We went to Angkor Wat. And it was INCREDIBLE.
Sam and I made a decision early in our trip planning process that if we were in the same part of the world as Angkor Wat we HAD to visit. Siem Reap, Cambodia is a short 55 minute flight from Bangkok, Thailand and so it was ON. We ended up spending just 36 hours total in country during our two weeks in this part of the world but it was absolutely worth it. The flight was so short that I had barely glanced at my full in-flight dinner and movie when we got word we were preparing to land! That’s my kind of a flight.
We stayed at the gorgeous Model Residence and Spa where we quite literally felt like royalty.
We asked the concierge to book massages for us at their beautiful spa within 20 minutes of arriving and those massages were the BEST ones we had on our whole two week trip. The two breakfasts and one dinner we had were fantastic, the setting (which honestly looks and feels like you are in a remote and lush jungle) and the amazing rooms made our brief stay unforgettable.
If you ever find yourself in Siem Reap for any length of time, please consider staying at the Model Residence. You won’t be sorry.
We asked the concierge book a driver and tour guide for a full day at Angkor Wat. They were great to work with and it was nice to handle everything “in house” instead of figuring out a tour on our own. After a lot of research and thought we decided AGAINST a sunrise tour of Angkor Wat simply because we knew it would be incredibly crowded. I am sure the photos are beautiful but if you are fighting for space with tons of people it ruins the overall experience. Also, on the topic of a tour, you will WANT AND NEED a driver and guide for Angkor Wat. The temple complex is the largest religious monument in the whole world. After about six hours I can say we only saw a fraction of it. From Wikipedia, a short description of what the Angkor Wat complex is:
“Angkor Wat (Khmer: អង្គរវត្ត or “Capital Temple”) is an Indianized temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world, with the site measuring 162.6 hectares (1,626,000 m2; 402 acres). It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple of god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century. It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yaśodharapura (Khmer: យសោធរបុរៈ, present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country’s prime attraction for visitors.
Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the later galleried temple. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometres (2.2 mi) long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the significance of this. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.”
Angkor Wat is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Learn more about that right here…It is a fascinating read.
First up, before we could go into Angkor Wat we needed passes. Our driver took us to where we needed to go and we got some seriously fancy looking passes.
To start, I must say that Siem Reap and Cambodia overall during this time of year was HOT. And so so so humid. But coming from Thailand we were already prepared for this weather. It also rained during a portion of the time we were out which honestly made the entire experience EVEN BETTER. Because what is cooler than touring the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in the rain? Not much! The cloud cover that we had most of the day absolutely saved us. I would imagine we would have had a different (and much less enjoyable) experience had the sun been beating down on us.
We were really surprised by how WILD Angkor Wat is. It is a giant, ancient temple complex in the middle of a forest/jungle. It is crumbling, moss covered, so very old. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Nature is trying SO hard to overtake the buildings and structures here and in most of the places we saw, she is winning. There are no real ropes or barriers or caution signs. A few here and there but for the most part, you are responsible for your own safety. I have found this to be the case in every country I have visited outside of the US and while it always startles me at first (because hello, Americans are WAY too safety obsessed and litigeous), I ultimately find it liberating. Think that you might fall off that high wall if you lean out too far and there is no railing to protect you? Well, maybe don’t lean out so far! It is simple common sense, something we sometimes forgo because we are being “protected” and we aren’t thinking for ourselves. This was something I loved about Angkor Wat. There were no safety rules, no backup if you made a misstep. If you got hurt, you were going to have a big problem. So exploration felt a little liberating and slightly dangerous and completely awesome. I will say, however, if you are traveling with children you have GOT to watch them very carefully. It is very easy to slip or trip and fall. Also if you have any walking or mobility issues, traveling around Angkor Wat will be challenging so do a little research about how best to enjoy the complex with limitations.
The rain eventually cleared and everything became even MORE humid (as if that were possible).
This is the back of Angkor Wat. I’m so glad that Sam noticed these gates and had me pose with them. There was hardly anyone around and it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. You know, just casually hanging out on the fence behind Angkor Wat :).
We ended our day back at the hotel with a spectacular sunset that my iPhone did not do justice to and one of the best meals of our whole two week trip that I did not take photos of because I was so busy stuffing my face with goodness. As you do 🙂
We finished out our trip to Cambodia with a very special evening with Phare Circus (see my post about our experience with this amazing group).
Angkor Wat was worth the trip and the memories. To see something as spectacular as this place is worth the time and money. If you are ever in this part of the world PLEASE block out some time to visit. You will be so grateful for the time you spend there.