Initially I planned to explore the temples in Siem Reap for 3 days and get the week pass. I did my research online and mostly encountered posts about how one day is not enough for the temples, the difference between the small and big circuit and how hot and humid it gets in Cambodia during November. I spend one week in Siem Reap and one day in the temples in the beginning of November and it was completely enough and wonderful.
The first thing you need to do before the visit to the temples is find a great tuk-tuk driver. The temples complex is enormous, even in the small circuit and almost all temples are very big and impressive, so you really need a local that knows the grounds and will plan the best route for you. I have done my research on FB, in the traveling groups i am a member of and my tuk-tuk driver was Moun Makara, who turned out to be also a great photographer! I traveled alone and we agreed on $17 for the entire day for the small circuit. The day before he picked me up from my hostel to buy the entrance ticket to the temples at around 5pm. The plan was to go see the sunset at Angkor Wat, but by the time we got there, sunset was over, so get there earlier! The ticket was $37 and you have to guard it with your life, because you will need to present it at the entrance to almost every temple. The next morning my trip began at 5am, arriving to Angkor Wat with a few hundred tourists, gathering up the view the historic and dreamy sun coming up from behind the temple, quite a view and atmosphere, realizing you are about to witness something miraculous and be part of something spectacular.
Watching the sun rise, the sky changing colors from dark blue, to pink and purple, was truly a once in a lifetime experience, even if it happened with a few hundred strangers. Straight after sunrise I headed to explore Angkor Wat, a remarkable, sky scraping temple. Walking in its corridors, wandering who else walked along the passages centuries ago and looking at the magnificent carvings on the wall was a great way to start my day. The walls are covered with images of dancing figures, monkeys and unique decorative pillars. If you wish to receive a blessing from a local monk, you are lucky, because he will be there waiting for you.
The monkeys aren’t a rare sight in the temples, they are everywhere around Angkor Wat and the Elephant terrace.
The next stop before the elephant terrace was at Banteay Kdei. A smaller temple, unfortunately not as well preserved, but magical with its wall covered in green mos, carved figures, brown stained walls, reminders of the Khmer culture and facial carvings at top of the entrance gates. It was one of my favorite temples to explore, just walking in its passages, enjoying the serene atmosphere and art surviving from the 12th century.
Famous thanks to the growing tree in its center, Ta Prohm, was our next stop. The trees surrounding the temples are quite remarkable in their size and when you visit this Buddhist temple, you really see it as the tree’s roots hug the small temple. Normally the government takes action to protect the temples and remove anything that could harm them, but in this case nature won over man. So, now you are welcomed to stand in line to have your picture taken by your great tuk tuk driver with the temple and tree in the background. A great reminder to the fact that there is always something bigger and greater than your troubles.
Ta Keu, a huge temple under preservation. Built as a huge temple with a staircase to the top, now closed. So, all you can really do is walk around and explore it a bit.
On the way to the last stop, we stopped for a bit at the Elephant terrace. Part of the walled city of Angkor Thom, this terrace greets you with three elephant statues at the staircase. Climb up or walk around, it’s worth exploring thanks to the captivating work on the walls. The temples are truly a work of art, making you wonder how it possible to plan and execute such amazing complex of temples, each different from the other, unique and spectacular, big or small.
from there my Moun and I continued to another spectacular temple at Angkor Thom, impressive in size and with a breathtaking view from the top, after climbing up a few stairs. At this point it was close to noon time, hot and humid, and it is at this point I realized that one day is really quite enough to explore the temples. I have seen remarkable temples and thought what could there be more left to explore? Well, the best was 20 minutes away. So as we left the temple, Moun drew my attention to the carved sleeping Buddha on the temple’s wall- Don’t miss it! It’s spectacular and a beautiful detailed work. There will also be a sign with some info about it.
After a short drive through the Victory gate, with stone statues of guardians on each side, and again a magnificent man statue at the top of the gate, that later turned out to as a hint to the features of the best and most beautiful temple, Bayon.
Bayon, the most special from all the others, I walked in and fell in love. I absolutely loved it. In an intricate and outstanding way, their eyes will follow you, captivating you and your demanding your full attention. Bayon temple is special thanks to the men statues on every corner and roof top, facing each other and making everyone look up. If you ever wished to have your portrait taken in a 12th century temple with a few other faces, now is your chance. From any angle you will look amazing. Definitely the highlight of my trip to Cambodia’s temples.
After this grand finish, we headed back to the city and i was back at my hostel for a shower and good sleep. This was my journey to Siem Reap’s temples, whether you end up choosing the big or small tour, be ready to wear comfortable shoes, cover your shoulders and knees with light clothing as it will be very hot and humid, grab a great camera, pick your driver, and don’t worry for food and water; plenty of food stands at every stop.
Have a great time exploring!