Quick Notes for the traveler:
- A single day pass is $20 USD
- 3-day pass is $40 USD
- Keep this pass safe as you will need to present this multiple times to various checkpoints
- You will need a Tuk Tuk driver for the day if you are doing this on your own i.e., not a tour group.
Despite being ancient ruins and structures, a lot of the time you will be out in the sun with little shade so you will need sunscreen and plenty of water. Do wear shorts that at least reach the knees and no tops that reveal your shoulders, otherwise you may find yourself being denied entry to a few places. Comfortable shoes will help due to the number of steps you will be climbing, it’s pretty much leg day in the sun and heat.
This is it! Ancient Khmer temple time.
After breakfast the Gecko’s tour headed out on our private bus for today’s agenda, the UNESCO heritage sites Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat and Bayon. The temple area is just a short drive outside of town (less than 10km) and tickets are required to enter.
Ta Prohm is the 12th-century era temple you see in Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider film. Noticeable for its giant spung (no, I didn’t misspell “spring”) tree that has taken hold, the complex now has walkways and railings to protect it from the large numbers of tourists that visit.
Ta Prohm has a distinct feeling of nature reclaiming what was once an impressive man-made temple complex with a town that was home to over 12,000 people.
Unlike the Tomb Raider film, stone statues will not come alive and try to end you.
After a walk through from one end to another (the entire complex is 1km x 650m), a quick bus ride to Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat is surrounded by a large man-made moat and high walls, which has helped stave off the jungle reclaiming it. Not even this place was immune to civil wars of a bygone era, and you can see where Hindu markings were scratched over and Buddhist symbolism taking its place as the Khmer empire transition from King Suryavarman II to King Jayavarman II (interrupted by a brief invasion by the Chams, today’s Vietnam). Remarkably it’s relatively unscathed from more recent wars such as Vietnam and the Khmer Rogue civil war.
The Angkor Wat complex is tiered, so be prepared for climbing, and if you are not dressed appropriately, you may not be allowed into the top most tier.
This is a must see site, the magnitude of construction, the design of the buildings and intricacies in the detail of the stone artwork is simply amazing. Unfortunately, due to looting, many of the statues are missing their heads.
I did not go for the sunrise session as circumstances did not allow but if you are wanting to do this you will need to pre-arrange a Tuk Tuk or Motorbike to take you as you will struggle to find a roaming Tuk Tuk in the street at that time. Sunset sessions are no longer run due to cicadas and mosquito levels.
Annnnd more Amok for lunch
After lunch, the bus took us to Bayon, which is filled with the many faced statues (over 200) and extensive stone wall carvings depicting life and events from that late 12th-century onward era. Interestingly lots of depictions of the early Chinese explorers and merchants who came down to the Khmer Empire, the Chinese presence was significant enough to warrant a China Town according to our guide Ly.
You will straight away notice Bayon is much denser and larger than Angkor wat (its 9km²), with more of an ancient stone city feel to it rather than a temple complex. If exploring ancient city ruins is your thing (and you played a bit too much Age of Empires in your childhood), Bayon is defiantly for you.
On the way out of the temple complex we stopped off at the Elephant Terrace and Leper King Terrace. This can be done in one hit as they are right next to each other. The elephant terrace (or what remains of it) is a wall with carvings of elephants which was used by King Jayavarman VII to view his armies. The Leper King Terrace to the right (if facing the wall) is carved with many statues of Yama, the Hindu god of death. The name comes from the moss and discoloration on the statues and a rough link to an ancient legend of a king who had leprosy, rather than any specific person actually having leprosy.
Given how long this post went already, I will cover off eating spiders and Khmer BBQ separately…