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The Unchallenged Beauty of Angkor in Siem Reap

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Bayan Temple in Angkor Thom

Bayan Temple in Angkor Thom

Visiting Siem Reap and the Beautiful Angkor Wat

Cambodia was the first country I visited in Asia. I chose it because of the people, the laid-back pace, the remarkable nature, and the famous religious site of Angkor, which is supposedly the largest religious site in the world in terms of surface area. And in hindsight, I believe I have chosen well.

We travelled to Siem reap by bus from Phnom Penh. Once we arrived there, a tuktuk driver took us to the lovely place we were staying: the natural homestay in Siem Reap, a beautifully built countryside house just at the border of Siem Reap. About three km from the center, this wood-built property in the middle of nature was very relaxing. After settling in, we bought a 3-day pass for Angkor at the official visitor center.

Start With the Small, Northern Temples

Angkor is actually a complex of over 35 temples. The most famous one, of course, is Angkor Wat. After a good night's sleep, our tuktuk driver picked us up. I recommend leaving very early in the morning. This way you can take advantage of the cool temperatures and avoid the crowds.

I asked our driver to start with the smaller temples in the north. We immediately realized that it was a good tip (given to us by an Australian tourist) because when we arrived, there were almost no people on the premises. The first temples we visited were nearly empty and even later, when it got a little more crowded, we could still enjoy every temple in peace.

We were fascinated because every temple we explored was unique. Take your time and take in every temple. Some temples even harboured bats.

Angkor Thom

Afterwards, we moved on to Angkor Thom. Some of the temples there are not for the faint-hearted (by that I mean people with a fear of heights). There are many tiny and very steep steps. But all temples are simply breathtaking and reflect the past glory of the ancient Khmer Empire.

On our way to the last stop of the day—Angkor Wat—we saw many cute little monkeys eating bananas given to them by tourists passing by.

Angkor Wat, the Main Temple

Angkor Wat, the Main Temple

Sunset at Angkor Wat

We ended our first day at Angkor Wat about 45 minutes before sunset. The main entrance alone is quite impressive, with a bridge built on water and surrounded by water lilies. We walked around the complex enjoying the statues and the carved murals. On our way to the main building, we spotted a tiny snake. On top of a set of stairs, we sat down and waited for the sunset. It was simply spectacular.

Visiting Angkor by Bike

The highlight of our trip was to cycle through the large complex, "hopping" from one temple to another. This is what we did on our second day, and I regret not having done it the first day too. We rented bikes in the city close to the place where we were staying and rode to the entrance of the large site. That alone was about 10 km.

You're sweaty and hot, but now and then you feel a little breeze in the shade. The flexibility of riding up to a temple—just leaving your bike as close to the entrance as possible—is great. Our itinerary differed from the one we did with the tuktuk driver so that we could cover more temples. We were able to visit Ta Prohm, which was the most crowded temple (and the filming location for Tomb Raider).

Personally, I believe that this is the only real way you should visit Angkor. If you have the chance to do this, do not hesitate. It's cheaper, healthier and faster. You get to visit more temples or take a longer lunch break. This should definitely be on your bucket list.

What Is the Best Way to Visit Angkor?

  • Buy your tickets at the official visitor center (beware, many sites sell fake tickets) the evening before.
  • Buy the 3-day pass to have enough time to see as much as possible.
  • Start early in the morning by visiting the temples that are the furthest. This way you will avoid the crowds.
  • Visit Angkor Wat in the afternoon to enjoy the sunset and also avoid the crowds.
  • Bring water with you—water bottles with filter are an environmentally friendly alternative.
  • There are several restaurants inside the complex which are a bit more expensive. Bring your own food or dine outside of the complex if you want to save money.
  • The best way to visit is by bike. This way you can easily navigate the complex and see more temples.

Temple Complex of Angkor

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