Travel, Teach, Live in Asia
The ancient capital of the Khmer Empire, Angkor, is located a short distance from the Cambodian town of Siem Reap. Familiar to many who have seen the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Angkor Wat itself is the worldâ€™s largest religious complex. Angkor Thom lies about 5 km further away and should not be missed as it has some of the most amazing ruins and bas reliefs. Beyond this the stone shrines built around the enigmatic faces of the Bayon temple are an intriguing sight and can occupy the visitor for hours as they seem to alter expression as the light changes. The Roluos Temples are less grandiose and should not be missed.
Visiting Angkor Wat
No one can enter the Angkor Wat complex without a pass (one day for $20, three days for $40, or one week for $60) which is available from the main entrance booth. The three-day pass can last all week, i.e. 3 days during that week to be used, and this is most people's favourite. With a one-day pass only the main temples can be visited and a lot is missed that should be seen. The pass has to have a photograph attached but this will be taken near the booth (at a further cost of $5.
Cambodia employs many people to stamp papers and pass them on to other people who will put their stamps on as well, so be prepared for a long(ish) wait. Get there early if time is of the essence. You can hire a bicycle to get around, a tuk-tuk, or even a car with driver. If you feel you want all the facts, then hire a guide â€“ I found this very worthwhile. Some people go for the car and driver and guide, guaranteeing full days satisfaction.
At the centre is a five-tiered temple which represents Mt. Meru the mythical abode of the gods. Walk around the complex and view from afar to take in the colossal grandeur of the place. The bas reliefs on the outer walls are said to contain over 2,000 engravings.
Rows of stone Buddha heads line the path to Angkor Thom which dates from the 12th century. At one time this was the largest city in the Khmer Empire and was entered through 5 enormous gates. These gates can still be seen, all with giant faces, and within the city are many interesting ruins, the most notable and atmospheric, being the Bayon which itself bears over 200 stone faces.
This was originally a Buddhist monastery and today it looks to be fighting nature as the roots and gnarled branches of giant banyan trees erupt through the ruins and threaten to take over the complex. It lends the place a very mysterious air and fortunately for us, sensitive archaeological restoration, some of these trees and buildings are left in situ, entwined together.
It is well worth hiring a guide to help you negotiate the various temples â€“ and to carry the essentials like bottled water, it is surprising how heavy this can become during the day. Guides are reasonably priced