Kind, extremely helpful, humble and smiley people, bustling and fragrant markets, lots of trash thrown along streets and rivers, price tags in USD, cute kids, cheap massage venues, nice spas and amazing food stalls everywhere are just a few of the features of this beautiful country called Cambodia. For many, a part of the world with exquisite luxury resorts that make you feel as king Jayavarman II and a labyrinth of ancient temples.
Indeed, the temples found at Angkor, just 5 km north Siem Reap, are the main reason tourists visit the country. Angkor, just the name itself, elevates you to a different, ancient and alluring dimension. The archaeological site of the city of Angkor is the world’s biggest religious monument and an UNESCO World Heritage Centre. It’s, indeed, a really impressive and magic architectural complex.
The first monuments were erected in honour of Hindu gods Vishnu and Shiva in the 10th century AD. Angkor Wat, the main temple on site, was inspired by king Suryavarman II, who was seen in life as the incarnation of Vishnu. The temple, built in the 12th century AD, was both a place to honour Vishnu as well as Suravarman II’s mausoleum, a great example of the ruler’s presumptuous egotism.
However, by the end of that century, king Jayavarman VII, who was a Buddhist, ordered to construct, among other places, Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom (City of Angkor), all of them dedicated to Buddha. Nowadays, Buddhist monks still live there.
Angkor Wat is the biggest and most renowned of its temples, although not the only one, as there as more than thousand temples to suit everyone’s taste. Bayon and the faces sculpt everywhere, Ta Prohm and the way trees simply find their way to grow among the huge pieces of ruins or Banteay Kdei, in which Tomb Raider was shot are just a few of them, and their visit is way more spiritual and enjoyable than hitting Angkor Wat at 5 a.m. for the famous (and overrated) sunrise snap packed with herds of tourists.
There are so many temples in Angkor that it’s really up to one’s whish how many days to spend in the area, but one full day, if you’re on a tight schedule, is beyond fine. One good tip to make the most of it is to hit the ticket counter the day before the visit, after 5 p.m., and buy the ticket that allows you to enter and visit one or two temples during sunset. For the next morning, you agree with your tuk tuk driver when to pick you up before sunrise and ask him to drive clock wise in order to have more chances of visiting the temples on your own.
The experience of walking through and sitting on the ruins for hours just to admire how well they’ve done through centuries, how vegetation has grown through the facades and wander how they were built with the technology and resources existing so many centuries ago, makes you feel tiny and taken to another world.