When I landed in Cambodia the first thing I noticed was how humid it was. It was a bright and sunny day when our budget airline had landed at Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport. Being the airport was small, we landed on the tarmac and walked directly into the airport – it was all ground level – and proceeded to go through customs. Similar to other Asian countries, Cambodia requires tourists to acquire a visa when visiting. You can get this visa before entering or upon arrival at the airport.
Once we collected our things, we headed to find a taxi big enough to fit the five of us and our luggage. After loading up in a large van, our driver asked us about how long we intended to stay and what we wanted to see. We expressed our interest in Angkor Wat and other temple complexes nearby and he offered to take us on a tour of the temples and bring us back to our hotel after. We agreed on taking a sunrise tour of Angkor Wat, getting a head start would allow us to view all the temples before the heat and humidity set in.
I awoke at 5 a.m. and packed my “temple clothes,” the designated pants and shirt I had bought in order to be allowed in to view temples while in Thailand and Cambodia. I also packed water, because while we were going to be driven from temple to temple, I knew we would be exploring the complexes as best on foot. Even at 5 a.m., it would be hotter than hell and wearing the second outfit atop my own was sure to make me sweat and become dehydrated.
Before entering any of the complexes, we were driven to the Angkor Enterprise building to buy tickets. In order to enter any of the temples — Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, or Preah Khan Temple — you must have an Angkor Pass. There are plenty of daily pass deals, but since we were visiting all the temples in one day, we stuck to the day pass. For 37 U.S. dollars, you get a pass with your photo on it in the bottom right in order to identify yourself to guards before entering. Back in the van, we hurried to the first site to try and catch the sunrise.
Angkor wat is a 400 square kilometer Indianized temple complex and largest religious monument in the world. Originally constructed as a Hindu Temple, it stands today as a Buddhist temple. Around the outside is a man-made moat, which you must cross before crossing through the outer walls. When we arrived, flocks of people were camped before the moat bridge waiting for some sort of sunrise. Being monsoon season, it was often rainy and overcast and it was just our luck we would be touring the temple on a day like this.
Passing through the Angkor Wat Gateway, we arrived at a sandstone causeway leading to the main complex. Outside was a large grassy area where the northern and southern libraries stand. Just ahead are the northern and southern reflection pools. From either reflection pool, you can clearly see the five towers, representing the five peaks of the mountain.
Even though the high season was ending during my visit, it was still crowded with large groups with selfie sticks being escorted by a tour guide, usually holding some tall flag of some sort. I thought about how during my freshman year of university I took an anthropology class where I did a group project on Angkor Wat and the Angkor Temple Complexes and how it was crazy that four years later I was actually there, walking around exploring the grounds.
After exploring outside of the temple, we made our way through the outer gate. Inside was a courtyard were four deep pits, may have been filled with water, separated by a walkway.Ther were maybe five or six feet deep and they each had stairs leading down to the bottoms of them. Plenty of tourists crowded around the outside of the pits, some even walking to the stairs to take pictures. Along the outer walls, which are 3,360 ft by 2,362 ft, were murals carved into the stone of the wall.
These scenes depict episodes from the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Beginning from the northwest going anti clockwise you can see the Battle of Lanka and the Battle of Kurukshetra. In the southern gallery, follow the historical scene of Suryavarman II and the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hinduism.
Just outside the inner wall stand the North and South Thousand God Library. These libraries were a later addition to the temple, as they were not in the original plans. When we visited, we weren’t able to visit the second level of the temple. We walked toward the back of the temple where we could see the exit to the outer wall. We made our way to the back and saw other various structures.
Angkor Wat is the 7th world wonder and a UNESCO World Heritage site. If you are visiting Cambodia, be sure to visit outside of monsoon season to see the temple in all it’s splendor!