After having my first successful night out in Siem Reap, I decided to go to temple hopping during my 2nd day in Cambodia and learn about the history of the Khmer Empire. I booked a very affordable tour through Get Your Guide that took me from my hotel to the three most famous temples in the area: Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and the Bayon Temple with the smiling Buddha faces. To enter these places you must pay a fee of $37 for a joint ticket at the gate, but the amount of nature and exploring you are able to do for the day makes the price worth it. Expect this tour to last 6-10 hours depending if you want to stick around for the sunset or not. You can also opt for a sunrise tour as well.
Angkor Wat was originally founded as a Hindu temple but later became a Buddhist temple by the end of the 12th century. Though today it serves mostly as a tourist attraction and the largest religious monument in the world, it also represents the harsh reign of the Khmer Rouge that all of Cambodia will forever remember. I enjoyed the aesthetic hike through the historic former capitals of the Khmer Rouge because learning about Cambodian culture was very eye-opening for me. I will write in detail about the horrors of the Killing Fields in a future update, because I think it is a very important part of history that should be further brought to light.
What I loved about Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples is there was a lot of room to freely explore the area, and it didn’t feel like a tourist attraction–it actually felt like a genuine adventure. Compared to temples in Thailand and Japan that I have visited, these temples were a lot less crowded and I didn’t feel rushed during my time here at all. People from all around the world gather to marvel at these temples, and although they are somewhat remote they are worth the journey if you’re up for the challenge!
Ta Prohm was the location where the original Tomb Raider movie was filmed, and I definitely felt like Lara Croft as I climbed several flights of stairs and over rocks to get the best views possible here. Historically this area was the last capital of the Khmer Rouge, and is now abandoned and left to nature. That is why this temple is extremely beautiful in both design and architecture due to the moss covering the temple walls and the tree growing from within it. Ta Prohm shows what nature can do to a place if it is left alone:
The last temple that I visited was the Bayon Temple, which was a lot of fun to explore due to all of the Buddha faces hidden in the intricate architecture. Everywhere you look there are heads to be found, but ironically a lot of Buddha statues within the walls of the temple are missing their heads! I was told by my tour guide that they were stolen by thieves for money and destroyed during the Khmer empire, but there is also the possibility they may have been stolen by foreign tourists and now be on display in international art galleries. Little is known about their whereabouts, which gives Bayon an air or mystery and sadness masked behind carvings of happy smiles.
What amazes me about the temples of Angkor Wat is that many of them were abandoned due to superstition (such as when lightning struck or a natural disaster occurred), but are still standing today. I think it would take nearly three full days to explore all of them, but I felt extremely satisfied with what I was able to see within a day because I learned a lot about the culture. My recommendation is that everyone that has interest in exploring temples comes here. You never know what you may discover!