When you think of Cambodia, the first thing that comes to mind is definitely Angkor Wat. I’ve seen many pictures of these famous temples but it was the Tomb Raider movie that ensured that Cambodia got priority on my travel bucket list. After a torturous 8 hour bus drive from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (they said it would only take 6 hours), I was ready to go explore.
SN: This bus drive is not for pansies and I would not recommend it to anyone who does not have a high tolerance for booming Cambodian music and nerves of steel to sit through a really dodgy and nerve wrecking bus driving experience. (I am pretty sure we ran about 6 animals over on our way there).
Siem Reap stands in absolute contrast when compared to Phnom Penh. The streets are bustling with tourists and the lingering smell of freshly baked French baguettes fills the air. There are many bars, restaurants and markets with some of the most amazing Cambodian food I’ve ever had. Decent hotels and backpackers are in abundance and just the general vibe of the city was amazing. You can see that tourism is obviously of great importance here.
I really struggled to contain the childlike excitement I felt when I finally set off to explore the temples of Angkor Wat. On the way there my taxi driver told me about hot air balloon rides that one can take over the temples. This sounded like an experience that I could not pass up on, so I decided to make the detour and see what the fuss was all about.
After discovering that the balloon is actually anchored with a cable to the ground and does not fly freely over the temples, I was a bit disappointed. The balloon only goes up about 100m in the air and stays there for +/- 15 minutes and descends back down. It does give you a breathtaking bird’s eye view of Angkor Wat, but the temples were still quite far away. Bring the biggest lens in your arsenal (or maybe a telescope) If you are planning on taking pictures of the temples from the air. The people around me seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the experience so I guess it was worth spending $15 on this.
Exploring the temples was an even greater experience than I imagined. I cannot put in words how stunned I was by its magnificent beauty. How did these ancient people build this place? My mind was completely blown by the architectural greatness of it.
Angkor Wat is the best-preserved temple at the site and has remained a significant religious center to this day. Construction of the temple was started in die early 12th century by the Khmer King, Suryavarman II and his work of art is still admired by his country, appearing as a symbol on the National Cambodian flag.
Angkor Wat is just ONE of the many temples scattered around this ancient jungle site. There are so many more to be seen and I just couldn’t get enough of it. Each temple has its own unique characteristics and rich history, but I must admit it was a lot to take in and one does tend to get very tired in the attempt to process all the information.
If you plan on going, make sure you wear comfortable shoes and pack enough water, sunblock and snacks. There are vendors and restaurants around the temples to replenish your stocks, so make sure you are prepared for a long hot and sweaty day. This was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I think that this majestic place should be on all travelers’ bucket lists by default.
For more authentic experiences and spectacular sightseeing, check out some of these must-see places in Southeast Asia.