Angkor is so much more than ancient temples. It's a maze of stone and carvings, where every detail tells a story of a kingdom that thrived for seven centuries.
Proved to be the worlds largest religious monument, Angkor gives a look into a very complicated history, that is impossible to grasp in books. Visiting had been a dream to see and was even more fascinating than I ever thought.
When I was a high school, I remember seeing a picture of Angkor Wat and from that moment I was absolutely amazed by the beauty and grandeur of this temple. This structure was rising out of the ground, surrounded by trees and in the middle of no where. It seemed like it was part of a lost ancient paradise, something explorers would accidentally stumble upon after months of wandering the jungles. I became fascinated, intrigued over this idea and I let my imagination run wild. Over the years, I would watch movies and documentaries about Siem Reap, yet the idea of one day visiting seemed to far fetched to be a reality.
When we set out to do this long term trip around the world, I knew a few absolute things. I would go to markets in Italy, eat a fresh baguette in Paris and see Siem Reap. When pressed by Chris why these temples were such a bucket list item for me, my response wasn’t that compelling. I had no real reason to visit, other than Angkor Wat just couldn’t be real, I had to see it for myself. So we braved the incredibly high temperatures and made a plan that would include a visit. I was going to live my own version of the Jungle Book.
A Private Tour is Ideal
With so many other temples in the area that were worth seeing and they all seemed to be relatively close to each other. So in the back of my head I noted that we would have other options aside from Angkor Wat. But in my mind Angkor Wat would be the shining star, it was going to be my favourite and the other temples wouldn’t compare. I have never been so wrong.
The truth is all the temples are breathtaking, stunning, unreal and absolutely incredible. Each temple we visited seemed to be better than the last and yet as I sit here and go through images, it’s impossible to pick a favourite.
At 390 square miles, the area of Angkor is huge and with over 1000 temples scattered throughout, it can be a bit overwhelming to put a plan together. So we enlisted the help of our friends at Buffalo Tours, who we had worked with in the past, to help us get a plan in place. Fortunately they had a full day Angkor temples tour, with a local guide that would take us to all the popular temples and help us get around. Air conditioned car in 110 degree temperature, they really didn’t need to say much more ;)
Walking Around Ancient Architecture
All those stories I had read about the Khmer people and the passion they have for their King and religion began to make sense. I quickly realized that you don’t travel all the way to Cambodia to see one temple, you do this trip to get educated and see how an ancient civilization was once organised.
Since my words won’t do these architectural masterpieces any justice, I’ll let our photos do the talking. Our private tour with Buffalo Tours included stops and plenty of time to visit all the below temples and more!
Dating back to the 12th century, Angkor Wat is the best preserved structure of the complex and full of pathways, small rooms, intricate carvings and towers shooting up from every corner. It’s a perfect example of Khmer architecture and remains the symbol of Cambodia.
Gate into Angkor Thom
Angkor Thom was the last capital of the Khmer empire and its entrance is every bit as grand as the city it led to. The towers rise 23 meters high with large stone faces surrounding the peaks. Be on the lookout for elephants and monkeys walking through! Our guide also told us that the river under the bridge, leading to the gate used to have large alligators swimming around. Apparently they were used to scare off the enemies.
Face Towers of Bayon
As you walk through the terraces of this temple, you’ll immediately notice the multitude of massive stone faces on the towers. Each tower supports two, three or (most commonly) four gigantic smiling faces, that cluster around its central peak. Wherever you wander, the faces will follow you and I dare you to try and count all of them!
Ta Prohm or “Bombardier Temple”
After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 17th century, the temple of Ta Prohm was abandoned and neglected for centuries. Today, nature has done of fantastic job of trying to reclaim it’s land, as full grown trees can be found throughout the temple, with roots climbing over archways and walls completely dismantling whatever gets it its way.
Today many parts of the temple have been restored, yet the trees and foliage have stayed put. If you recognize the scenery, it’s because Ta Prohm was used in Angelina Jolie’s movie - Tomb Raider! !
Pre Rup Temple
What once was a place where funerals were conducted is now one of the most beautiful places to watch a sunset in Siem Reap. Our final stop at Pre Rup Temple was the perfect place to sit back and take in everything we had just experienced. Once we climbed that steep stairs to get tothe top, we sat back and watched the sky turn colors as the sun set.
Tips & Notes
- Any tour that you take with a local guide make sure to write a review on trip advisor if you enjoyed their service. The economy in Cambodia is so poor, so every bit of help is appreciated with the locals
- Skip the long lines by booking a private tour! By booking with Buffalo Tours we didn’t have to worry about brining any extra money or having to wait in the long long long lines at the front of the gates. We walked right in
- The entire tour lasted about 9 hours and include a long lunch break
- You get picked up at your hotel, in your own private air-conditioned car that takes you around.
- Although you do have an air conditioned car to take you from temple to temple you still will be walking around quite a bit and climbing plenty of steps, so make sure to bring comfortable shoes
- Dress appropriately! Depending on what temples you visit, women will need to have their shoulders covered (sarongs and scarfs covering your shoulders WONT work) and will have to wear longs skirts or pants. Men can get away with a t-shirt and shorts as long as they hit the knew. It’s a perfect time to take advantage of the $2 pants you’ll find on every corner of Siem Reap. Buy a pair of cotton ones and they will be your best friend!
- Leave the fashionable clothes at home and wear light flowy fabrics. It’s also a good idea to bring a few t-shirts to change into during the day. You will sweat through them!
- Around lunch time, the car will take you to a fantastic restaurant where you will get some delicious Khmer dishes. Afterwards you have a few hours to relax back at your hotel, before you start again with the last few sites.
- If you want to see Angkor at sunrise you will have to book a separate tour or head out on your own
- Buffalo Tours offers many other Cambodia tours and we can honestly say they are one of the best operators we have used while traveling! If you're looking for private tours that get you away from the tourist crowds, check out their site.
Be a Smart Tourist
One thing you’ll notice as you walk around the temples are all the local children running around. They will come up to you with big smiles, dirty clothes and the sweetest demeanour as they try to sell you postcards, candy, trinkets, and really anything they can find. As hard as it is not to reach in your pocket and pull out that dollar, DON'T.
Parents of these children know that tourists can’t say no to a cute kid and take their children out of school to see how they will do selling items to tourists. So every dollar you give a child, is like paying them not to go to school. You’re contributing to a downward cycle that keeps the people uneducated and from having any type of future. It’s hard to say no, I get it, just try your best.
For more information about taking a private tour, make sure to visit Buffalo Tours website: