One of my favourite destinations so far was Angkor Wat Archeological Park, Cambodia. I loved every temple that we visited, and as my parents had bought tickets that we could use for three days, over a week we saw many. My most-liked temples in the park were Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm and Tep Pranam.
Angkor Wat Temple is one of the most known temples in the world and the biggest religious site on earth. My family and I visited this temple a total of three times, originally to see the sunset, another time to see the sunrise, and the last to explore Angkor Wat’s third level.
Our first visit to Ankgor Wat was very brief. If you bought your tickets after 5:00, you had a half an hour to visit and see the sunset for free as the park closed at 5:30. During this first visit, we had to reach the west side before the temple closed. Therefore, we had to run through the temple, and didn’t really get to appreciate it’s magnificence; however, once we had gotten across the moat, we got to enjoy the beautiful sun setting in front of the temple and the wonderful skyline.
Our next trip to Angkor Wat was the following morning, which would also be our first day at Angkor Wat Archeological Park. We had woken up before the sun at 5:00 a.m., so we could maximize our time in Angkor Wat Archeological Park before it got too hot to function. Although the morning was quite chilly, and I had to use my shawl as a blanket, the classic silhouette of Angkor Wat against the brightly coloured sky was amazing, and I really enjoyed it. Visiting Angkor Wat is a very common at sunrise, so there were many people like us watching the sunrise from across the moat. I was very surprised to see that there were already thousands of people arriving to enter the temple at this early hour.
On our last tour of Angkor Wat Temple, there were also thousands of tourists streaming across the walkway, already exiting the temple at 6:00 a.m.! While we were pushing our way through the hoards of people, Matthew spotted a monkey eating a boiled egg! It was both a hilarious and an extremely bizarre scene. Once we had gotten to the interior of Angkor Wat, where the stairs up to the third level were, we found a line that wrapped almost all the way around the base of the third level! We ended up waiting in line for and hour to climb up to the top level. When we got to the front of the line, we discovered that you had to be over 12 to climb to the top. As Matthew was 10, he had to wait at the bottom for us. We thought that this was unjust, as children under 12 were allowed to
climb much more precarious staircases in other temples, and yet they weren’t permitted to ascend the perfectly safe ones at Angkor Wat. I really enjoyed the view from the top floor, but I thought that the final level of Angkor Wat wasn’t nearly as impressive as people had made it out to be. I didn’t think that Matthew was missing out on too much. As we were exiting the temple my Dad noticed that there were bas-reliefs carved into the walls of the temple. They mostly depicted different war scenes, and gods. We followed them and discovered that they wrapped all the way around temple complex itself. My Mom later learned from our tuk-tuk driver that those carvings were the longest in the world.
On our first day after the sunrise at Ankgor Wat, we decided to head away from the crowds to visit Bayon temple. This temple is situated in Angkor Thom, a city where 1 million people lived during the Khmer Empire of the 12th century. This temple is mostly known for two reasons: it’s 216 gigantic faces and the only known documentation, in the form of a bas-relief, of how the Khmer people built their temples.
I really enjoyed our first visit to Bayon temple. As it was early in the morning, there weren’t many people there yet. We could go wherever we wanted without a hassle. This meant that we could spend time on the second level appreciating each pillar which had four faces on it, one pointing in each cardinal direction – North, East, South or West. A few minutes after we had descended from the second level, my Dad came running over to my Mom, Matthew and I and said that he had found the relief that showed how the Khmer built their temples. Looking at it closely, I noticed that the relief depicted a technique similar to how the Ancient Egyptians built their temples – by rubbing two stones together until they were perfectly smooth, and the stacking them on top of each other (with no mortar). This technique meant that the stones sat perfectly level and is one of the reasons why the temple still exists today.
Our second visit to Bayon temple was tons of fun. There are two ancient libraries located on the grounds of Bayon highly dangerous very steep staircases. It was a lot of fun to climb up and down these staircases, as it felt more like climbing a mountain then a set of stairs! The libraries were situated, more then four meters above ground, and didn’t have much in the way of railings. I found it odd that children under 12 were allowed to climb such dangerous stairs, while at Angkor Wat ascending much safer stairs with a hand railing isn’t permitted.
We also visited Ta Prohm temple which is known for two things: part of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was filmed at this temple, and because of how nature has reclaimed it. I loved that there were many trees roots that had taken over and had either broken some of the ruins or were holding some of the parts of the temple together. One shrine even had a dead tree growing on top of it! I couldn’t figure out how it had grown up there. Half way through our visit, crowds of other tourists started to arrive, and my Dad got separated from my Mom, Matthew and I. We (minus my dad) got a little bit lost, but made our way through the temple to see many other huge tree roots covering parts of the site. Eventually, though, we found my Dad near the exit where we were supposed to meet our tuk-tuk driver.
Tep Pranam temple is also situated in Angkor Thom, approximately one hundred meters from Bayon temple. We had tried to enter this temple on our first day, and found that it was closed until 8:30 am, and we didn’t want to wait an hour for it to open. We attempted to visit Tep Pranam again on our last day, and discovered that children under 12 weren’t allowed to enter this temple either. My dad and I decided to look around quickly, while my Mom and Matthew stayed at the entrance. As the temple was built to represent Mount Meru (the mystical mountain worshipped in the Hindu religion), there were many, many steep staircases to climb. The Khmer people believed that the stairs represented the climb towards heaven and thus one needed to work hard to reach
the sanctuary at the top. My dad and I were soaked after ascending numerous stairs in the blitzing sun, and I was kind of glad that we weren’t permitted to climb up to the top level of this temple. Our decent was much easier then our ascent, as we weren’t in the sun. Nearing the last staircase, I spotted a disguised lying Buddha that was carved, but hidden in the wall! This Buddha was huge, about twenty meters long, and the face was almost invisible. I wouldn’t have even noticed it if there hadn’t been a sign that had information about the restoration of this gigantic carving.
Although we were lucky enough to see eleven other temples besides the four I mention, the archeological park is over 200 kilometers squared and could possibly take many years to fully explore. If you ever get to visit it, you need at least three or more days to see the major sites.