Sweaty Business Exploring the Angkor Wats
Updated: Mar 22, 2021
The traditional introduction to the ruins at Siem Reap is to head out predawn to arrive in time to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat (Wat is temple in English) while admiring its reflection in the pool facing it. So that’s what we did.
We had arranged for a tuk tuk to meet us at 6:00 am the day before. He was on time and we were off to the races with dozens of other tuk tuk porting tourists to the same destination as ourselves: the ticket office. It was a mad scramble to beat the sun rise and as it turned out, there was really no need to rush at all.
We pulled up on the Angkor Wat site in pitch blackness. In the hordes of tourists, several had come prepared with flash lights so we followed their lead. It was difficult to determine your surroundings in the blackness, but we know that we had gone up rock stairs, crossed a rock causeway almost 200 metres long that traversed a wide moat and through a rock gate to arrive at where we could just make out the outlines of the Angkor Wat towers against the sky in the twilight. As the sun rose it became possible to see the reflection. It was indeed beautiful.
As it became lighter outside and the prime time for taking photos arrived, we made our way towards the main structure. It was truly enormous. It contained a central tower flanked by four others, all located on an elevated structure and surrounded by an ornate outside wall. The architectural style was as unique as it was beautiful. The stones were also decorated with carved figures and architectural details everywhere you could look. It was almost overwhelming.
Leaving the crowds behind, we continued to the east gate some 1300 metres from our predawn starting point. The calmness was welcome and the green moss covered stones provided unparalleled photo opportunities that made the trek worthwhile.
Slowly we made our way back to our tuk tuk driver and then headed on to Preahkahn Wat. Our driver dropped us off at the west side temple entrance. We were to meet him at the east gate more than one kilometre away. The temple in between was a completely different experience to Angkor. This temple had only one level. Its overall shape resembled a cross and as you progressed through it from room to room to room to room stepping over rock thresholds and glimpsing though windows at the ruins to your right and to you left, it seemed to go on forever. As massive as it was, there were limited thoroughfares due to collapsed walls and passageways. In general the main routes were in the shape of an X, east-west and north-south. It was still utterly fascinating. Despite its ruined condition, the detailed carvings in the stone were still largely visible and many statures were largely intact.
After two more stops, we came upon the Eastern Mebon in time for the midday sun. We hadn’t grasped how spoiled we were exploring the jungle ruins as we were in the shade. The Estern Mebon was and elevated temple in full sun. There we got to experience the full, muggy 39C without shade. Holy crap it was hot climbing the rock stairs with the sun on your back and the hot rocks to your face. Almost instantly were soaked in sweat versus the sticky, clammy sweat that had been building all morning. Our next temple, Prerup had the same attributes of lots of stairs with no shade. One more climb to the top. Through the heat and discomfort it was still impossible to pass up the opportunity to explore every level and nook of the temples and the amazing photo opportunities were seemingly infinite. By the time we descended however, we were done. It was only 2:00 pm and we had nothing left.
We headed back into town for a shower and a nap and then headed to the bar district for US 50₵ draft. Cambodia had an interesting currency where 4000 riels equaled 1 USD so US dollars were the common currency. It seemed that everything was rounded to the nearest 1000 riel for convenience sake. We spent all afternoon and early evening eating and drinking and were shocked when the bill came to a mere $14.
Our second day of wat trekking began much the same as the first: 6:00am in the tuk tuk and heading north of town towards the temple sites. That morning we passed right on by the Angkor site and straight north to Angkor Thom which was arguably as impressive as Angkor Wat. The most remarkable thing that morning was that we had Angkor Thom all to ourselves for the first hour and a half. More on Angkor Thom to follow in another post.
From Angkor Thom we proceeded to Ta Keo, Ta Phrom, Prasat Kravan and around to Phenom Bakheng to explore the wall of almost life sized elephant carvings and its many nearby ruined temples before the midday 39C heat caught up to us all over again.
Hot, sweaty and tired with full memory of how the heat had beaten us the day before, we capitulated and headed back to town for some more cold beer and eats.
In the end, we felt that we had seen the Angkor Wats, but agreed that it could take many months to fully explore them all. They are simply incredible.