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Cambodia Series 2 of 4 | Angkor Wat Sunrise

Siem Reap ក្រុងសៀមរាប, home to the ancient World Heritage temples of Angkor Wat, was a bustling city and capital to the Khmer empire in the 12 - 13th century.

I'll be spending 4 days in Siem Reap, visiting the Tonle Sap lake floating villages, Angkor Wat, the local markets, join in on the crazy Khmer New Year water festival, and wrapping up at a visit to the National Museum to fill in any gaps on learnings. After Siem Reap I'll be heading over to Hanoi for a weekend in Halong Bay.

Siem Reap day 1 - Tonle Sap lake
Siem Reap day 2 - Angkor Wat sunrise (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm)
Siem Reap day 3 - More of Angkor Wat (Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, Bantaey Srei, Pre Rup)
Siem Reap day 4 - National Museum

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Sunrise in Siem Reap is pretty early, around 5:50am in the morning. Including the transport time, ticket purchasing, and walking in, we needed an hours’ lead time. I met my driver, Mr.Sambo, at 4:45am in the hotel lobby. This reminded me of my Trans-Siberian train transfer from Taiga to Tomsk at 3:30am, and arriving in just for the sunrise, except it’s 50 degrees warmer. 

 

Angkor Wat Tickets
The recently raised the price for the entrance fees, one day at $37 USD, three day for $62, and seven days at $72 USD. The lines for the one day ticket were long, even with 10 counters each counter were at least 10 people or more deep. I waited around 10 minutes to get my three day pass. The lady tapped at the webcam to take a shot of my sleepy face, which was printed onto my “Angkor Pass”. 

As we took the right turn around the waters surrounding the temple, I could see the distant sky slowly shifting from a starry night sky to a purple and pink sunrise. There’s so much traffic – tour busses, vans, tuk tuks, motorbikes, bikes, people on foot etc. Everyone was pouring in for this Wednesday Morning Angkor Wat sunrise. My driver went as far as he could, until he dropped me off at a market area, from here it’s another 10 minute on foot through the long entrance into Angkor Wat’s main temple grounds. 

Sunrise
As I approached closer to Angkor Wat, there’s very loud cricket sounds, people exclaiming, phones and cameras everywhere. The air becomes warmer and more humid. There are locals selling breakfast, coffee, tea, guide books for $1, paintings, and souvenirs. Facing Angkor Wat, you see its silhouette, contrasting strong against the now pink and orange twilight skies. With your back towards the Angkor Wat, you see the moon still shining high in the pale purple sky. It’s a very mystical feeling, and at the same time the tension and excitement is high. Hundreds of people wait patiently by the lake, and in just a very short 15 minutes, the sun was peeking out from behind Angkor Wat. The large group around the pond scrambled quickly and everyone head inside the actual temple. 





Quick Angkor Wat Facts
  • Built: 12th Century
  • King: Suryavarman II (1113-1150)
  • Religion: Originally Hindu (Vishnu), transformed to Buddhist at end of the century
  • Purpose: State temple & Capital
  • Resources required: 300,000 people, 6,000 elephants, 5 million tons of sandstone, and 37 years
  • Current visitor count: 2 million per year
Walking into Angkor Wat, you are constantly climbing altitude on stairs, but because you are partially indoors, you don’t realize how high up you are until you end up on the other end and exiting. There were many corridors leading to the 4 sides of this squared complex. There are some opened ground, perhaps for worship. I could hear tour guides speaking in all kinds of languages, it was really impressive actually! Even though I speak Mandarin, I could barely explain the intricacies of the architecture and history. The guides spoke a range of languages: English, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German, Spanish, French, and Russian. 



 

 

I finished wandering around Angkor Wat at about 7am. The sun was now properly risen in the sky. I caught a mischievous little one with an empty lunch box just around the front gates. 



Bad news, I couldn’t find Mr.Sambo anywhere. There were at least a good 30-40 tuk tuks parked in that market square where I was dropped off. Plus it seemed to look completely different to pre-sunrise state. Good thing I took a photo of Mr.Sambo’s phone number, and a kind driver helped me call him. We’re now off to the second temple complex - Angkor Thom. 



Angkor Thom
Getting from Angkor Wat to Angkor Thom was a good 15min drive. The temple grounds are so big it’s incredible to think that they built this in the 12th century. Angkor Thom is a series of smaller temples, and it is more than 4 times the land area of Angkor Wat.I’ll be visiting Bayon (famous for stone face statues), Baphuon, and Terrace of the Leper King.

Quick Angkor Thom Facts 
  • Translation: “Great City”
  • Built: late 12th century
  • King: Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181 – 1218)
  • Religion: State temple Bayon is Mahayana Buddhist 
  • Purpose: last capital city of the Khmer Empire, includes the Royal Palace, temples, and was a life city
  • Inner city canal systems flowed from northeast to the southwest
  • The entrance towers rise 24m above the ground, crowned with 4 stone heads facing each cardinal direction.

Ankor Thom - Bayon 
Mr.Sambo dropped me off right in front of Bayon, and showed me on the map which route to walk through. He’ll be meeting me on the other side where the Terrace of the Leper King is. Bayon was pretty busy. From a far the temple is framed by palm trees, and a rough stone path leading up to the stairs. Upon entering in, a small Buddhist statue rapped in orange fabric sits peacefully in the center. There are steep stair, ascending 43meters up to the many stone face statues. There’s a total of 216 faces in the Bayon temple, pretty impressive. It is so incredible that it has lasted for a millennium. 





 



Ankor Thom - Baphuon 
The sun was pretty high up now and it is so warm. I slowly made my way towards Baphuon but sat down in the shade to cool off a bit. Baphuon is pretty old “temple tower” and they are still in process of piecing it back together. You see an elevated path of about 1.5-2meters above ground with pillars. Again there are very steep stairs to the top, 50m off the ground. There are a lot of missing rocks, broken pillars and statues.




Ankor Thom – Terrace of the Leper King 
The sun was roasting me, as it was 11am in the morning already. I walked towards Terrace of the Leper King to meet my driver. On the way I ran into a group of military police. I wanted to take a photo with them, but I chickened out the first time. However I regretted leaving, and went back to ask for a photo. They turned out to be super nice, and one of them asked to get a photo on their phone as well! They were all carrying huge assault rifles, let’s hope they have the safety on properly. 

The Terrace was pretty cool, with a little maze full of statues of various gods. There were no tourists to be seen, perhaps because it was way too warm. I was also pretty warn out from being awake since 4am in the morning. I asked Mr.Sambo to bring me to lunch, so we drove about 10 minutes and stopped by a small restaurant. There was no A/C, probably better for the environment, but they set up 3 very powerful fans so I cooled off pretty quickly. I ordered a beef stir fried with rice and a coconut, which was only $10 US! There’s also wifi there, which is the case in every single restaurant I went to in Siem Reap. 





Ta Prohm “Tomb Raider Temple” 
After lunch, I had energy for 1 last temple – Ta Prohm. This is where they filled Tomb Raider, famous for that corner with the tree growing out of the side of the temple. This was even more crowded than Angkor Wat, on a Wednesday too! Walking in towards the main structure of the temple is a long road about 3 meters wide and covered in sand. I could hear traditional Cambodian folk music from afar, and it seemed to be some victims who have lost their arms or legs fighting in war, but the music was lovely. You can leave a tip to support them. 

Quick Ta Prohm Facts 
  • Translation: “Ancestor Brahma”, the old name Rajavihara means “monastery of the King”
  • Built: late 12th century
  • King: Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181 – 1218)
  • Religion & Purpose: Mahayana Buddhist monetary and University
  • Treasures: 5 tons of gold dishes, 35 pearls, and 454 precious stones
  • Inhabitants: 80,000 people to maintain the temple, 2,700 officials, and 615 dancers
  • Apsara Authorities charged Tomb Raider shooting US $10,000/day 


 



Night Markets
After Ta Prohm, I was ready to fall asleep, it was only 1pm, but I felt like I’ve seen 3 days’ worth of stuff and learned so much since the morning. I took a shower, napped, and left my hotel around 5 or 6pm. I wandered near the night market area. I ended up buying 2 notebooks ($8) and with a $10, I got a US $2 bill back! Perfect for my currency collection. I also got a shawl like piece of big fabric which I’ll use to cover up my knees tomorrow since I’ll be wearing shorts (way cooler than jeans). There’s loads of other things you can buy in the market from jewelry to silverware, paintings, magnets, t-shirts, traditional wear.. etc 



 



For dinner, I went to this restaurant next to Malis which I went on day 1. It was also a pretty nice restaurant serving Cambodian food, called Canery Tree. I tried spring rolls and also beef “Char Kroeung”. This is a famous Khmer curry like dish mixed with a stir fry made with many spices. It is similar to other South East Asian dishes with a slight variation, delicious as always. 

Day 3 in Siem Reap, Day 2 in Angkor Wat, I set a more reasonable time for my driver to pick me up – at 8:30am. I’ll be exploring the rest of the temples within the Angkor Wat area: Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, Pre Rup and Bantaey Srei which is a 30 minute drive up north but totally worth it.









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