Breathtakingly beautiful, Angkor Wat is often captured as the backdrop for the sun rising. With the new year so close and a strong desire to stay up until daybreak, it seems only right to feature Angkor, a perfect place to not only welcome in a new day, but also to discover a new sense of self.
Once the centre of the Khymer empire Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. Originally constructed as a Hindu temple surrounded by an ancient city, this awe inspiring Buddhist temple is not only a national symbol for cambodia (appears on the flag) but a dream destination for tourists, buddhists and locals alike.
The best time to visit? I should probably tell you to visit when it’s quieter later in the day to avoid the crowds. But i won’t. Make sure that you time your visit so that you catch sunrise; there is a reason why so many flock here before dawn breaks.
To get there I travelled by mini bus from Siem Reap, but you can get a tuk tuk just as easily and it is most likely that your driver will be able to take you around the temple sites all day. In the early hours of the morning we pulled into a car park and ran into the temple complex entrance, which is a grand, modern pearly white building in comparison to the temples and remains of a city that is slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. To enter any of the sacred sights you need a pass. If you have time get a multi day pass so you can slow down and spend a few days exploring each site. A single day entry ticket to enter the temples is $20, with which you should be able to visit Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Phrom and Angkor Thom in one day (starting before breakfast).
Once inside, I found myself chasing the moon to bed, running between crowds along the well trodden path into the main temple site to make it to the front of Angkor before the sun came up. Hint: if you can find a spot at the water’s edge, you will catch not only the sunrise, but it’s reflection in the lake too.
As the darkness began to fade, I found that the noise and awareness of the bustling crowds seemed to dissolve into the still water as beams of golden sunlight kissed the earth. The majestic towering stone carvings make you feel so small before such an impressive and delicate structure.
Once the sun is up, i recommend a visit to one of the nearby cafe’s for pancakes and coffee from the local vendors, then post breakfast go and explore, and make sure to wear your comfiest walking shoes! Angkor Wat, Pre Rup, Bayon and Ta Prohm (the setting for Tomb Raider) are popular sites, and all show signs of mother nature reclaiming ruins of this once mighty civilisation.
Many speak of how visiting the temples leaves a lasting impression. A city of extremes, Siem Reap consists of grand hotel developments and chain restaurants, surrounded by tin roofed, plastic sheeted shelters. Wealthy blindsighted tourists flock to the Angkor complex for a quick snap in front of Ankor then return to their hotels, leaving behind the local children under the age of 6 that desperately rely on tourism to survive. When you have to survive on less than $1 a day, going to school simply isn’t priority here when you’ve a family to feed. Perhaps it is this sobering fact that does put life into perspective. Many Cambodians can’t afford the entrance fee to visit their own religious temple. So if you find yourself standing, as i once did and will many a time more in front of Ankor Wat, take your time and enjoy the temples. Spend your money in family run cafe’s and employ a local to be your tour guide.
Discovering Angkor, helped me find freedom and find myself. Its got under my skin, into my heart and truly, blissfully touched by soul. This new year, go to the place where the sun kisses the earth, and know that you are in exactly the right place at the right time in your life.