Angkor Wat (Siem Reap, Cambodia)



Angkor Wat was built in the first half of the 12th century, Angkor Wat is located about six kilometers (four miles) north of Siem Reap, south of Angkor Thom. Entry and exit to Angkor Wat can only be access from its west gate. The building of Angkor Wat is likely to have necessitated some 300,000 workers, which included architects, construction workers, masons, sculptors and the servants to feed these workers. Construction of the site took over 30 years and was never completely finished. The site is built entirely out of stone, which is incredible as close examination of the temple demonstrates that almost every surface is treated and carved with narrative or decorative details.

Angkor Wat itself is surrounded by a 650-foot-wide (200 m) moat that encompasses a perimeter of more than 3 miles (5 km). This moat is 13 feet deep (4 m) and would have helped stabilize the temple’s foundation, preventing groundwater from rising too high or falling too low.

There are 1,200 square meters of carved bas reliefs at Angkor Wat, representing eight different Hindu stories. The height of Angkor Wat from the ground to the top of the central tower is greater than it might appear: 213 meters (699 feet), achieved with three rectangular or square levels (1-3) each one is progressively smaller and higher than the one below starting from the outer limits of the temple.

The building of temples by Khmer kings was a means of legitimizing their claim to political office and also to lay claim to the protection and powers of the gods. Hindu temples are not a place for religious congregation; instead; they are homes of the god. In order for a king to lay claim to his political office he had prove that the gods did not support his predecessors or his enemies. To this end, the king had to build the grandest temple/palace for the gods, one that proved to be more lavish than any previous temples. In doing so, the king could make visible his ability to harness the energy and resources to construct the temple, and assert that his temple was the only place that a god would consider residing in on earth.

Since the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 15th Century C.E., Angkor Wat has remained one of the most significant religious structures in the world. Even after the Thais sacked the city in 1431, people from all across Asia continued to take religious pilgrimages to the ruined city, attributing its enormity and beauty to the gods of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Ta Prohm is one of the most photographed temples, deliberately left mostly unrestored, and tangled and strangled by undergrowth. The perennial favourite, at Angkor Thom, is the Bayon temple, the towers of which are etched with enlightened bodhisattva faces and where enchanting bas-reliefs depict ordinary Khmer life rather than Hindu gods.

Get around

Tour buses feature guided, air-conditioned comfort but also are subject to large crowds and lack of options. Be sure you know which temples are being visited as some of the larger buses only go to the 2 or 3 main tourist attractions, and leave out important "secondary" sights. The cost is about USD25-70/day including driver and guide.

Cars with drivers can be hired for single or multiple days. While all drivers are familiar with the area and happy to suggest good routes, most speak little English and are not tour guides. For a licensed tour guide, the charge varies from US$45 per day to USD50 for a driver and English speaking guide. It is customary for the drivers to ask for USD5-10 extra for trips to further temples such as the those of the Big Circuit, Banteay Srey and more for remote sites like Beng Mealea.

Taxis booked from the airport booth to central Siem Reap charged a fixed price of USD7 and included fliers advertising cars and drivers for Angkor Wat at USD30/day.

Motorbikes (with drivers) can be arranged through any guesthouse for about USD6-8/day. Again, drivers might ask for more to visit remote ruins. Some drivers can speak a bit of English, and can give you information about Angkor and Cambodian life. Drivers are required to be licensed and must wear their grey numbered vest while travelling within the confines of the Angkor park. Motorbikes can be rented by foreigners (cost: USD10-15 / day). It is recommended to carry a map with you in case of renting a motorbike.

Bicycles are a very convenient option to visit Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the little circuit or even the big circuit - depending on time you have and how big fan of Khmer temples you are. Renting a bike in Siem Reap is easy and cheap (USD1 per day, in most of places you don't even have to leave passport, locks for bikes are provided, check the bike before and ask for some amendments if needed, eg, pumping air, oiling the chain). It is about 6km from the city to Angkor Wat (if you go first time, make sure you go by the Visitors Centre which is the only place where you can buy passes). In the little circuit most places are at most 15 minutes away from each other by bike, so it is actually not a problem for a regular tourist (without much biking experience) to visit Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and spots on the little circuit in one day. If you are willing to get up early and start your trip 06:00 (it is not uncommon to see a bike rentals open from 04:30) it won't be a problem to visit all above plus the big circuit (where spots are 30 minutes away each other by bike) in one day.

Tuk tuks can be arranged through guesthouses, offering space for one or two travellers. Figure on USD12 for the main Angkor temples, and more for outlying temples. Like the motorbike drivers, they must be licensed, may speak some English, and must wear grey numbered vests while travelling within the park. Add USD3 extra fee if you would like to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Extra fee is for the tuk tuk driver to start the tour at 05:00 instead of 08:00.

It is strongly advised to use a tuk tuk recommended by the hotel, otherwise you can be scammed badly.

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