27 October, 2016

9 Historical Temples to Visit in Angkor Archaeological Park @ Siem Reap, Cambodia

It sounded unbelievable to my friends when I told them I was going to Siem Reap for vacation. Partly because they thought I am a typical city girl who loves shopping, so less developed countries like Cambodia wouldn't be my ideal holiday destination.

But the truth to be told is, I am actually a shutterbug who enjoys exploring the culture and history of foreign lands. I don't mind walking for miles and miles just to see the beautiful structures built since thousands of years ago, to befriend people who hardly speak English, and to experience the life of living in poverty. 

In my previous post of exploring the small town, I have suggested 11 Places to Visit at Siem Reap Town, but ultimately every tourist should spend at least 2-3 days at Angkor Archaeological Park to experience the beauty of Khmer Kingdom.

The admission pass (an 'Angkor Pass') to visit this world's famous heritage site is available at USD $20 for one-day pass and USD $40 for a 7-day pass. The counter opens at 5am everyday, but be early otherwise the queue would be very long. Photo is taken on the spot, lol please ignore my sleepy morning face. 

Here are 9 among over 40+ historical ruins you must visit within Angkor Archaeological Park:

1. Angkor Wat (小吳哥)
Angkor Wat
Visiting Hours: 5.30am - 5.30pm

If you want to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, I'd suggest you to go there at 4am (Not on the same day when you buy the pass) in order to secure a nice (centre) spot to take good pictures. When I reached there around 5++ am, the open space was already 70% occupied and I couldn't manage to get a nice angle for the photos. 

Travel Tips: Ask your tourguide (Tuk Tuk Driver) to pick you up from the guesthouse early during dawn!

Day 1:
The Angkor Archaelogical Park is so huge that we separated our tours into two days. On the first day, we explored the Small Circuit (吳哥窟小圈) that began with Angkor Wat, followed by several temples within 17km of the area. The major structures include Angkor Thom, Ta Phrohm, and Banteay Kdei, whereas some of the minor but interesting temples are Baphoun, The Terrace of the Leper King, The Terrace of the Elephants, the Twelve Prasats, Spean Thma and Sras Srang.

Day 2:
On the next day, we went for a trip around the 26km Grand Circuit (外圈) which is an extension on the little circuit. Culture wise, it is more worth visiting as it has rich variety of architecture. Banteay Srei and Beng Mealea are amongst the must-visit spots here!

Day 3:
If you plan to spend the third day within Angkor complex, then I think Preah Khan, Preah Neak Pean and various monuments such as Ta Som and Preah Rup are worth visiting. 

Level 1 in Angkor Wat

Level 2 in Angkor Wat

We easily spent 3 hours inside Angkor Wat as it comprises of 3 square levels (1-3) and each one is progressively smaller and higher than the one below starting from the outer limits of the temple. Until the third level, there was a long queue because they only limit 100 visitors to go up to Bakan each time.

Going up to Level 3 (Bakan) in Angkor Wat

Travel Tips: Yes, a lot of walking and climbing is required throughout the tour. And only those with covered shoulders and legs are allowed to go up, so be sure to wear appropriately. For me, a cardigan and long jeggings would be perfect, as they could protect me from scorching sunlight too.

2. Bayon Temple (巴揚寺)
Built 100 years after Angkor Wat (around 13th century), Bayon comprises of over 2000 large faces carved on 54 towers in the complex maze of galleries, passages and narrow walkways, giving it a majestic character. 

Recommended time spent: 3 hours should be sufficient to take a lot of pictures here and reach the peak of Bayon. But be careful as the pathways are narrow and dim, plus it is flooded with tourists.

Faces with slightly curving lips, eyes placed in shadow with closed lids;
Indeed a beautiful artwork from the yesteryears!

3. Baphuon Temple (巴芳寺)
Baphuon, a single sanctuary temple-mountain situated on a high base, suffered from several collapses, creating a poor condition at the top level which made it difficult for visitors to reach the peak. Nevertheless, it is worth the walk along the sandstone-walled structure carved with many animated figures. 

4. Terrace of Elephants (鬥象台)
This is one of the most beautiful structures that we don't mind stopping by along the way to capture some nice shots here. Accessible from the east side in the Royal Square of Angkor Thom, we took a couple of minutes to notice that the elephants were actually ridden by servants and princes.

5. Ta Keo (茶膠寺)
After several visit to different structures, slowly we realised each is unique on its own. The carvings, stones, layout and background all differ from one another. Definitely a heaven for history lovers!

But as soon as our feet felt tired after 5 hours of walking and climbing non-stop, we easily skipped a few of the temples and spent only 30 minutes at Ta Keo temple before our next destination.

6. Ta Prohm (塔普倫寺) 
Ta Prohm, the "Tomb Raider" Temple named after the movie by James Bond

Ta Prohm was my personal favourite among the many temples I had visited. The beauty of nature couldn't be better explained than this magnificent ruin being surrounded by massive tangled roots and trees on the standing bricks. It is especially beautifully in the morning, with sunlight shining through the green foliage of the trees. 

Recommended time spent: 1.5 hours

7. Bakheng Mountain (巴肯山) 
The unbearably long queue at Bakheng Mountain at 6pm

Approaching evening, we did a little trekking (about 30 minutes uphill) up to the Bakheng Mountain for sunset. Luckily we arrived early (approximately 5pm) and queued for an hour to visit the peak as the number of visitors at the top area was restricted to just 300 people at any one time. 

However, if you couldn't manage to go up, the view in the midst of the mountain was also picture worthy.

8. Banteay Srei  (女皇宮) 
Located further away from Angkor Wat, Banteay Srei required a bit of travelling (around 45 minutes via tuk tuk from Siem Reap town) but it was totally worth our time to visit this fairy palace in the heart of an immense and mysterious forest.

It was the only temple in Angkor park that looks reddish in color, thanks to the use of special hard pink sandstone (quartz arenite) which also enabled the technique of sandalwood carving with added Indian scent to it.

Recommended time spent: 1.5 hours 
Travel Tips: Don't forget your ticket as it will be checked at East Mebon clearance gate before arriving at Banteay Srei. 

9. Beng Mealea (崩密列)
Beng Mealea (Angkor Pass is not accepted here)
Separate Entrance Fee: USD $5 per pax 

Beng Mealea, which literally means the lotus pond, is largely unrestored,  and allows the visitor to experience what it may have looked like originally. With trees and thick bushes thriving amidst the ruined towers, and stones lying in great heaps, I personally find that Beng Mealea is the prettiest ruin among all. 

Although it is 77km away from Siem Reap town by road, it is worth the travelling time. Plus, the area is very huge, more cooling and quieter than the previous temples that we had visited. 

Recommended time spent: 1.5 hours
Travel Tips: There are a lot of kids selling handcrafted items such as hats etc, you may help them by getting one or two.  

In case if you are feeling hungry, restaurants and street food are aplenty in the Angkor Archaelogical Park. Since we tried to avoid street food there as much as possible (due to hygiene reason), we went for lunch at some decent restaurants there which costed about USD $10 per person. A tad expensive, I would say, but totally worth the experience as we were treated like kings and queens with an array of local home-cooked food. 

Personal Verdict:
Overall, it was an amazing experience exploring the cultural richness and architectural beauty of Siem Reap. Highly recommended for photography enthusiasts and adventurous travellers!

Other Siem Reap related blog posts:
1. 11 Places to Visit at Siem Reap Town
2. Affordable Accommodation: Bun Kao Guesthouse

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