Where and what is Angkor Wat? It is probably the most well known tourist attraction in Siem Reap, Cambodia. A temple built in the 12th century as a temple dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, then became a Buddhist temple. Remaining in use till the 1800’s it’s no longer an active temple and had undergone much damage since and as recent as the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970’s. The name Angkor Wat translates to Capital City Temple. Besides Angkor Wat there’s so many more temples in the Angkor Wat region including one made famous in the 2001 movie Tomb Raider.
The Lub D hostel has an Adventure Travel Co. desk inside the hostel. I booked the very early sunrise tour which departs at 4:30am. You’ll want to get ahead of the crowds and see the temple during the sunrise for an amazing experience.
What you need to know is that you must purchase a temple pass available in 1, 3, and 7 day increments for 37, 62, 72 USD. Only one place exists for purchase of these passes and it must be in person at Angkor Ticket Office on the way to the temple complex. I purchase the 3 day pass and found 3 days of temples allowed you to cover most. This is 3 temple visit days within a 10 day time frame. You get your photo placed onto the pass so there is no sharing of passes.
After purchasing our passes we get to the front of Angkor Wat temple while it’s still dark. While waiting, our guide Tola (means October) gives us some temple history. He the mentions going into the temple to see the sunrise rather than stay outside with the other tourists. Of course I’m all for getting a jump ahead of even the sunrise crowd.
Climbing up some steeps steps to the top of Angkor Wat we were treated to a very colorful sunrise. The sun was a glowing red fireball with just the right amount of clouds for one of those perfect pictures. It was so amazing to watch I almost missed taking some pics. It was only another 15min before the sun rose into the clouds.
With the sun behind some clouds it was time to further explore the temple. The lighting and sky was still good for a magical experience and picture taking.
As the sun was rising in the east the moon was near setting in the west.
While many people were still outside the temple taking their sunrise photos we moved on to the next temple, Ta Prohm. This was the filming location for the temple in the 2001 Tomb Raider movie. What makes this one special is the many large Fig and Banyan trees with roots overgrown into the walls of the temple. I loved the green moss illuminated by the morning sun on the temples.
The Secret Temple
Our guide asks us if we would like to visit a secret temple. Once the word secret is mentioned it gets my attention. Tola said it was not maintained or restored and this temple would give us an idea what the other temples would have appeared like before any restoration.
With only 7 of us in our group, we are dispersed throughout this temple with time for our own individual exploration. I found I loved this temple the best because it had a particular ancient lost, discovery-like feel. Plus there were moments when I was the only one around, hence a selfie portrait.
Traversing around the temple took some careful footing since there were not many open pathways. Stone blocks strewn throughout the temple needed to be circumvented which gave me that discovery feel to this place. It was built sometime in the 12th century and rediscovered by French explorers around the 18th century.
I found several spots inside the secret temple that were nice to hang around and cool off while listening to the variety of birds chattering. I could have spent more time here feeling alone, but time to find the others and go for our lunch stop. Alas this picturesque temple though off the beaten path is not so secret. It’s name is Ta Nei.
We stop for lunch at a cafe inside the temples complex, there are many scattered around the complex. Our cafe stop was in right in front of Ta Keo temple. As we sat eating lunch we had a view of this temple right in front of us.
Our last temple of the day was Bayon, a huge temple complex. This temple has many face carvings and has the least open areas but rather enclosed tunnel-like pathways to explore. This was perfect for this time of day since it was warmed up. There was cool temple shade with breezes running through the tunnel-like system.
This temple is rather labyrinth like and really fun to explore. There are so many choices for turns and paths. You stick your head out to look up occasionally at the open sky. At one point I believe I was just under the tallest point and hearing squeaking upwards this chimney type vent. I couldn’t see anything but one of the locals inside the temple said it was bats. I did recognize bat sounds since there are many in Austin Texas. Plus I’ve seen them in other temples around the world.
We headed back to the hostel and arrived about 2:30pm. Having started at 04:30 that added up to 10hrs but I can say it certainly did not feel like 10hrs.
This afternoon is for some pool fun and a few drinks. I found myself still inspired to tour more temples but next time without a tour guide and at my own pacing for those special temples that require more time. Bayon is one of those. I highly recommend doing the sunrise tour for your first temple day with a tour guide as a great intro.
A temple logistics plan is needed for tomorrow! But tonight we’ll hit Pub Street.