When you think of Asia travel, you think Angkor Wat. There are very few people that visit Cambodia without paying a visit to this World Heritage Site.
I had often been transfixed by stunning images of these temples and was determined to explore them myself. Like many things, however, when a dream is realised, sometimes it isn’t always exactly as you imagined…
Just like when I travelled to India and was saddened by the state of the Taj’s surrounding city, Agra, the Cambodian temples brought some disappointment in that the restoration work somehow spoiled the experience. This is not to say that you shouldn’t visit. In fact, it’s the opposite, you most definitely should, as by time you go, the works will likely be finished.
Visiting Angkor Wat
For my partner and I, we did as we were duly told and woke at 4.30am, scuttling bleary eyed in a tuk tuk to the ticket office, hoping to catch the sun rise over these majestic temples when the site opens at 5am. As we blinked through the dark and our eyes accustomed to the light we were sure the temples looked as though there was something covering parts of them.
As sunrise bore on and the temples shimmered into view our hearts sank at the unsightly green tarpaulin that obstructed the most iconic view of Angkor Wat.
I couldn’t help feeling slightly miffed that when we paid our $20 fee, none of the staff thought to pre-warn us that the temples would look decidedly different to what you would expect.
In saying this though, even if I had been warned, we would have gone in anyway. We had travelled all the way from Phnom Penh and were not going to miss it for anything.
A hot cup of strong Cambodian coffee sorted us out and prepared us for our wanderings around the huge expanse of the Wat.
The temples feature both Hindu and Buddhist sculpture but fall prominently under traditional Khmer Architecture. Built in the 12th Century, the temples were originally the capital city of Cambodia prior to Phnom Penh as it is now. The structures are deeply weathered, crumbling under the strain of the sheer weight of the stone.
The passage of time is most clearly shown as you walk around and see how trees have sprouted and taken root in between the walls and doorways. These iconic sights are what makes the temples so world renowned.
An example of where the restoration work seemed to deflect from the unique history of the Wat can be seen here where a carving has been rather too obviously reworked.
Of course, I appreciate that without some necessary restoration, ancient structures such as these may be lost forever. It was just unfortunate that when we visited a lot of the work was so fresh, it looked somewhat fake and took away from of the original ancient beauty.
We spent the whole day, however, captivated by this beautiful place. We got to sample some traditional Cambodian cuisine for lunch too. Well needed as the day was pretty exhausting walking around.
In summary, Angkor Wat was like nothing we had experienced before. Nasty tarpaulin excluding, it was a fascinating day.
- In my opinion, you don’t need to purchase a 3 day pass ($60) unless you are a photographer and are keen to get as many shots as possible during optimum light times around sunrise and sunset. Many of our shots were taken when the light was very bright so looked better in black and white. We were able to see all the main temples in one day.
- Take a big bottle of water with you. A lot of the grounds are so large, it can be over an hour until you get to a cart selling drinks. We visited on a stifling hot and humid day and had failed to bring water with us. I might be being dramatic but it felt like I was trekking through the sahara at one point.
- Your guide book will tell you that sunrise is best to see the temples but remember every other traveller has been told the same thing so don’t expect to have the place to yourselves and lots of space to get a good view point. It’s SO busy at 5am!