The fact that Angkor Wat doesn’t seem to be included on any ‘wonders of the world’ list really shocks me. Angkor Wat, meaning ‘temple city’ in Khmer is a 12th century temple complex located in Siem Reap province. It is the largest religious monument in the world – originally a Hindu temple, it became a Buddhist during the 13th century.
We got the (very bumpy) seven hour coach down from Phnom Penh, and were taken by car to our hotel, the Memoire d’Angkor. We arrived just in time for dinner, and made plans to get up at 4.30 the next morning in order to be at Angkor Wat for sunrise. The hotel staff were really helpful, arranging our tuktuk temple tour and packing us a breakfast of banana bread, croissants and fruit. Our tuktuk driver cost $10 for the morning, and took us round the temples, waiting for us to re-emerge once we’d explored each one. For those wary of waking up at the crack of dawn – I really recommend it. It looks stunning, and you get to miss the afternoon heat (and crowds!).
We pulled up to the ticket office around 4.50am, where there was already a sizeable queue. Tickets cost $20 a day for the site, and there’s no swapping tickets as each one has your face printed on it (and yes, they do check at the temples). Once we were sat down in the grounds and waiting for the sun to rise, I was feeling a mixture of emotions. I was completely in awe at the sight in front of me, as well as being completely furious that no one else had followed the dress code. I was sat there in trousers and an elbow-length top while the girl directly in front of me had on denim hotpants and a lace tank top with a coloured bra visible underneath. I was annoyed that someone would be so inconsiderate, while wishing I was wearing her outfit. I was looking a real treat, looking and feeling sweaty and generally unpleasant in front of my boyfriend while she was looking fresh and comfortable in front of hers!
Once the sun had risen, we went into the temple and had a wander around. The very top doesn’t open until 8.30, but there was so much to see – enough intricate wall carvings, statues and roofs to keep us entertained for hours.
Once the upstairs had opened a queue began forming. Denim hotpants and her boyfriend (who attempted to cover his exposed shoulders by swaddling himself up in a towel like a mummy, or a giant baby) weren’t allowed up. So I wasn’t suffering for nothing after all!
Unfortunately for hotpants, the view was worth the wait. The way back down the steep steps, however, was mildly horrific for me as I can’t stand heights. I scooted down on my butt, much to the dismay of Mr A and the crowd behind me.
Oh – and the place is crawling with monkeys, too!
We found our tuktuk driver who showed us round the other temples, including Angkor Thom (with all the faces), Ta Phrom (with all the trees) and some of the smaller ones like Ta Keo.
It was one of the most incredible days I’ve ever had, and I am so glad we made it in time to see the sunrise. The only vaguely negative experience I had during my time at the temples involved the tour groups. Maybe this feeling has always been inside of me, or maybe some change took place while I was in Cambodia, but I have developed a pure, unadulterated hatred for tour groups. After the incident at the Killing Fields, large tour groups weren’t doing themselves any favours in my book. The tour groups would barge into cordoned off areas to take pictures of themselves, standing on and touching centuries-old carvings and stone. It drove me mad, and by 12 o’clock I was becoming grumpy due to their behaviour, combined with the excessive heat and feeling of hunger. So after a seven hour stretch at Angkor Wat, we got our tuktuk back to the hotel where we spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool.
Even though I felt I’d packed a lot into my morning, I’ll definitely be going to Angkor Wat again. There is something like 28 temples to see, and I’m excited to head back again one day, to see everything I missed the first time.