What do you imagine when you hear the words Angkor Wat? Have you heard of the place? Do you imagine a jungle-covered temple, a bunch of towers at sunrise, or something else?
Many people don’t realize that when you talk about visiting Angkor Wat, you may be talking about one of two things. 1) The actual temple called Angkor Wat, which is the one you see iconically photographed at sunrise; or 2) All of the Angkor ruins. Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire in the 9th to the 15th century. There was a period of Khmer history in which the king built monumental temple complexes. This spanned over 30 or so kings. So, if each king build at least one temple, that tells you there are quite a few of them. And of course they didn’t just each build one. Some built whole new cities in slightly different places than the last king.
Without going too far in-depth into the history of the Angkorian period in this post, this should serve to tell you one truth: when you talk about Angkor you are not just talking about one site. You are talking about a massive number of different temples and ruins, most of which are located near Siem Reap.
When you sit down and look at the options available, you start to realize that you’re going to need to pick and choose and you’re going to need a bit of strategy. We were very pleased with our visit to the temples, so here is our advice on how to do it.
- Go to the Angkor National Museum first to learn some history and gain some context for visiting the site. If you have read up on Angkor or studied it in school, this may not be necessary. But if all you know is that they are some cool temples, the museum will do a pretty good job in enlightening you about the history of the sites, as well as what some of the reliefs mean.
- Consider buying a guide book to the temples. You can even get a photocopied version of some of the better guides for cheap at the temples.
- Dress modestly. Parts of the Angkor complex are still an active religious site. In some places your attire will be checked before entering a site. Yes, it is hot, but please choose slightly longer shorts and at least bring a thin scarf to drape over your shoulders.
- Bring lots of water and sunscreen! Also, a hat and shoulder protection. Do note that you can buy water, snacks, and lunch near most temples.
- Don’t give money to child beggars. It just encourages their parents to keep them begging and therefore keep them out of school.
- Enjoy yourself!
Have fun in Siem Reap.