reading or planning you do prior to arrival, nothing can really prepare you for the first time you see the temple remains at the site.
Deep in the jungle at the ruins of Ta Prohm (made famous with the movie Tomb Raider) strangler fig trees and lichens grow unrestricted and now live as one with the temple’s stone.
Want to know how you can get to Angkor World Heritage site? Siem Reap is pretty much the gateway to Angkor and this growing Cambodian city is filled with a wide-range of lodging, dining,
and numerous options for tours that suit all budgets and itineraries.
I opted to hire one of the local tuk tuk drivers and paid him $25USD a day, for the entire day, which typically means from sunrise to sunset. He was very knowledgable about all the temples at Angkor and was happy stop on a dime if I wanted to jump out along the way and snap a few images. He knew the best times to visit each temples in order to stay ahead of the massive crowds which show up by the thousands starting at sunrise, and continue to flood the site all day long.
My tuk tuk driver was a recommendation from a friend and together we planned to spend two full days touring the ruins at Angkor. He listened to my request to see Angkor Wat both at sunrise and
sunset so we decided that on the first day we would see the sunrise and on the second day we would catch the sunset.
In order to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat you need to be awake even before the birds start chirping. This is especially true on the first day you visit because you’ll need to fight the early
morning crowds in order to purchase your daily/weekly/monthly pass to the Angkor World Heritage site.
When you do plan your visit to Angkor World Heritage site, I recommend spending a minimum of three days for several reasons. First, the site is huge and there is a ton to see and learn
about and you don’t want to feel like you are being rushed.
Secondly, it can be quite hot in Cambodia on any given day and the heat can really suck the energy right from your body. You’ll need to allow for plenty of time not only to rest throughout the
day, but also to accommodate all of the great photo opportunities you will have.
I was really fortunate to be able to spend five entire days at Angkor World Heritage site and I loved every minute of it. When asked if I would visit the site again, my
immediate response has been “Absolutely, and I’m already looking forward to my next visit!”
Click an image below to stimulate your curiosity and learn about a different culture halfway around around the globe.