The Temples of Angkor in Cambodia are SE Asia‘s largest temple complex and is the largest pre-industrial temple complex in the world. As a result, the airport in Siem Reap is busier than that of the capital, Phnom Penh, and receives about 2 million international visitors annually. Visits to Angkor can be arranged upon arrival in Siem Reap; there’s no need to book ahead. The main temples, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom are about 6km from the center of Siem Reap so walking is not really an option. Options for going to Angkor range from bicycles to helicopters and just about everything in between. Unfortunately, motorbike hire is not available in Siem Reap, probably to keep the tuk tuk drivers in business since there is an overabundance of them.
Given the sheer size and distance of the entire complex I bought a 3 day admission ticket for 40 USD (1 day tickets are 20, 7 days are 60) which allows me to go on 3 separate days within a 7 day span. Dasha and I hired bicycles on the day I arrived for 1.5 USD each (which in hindsight was a ripoff, we could have gotten a bike for 1 USD elsewhere) and cycled ourselves to Angkor Wat, Bayon in Angkor Thom, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei and Pre Rup all in one very long day. Angkor Wat is the centerpiece of the complex and while there was some scaffolding up due to renovation, the temple was no less impressive to behold. The intricacy and volume of the carvings on the outer walls of the temple are astounding.
The Bayon is the centrepiece of Angkor Thom. It features several spires on the main temple platform each with stone faces carved into them. The faces are near identical and if you’re standing on the main platform they are everywhere you look. We weaved our way around the crowds of Chinese and Korean package tourists and managed to get some good photos with no people in them. Trust me, it can be a challenge to find a spot in the Bayon and in Angkor Wat with no people around.
The other temples we visited on Day 1 were not as large but were impressive in their own way. Ta Keo, Banteay Kdei, and Pre Rup offered up some find examples of Khmer architecture and nice views of the jungle from the top. I’m not sure if the ancient Khmers had tiny feet and long legs but given the way the steps are constructed I think the people were shaped that way. Some scenes from Tomb Raider were shot at Ta Prohm, which is overgrown with massive trees that literally have crushed or grown into the temple walls. The trees are as tall as buildings so it’s no wonder that they’d be able to knock out or at least weaken the structural integrity of the walls. We tried to watch the sunset from the top of Pre Rup but it was too cloudy and we also realized that it would merely be a sunset over the jungle (no other temples were in sight) so we started cycling back before it became really dark.