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DAY 4: Angkor Archaeological Park!

Written by 10:04 AM ,

Address: Siem Reap province, Cambodia
Opening time: 5:00am to 6:00pm Daily
Ticket: $20.00 (one day tour)

Stepping back in time to a completely different world!

Just visited this stunning historical landmark in the Cambodian province of Siem Reap last January 5, 2015 and very amazed with its breathtaking landscape of nature, large trees, rain forest and ancient temple ruins filled with intricate carving details of mythological characters. 

As the temples originally built as homage to Hindu gods: Vishnu and Brahma, almost none of the carvings depicted Buddhism characters. However, since the conversion of Khmer Kings to Buddhism in the 15th century, the temples are now being used by Buddhist monks for their religious rituals.

Spreading across more than 400 kilometers, Angkor Archaeological Park is home to several ancient temples built during the Khmer regime. Its existence and survival to the modern era largely shaped Cambodia's cultural heritage and thoroughly became the country's ultimate national symbol.


The Angkor Park is immensely wide and quite impossible to explore in just 5 hours and since our time was very limited, the Tuktuk driver suggested to just visit the three big temple sites: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm.

These three sites exude grandeur and mystery with historical charm that intrigued the modern world. Its imaginative carvings of bizarre faces have been hailed as some of the greatest architectural achievements of humankind. 

Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider movie had film locations at these three sites which made these attractions even more famous.

And despite retiring to bed late at night and the exhaustion we felt for enduring an almost ten-hour road travel from Phnom Penh city, we’re fully recharged to wake up in the very early morning to embark into a unique adventure of trekking the Angkor complex with its world-famous temples considered as some of the great wonders of the world!

Before coming to Cambodia, we never thought that we would be visiting Angkor at the early morning, but the Tuktuk driver told us that it’s the regular schedule of visiting Angkor to witness the breathtaking sunrise before everyone in Southeast Asia could see its loveliness.

Our hotel accommodation has a complimentary breakfast so we requested the hotel staff to pack the meals ahead of time so that we can bring it to Angkor and have breakfast there while witnessing the bright sunshine to spread its magic.


Everyone watches as the soft glow of the golden light of the morning sun ascends above the towers of Angkor Wat. This is the highly 
anticipated activity at Angkor indulged by adventurers and photographers

At 5:00 in the morning, we're off to the sparkling streets (due to Christmas lights) of Siem Reap city to Angkor Archaeological Park.The environment was still dark but everything was so beautiful because the streets were already filled with roaring vehicles carrying tons of tourists eager to see the beautiful sunrise.

Our first stop was at the APSARA authority, few miles from the city proper, this is where visitors can buy an Angkor ticket. Official passes to Angkor are only sold here, visitors should appear in person at the ticketing booth to have their picture taken. Angkor Pass is not considered valid without the photo of the visitor imprinted on the ticket. We only spent 10 minutes here, after securing our pass, we moved to our first stop: Angkor Wat!      

ANGKOR WAT          

I never thought I could see Angkor Wat in my lifetime! But it happened. God is good!

We entered the west gate of Angkor Wat and started walking along its pathway which has a lake on both sides, the soft morning air touches my skin with a smooth chill which made the whole thing very relaxing! Important note: You must bring a flashlight when coming to Angkor since the area is still very dark even at 5:30 in the morning.



By the time we arrived, the area was already filled with travelers and backpackers equipped with their powerful photo gears, state-of-the-art cameras and video equipment, personally, I felt so elated because it was my first time to experience such huge crowd of tourists from diverse cultural background, felt like we’re on a stunning adventure of our lives! So proud of myself to join this kind of journey, the feeling was something I could never explain!

Wat is a Khmer term for "temple" and Angkor Wat is a cluster of temples  with an individual courtyard. Its sprawling ground is enough to consume your energy walking but provides a very soothing atmosphere and the ground is neatly trimmed making the trekking a wonderful experience. The complex balances the tone of nature and the symbolic structure ruins which make it one of the finest monuments in the world.


Angkor Wat at Sunrise! Magnificent!

We chose to stay at this spot because we could directly see the tower 
where the sun casts its golden rays. 

We started looking for a good spot to see the sunshine ascends, with no particular goal where to take our position, we just climbed at the first temple we spotted, joining other travelers. There, we waited for this most wonderful experience to befall – the ascent of the first glow of the morning sun.

Angkor Wat structure is slightly unusual because it faces West that's why the image of the temple has the sun rising behind its back and only the shadow of the structure can be captured by the camera but the shot is a little dramatic because the golden light cuddles the image of the towers and cast a bright gleam that sparkles in a finished photo.

Ten minutes later, everyone raised their photo equipment as the sun slowly spreads its gleam above the towers of Angkor Wat. It was awesome! Such an incredible sight to behold, having seen the soft golden light of the sun bathing the green environment with its yellowish sparks. As if I saw magic. Sunlight filters through the chinks and openings of the temples and beyond the trees, hugging leaves with its infinite beauty of shimmery rays.

I kept on walking around, observing the surroundings, watching photographers choosing angles how to capture the beauty of Angkor Wat, taking snaps of the ruins of the temples in a reclining position. At one point, I imitated one photographer with his fantastic angle shoot, he was lying in the ground, trying to take a good shot of the towers.


At the sprawling ground of Angkor Wat

We entered three temples where most of its alleys were sculpted with images of gods which I assumed to be Vishnu and Brahma (Hindu gods). But what stunned me most was the relaxing ground of the complex, so beautifully maintained! Green environment as its finest. Trees are equally lovely. Lots of lakes and ponds.

In Khmer, Angkor means "City of Temples" which sounds true as temple ruins can be found everywhere. Angkor Archaeological Park became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.
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Angkor Wat,  one of the well-restored among the temple ruins in the Angkor complex. was built by Khmer king, Suryavarman II in 12th century and had been the official seat of court of the powerful Khmer Empire for several centuries. Originally intended for the Hindu god, Vishnu, Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple in later centuries when the succeeding Khmer kings converted to Buddhism. Today, it is considered the largest religious complex in the world. 
  
We left Angkor Wat at 7:35am and proceeded to our next destination, Angkor Thom.

ANGKOR THOM

Angkor Thom is where the famous Bayon temple is located, it’s just 10 minutes ride away from Angkor Wat and the most picturesque of all the surroundings of the Angkor Archaeological Park. Personally, Angkor Thom is my favorite. Cool, super tranquil atmosphere with greenery and large tropical trees covering the whole environment. 



Front gate of the Bayon temple in Angkor Thom

Observers say the enigmatic faces carved on Bayon towers depicted its builder, 
King Jayavarman VII, others say it depicted a Hindu or Buddhism god

According to its history, Bayon temple was established by King Jayavarman VII as his state temple. The carvings on the walls and towers, even doorways, are enigmatic faces believed to be ancient gods of Hinduism and characters of Cambodian mythology. Others say it depicted Jayavarman himself.



We entered Bayon temple at the front gate, and again, the area was flooded with tourists with their high tech cameras. It was in this area that I dared to climb every ruin, unconcerned if one of the shambles will shatter, I just want to reach to the top of the ruins and see those amazing and strange iconic carvings.

Each door of the temple is adorned with historical figures of Cambodian mythological characters, some depicting different gods, others depicted the nature of Hinduism. The intricate details of the carvings are so complicated and imaginative.



At the beautiful surrounding of Angkor Thom with my friend, Vangie Colastre

We moved forward to the north gate to visit more temples, we reached the Victory square where the Royal Palace ruins are located. Because we’re extremely tired, we just viewed the ruins from a far and took photos. We exited at the terrace of the elephants pathways and waited for the Tuktuk driver to bring us to the next temple.

TA PROHM

Visiting Ta Prohm is like entering a wild jungle of a forgotten ancient world. Eerie, bizarre and creepy because the whole temple is totally covered with strange trees, its unusual large roots are crawling everywhere!The formation of each tree looks very gross as if something sinister or morbid is housed inside. Well, it's like time traveling to a different century. 

According to its history, when this temple was built in the 12th century, it was intended to be the monastery of King Jayavarman II. Ta Prohm means ancestor of Brahma, which refers to a Hindu god. However, Jayavarman successor converted to Buddhism, thus, the Hindu gods were replaced by Buddhism characters. Its architectural style is purely Khmer.


Ta Prohm temple


Ta Prohm looks like being left behind among the big three must-see temple ruins in the Angkor complex, but this is one of the most visited sites in Angkor Park due to these peculiar trees. The interior of the temple where other fight scenes of Tomb Raider were exactly filmed looked kinda scary. At first I hesitated to enter the inner part of the temple, but I have no choice because the exit area is located on the other side of the ruins and the parking area of Tuktuk vehicles are also in that area.

Unusually gigantic roots of large trees covering Ta Prohm temple

Among the three temples we visited, Ta Prohm is my least favorite because the road leading to its inner temple from the entrance gate is quite dusty and far from the main road. The interior looks really messy and if not for those big trees and cool atmosphere, I would never endure staying another 30 minutes. But the environment is so lovely, I was stunned how everything was preserved and maintained.

We left Angkor at 11:00 in the morning because our trip back to Phnom Penh is at 12:30. 

Siem Reap province is incredibly beautiful and magnificent. All those extraordinary trees I have never seen in my life, the beautiful horizon, placid lakes, relaxing surroundings, cool atmosphere, thick vegetation, reflect my fascination towards a country living.

I hope I could go back to Siem Reap, see its stunning gift of nature, enjoy the stillness of the mother earth, take hundreds of photos of the environment and create memories.

Some helpful Guide when visiting Angkor Park

Angkor complex is located in Siem Reap city, an eight-hour drive from Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh. Cebu Pacific Air is serving a direct route from Manila, Philippines to Siem Reap, but if you are coming from Vietnam, the easiest route is through Ho Chi Minh city crossing the border by land via Moc Bai to Phnom Penh city. Travel time is eight hours, and don't get shock if you will be stuck in the immigration because Moc Bai has several tourists flowing in and out of the border. The processing time to get your passport stamp is more than an hour.

There are several buses traveling between Vietnam and Cambodia and the travel is very comfortable. They offer one bottled water and wet tissue to passengers and bus conductors are the one bringing passport to the immigration.

Upon arrival in Siem Reap, Tuktuk rides are available on the bus stop, drivers are nice, we never encountered any inconveniences in making arrangement with them. The one we hired even agreed for a discounted fare when we told him to bring us to Angkor complex on the next day.

Travel time from Siem Reap city to Angkor is just 15 minutes. Tour guides are available but you can explore Angkor on your own just like what we did. Everything is safe there.


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