Visiting Angkor Wat should be on everyone’s bucket list. If you’re planning a trip, below you will find some helpful tips as well as photos that will inspire you to book a flight that much sooner!
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia and is the biggest religious monument in the world. It was built between the 9th and 15th century as a place to worship Hindu gods. Today visitors can see over 100 stone structures that are still standing (there used to be even more structures but they were made of wood so they have not survived over the centuries). In the early 1400s, Angkor Wat was ransacked by the Thais which led to it’s abandonment. Over the next few centuries, people stumbled upon the ruins and began creating stories about its origins. Then, in the late 1800s, the French brought new life to the religious complex and began massive restoration projects.
For our visit, we chose to hire a tour guide. I know there are some people that prefer to see things on their own (and I saw plenty of people walking around while reading Angkor Wat guide books) but I prefer getting a guide. They know their history, can maneuver you around other tourists, and can time everything really well if you can only be there for a few hours.
We actually started our visit to Angkor Wat at the back entrance. There were hardly any people there and it was still really quiet. Later on I saw how many people go through the front entrance and I don’t think my first glimpse of the ruins would have been nearly as magical, so I’m glad our guide made the recommendation to work our way backwards through the complex.
The next few hours were spent exploring the grounds. Unfortunately most of the sculptures were desecrated in one form or another during the ransacking, but the carvings found throughout are still in great shape. Visitors will notice apsaras, or heavenly nymphs, everywhere. There are over 3,000 of them on the walls and they are all unique. Wall carvings also tell religious and historical stories.
In the center of the complex is the Bakan Sanctuary (also known as the Upper Level). Visitors can climb the steep stairs to get some great views, but there will be a wait. Also, only a certain amount of people are allowed at a time, so even if you are next in line you will not be able to go up unless someone else comes down. While we were up there we saw a really cute monkey running along the top of one of the outer walls.
And even though there are a lot of people there, you can find areas that are quiet and tourist-free. You just have to look.
As we explored we noticed that there is still a lot of restoration going on. My guide told me it’s a global effort, which I thought was really cool. Countries from all over the world are helping to make sure this site is preserved for future generations. And you can really see the difference the restoration is making! In the picture below, it’s obvious how much better the left side looks now that it has been restored.
So after a few hours, we were finally at the front entrance. We looked back towards the structures and I thought about all of the photos I had always seen of Angkor Wat. The towers with the small lake in front of it and the thin palm trees on either side. We were finally going to take our own photos of this amazing site.
It really felt like a dream to be walking around Angkor Wat. I felt the same way when I was exploring Machu Picchu. It’s something so iconic; something you’ve read about and seen in books and documentaries. So to finally be there… I just wanted to pinch myself.
If you’re thinking of visiting Angkor Wat, here are a few tips:
I had literally just flown in the day before and was leaving back to Thailand the following day. Angkor Wat was the sole reason we had traveled to Cambodia. It was an incredibly short trip, but one that I felt was worth it.
Have you been to Angkor Wat? What was your favorite part? Do you have any additional tips? We’d love to read your comments below! 🙂
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