5 Things The Famous Guidebook Doesn't Tell You About Angkor Wat

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Angkor Wat

1 Sunrise and sunset can sometimes disappoint

I've played this scene many many times in my head when we planned our Southeast Asian jaunt. The Angkor Wat temples silhouetted against the backdrop of a mesmerizing play of light. The red mingled with the orange like wild fire from the heavens. Deep blue hues were hovering underneath. The pink dancing around shyly to paint a picture perfect sunrise.

Ankor Wat Eyegasm
Photo Credit: MikeBehnken

It was much more beautiful in my mind.

The reality just didn't live up to the fantasy. The 2 days we visited Angkor Wat, sunrise and sunset were a no-show. It was too cloudy and hazy in the morning. And sunset at Phnom Bakeng? Well, we never made it there because of some bike tires popping. Which leads me to...

Angkor Bike 1

2 Angkor Wat complex is not bike-able biker-friendly

Disclaimer: Unless you've competed in Ironman, have superhero abilities or have been making a living as a rickshaw driver since you were 10.

Angkor Wat is about 1 square kilometer in size. Within the outer wall is an enclosure 820,000 square meters in size. This is equivalent to more than 200 acres of land. I was lost in those numbers myself, but I'm warning you, your friendly tuktuk driver is your best bet. If you do attempt to bike around the temple complex, take heed to these advice:

Check your bike- many times. Make sure the brakes works, you have enough air in the tires and the locks are in place. Or else, you'll be sorry!

Wear appropriate attire. (Hint: short skirts and dresses make for glam pictorials but may cause involuntary flashing).

Hydrate all the time. Make sure you carry your own water bottle. Buying water at the temples will cost you a dollar per pop. It suddenly feels like New York City, doesn't it? Unfortunately, your rfid credit cards won't work in this part of the world.

Angkor Wat

3 The Cambodian sun is merciless (even for sun-worshippers like us)

You've seen photos of those model-like creatures posing around the temples looking matte and fresh before haven't you? It's as real as any Photoshopped magazine editorial! The oily truth is that you will be sweating and getting darker faster than you can say Farmer's Tan! Unless you've had permanent skin whitening through Magic Potions of course. Even though Chichi and I love basking in sunlight, before midday we had to take shelter underneath the enormous trees of Bayon. Sole Sister's tip: Bring sunblock, sunglasses and bottles of water!

Angkor Wat

4 Angkor Wat is a glorified (yet tantalizing) tourist trap
Everywhere you go, you will be offered things that can cost you an entire week of your backpacker's budget. From maps to visors that read THAILAND to photo books that you will most probably end up leaving somewhere for lack of space in your backpack. (You reading this, Chichi?)

The same goes for your lunch. Make sure you've had your breakfast before going. Or pack some sandwiches and fruit with you. There are some well-hidden cheap spots to eat. (Hint: Follow the locals by lunchtime.) We found some roadside stalls after biking for half an hour. Just don't ask me where they were. I was too famished to keep track.

Angkor Marvel

5 Your visit may not give you the epiphany you were hoping for

I don't want to sound like a hater, but I just didn't get any mouth-agape-speechless-spiritual-moment while going around Angkor Wat. I'm not sure if it was the fickle weather, bad lighting conditions or my all too high expectations, but I certainly wasn't Taj Mahal wowed. Okay, perhaps it's not fair to pit World Heritage Sites against each other. But my point is, don't pressure yourself to have that enlightened moment when you're just as happy taking 'catch the sun' shots like this guy.

Our 30 before 30 list reads:

4. Go biking around Angkor Wat then watch the sun set from the temple towers.

We all know the 2nd part never happened. Because we failed to accept the reality that Angkor Wat just wasn't biker friendly. To recap, Chichi got a flat tire and we never made it to Phnom Bakeng in time. But I did try to make it there. And all I got was this shot en route:

Angkor Sunset

It may seem like it's from a different place entirely. But this was my magical moment. I stayed there for a few minutes just soaking in the golden aura. I was witness to this magnificence. And for me, that was enough.

What things did you discover for yourself in Angkor Wat?

Still waiting for that WOW moment,
Sole Sister Lois
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23 sole trails

  1. hey lovely girls, I agree with you. The sun in Siem Reap is indeed merciless, until now we still have tshirt tan line.hahaha. Also, we tried to bike the whole complex and the first one was from our guesthouse to angkor wat, the next day guesthouse to prasat kravan, then last guesthouse to Bayon to tomb raider :) then back to our guesthouse. what an experience, it's like biking from Manila to Cavite, or i maybe exaggerating. thank you and more power. 

  2. Thanks for the info.  I will definitely be using tuk tuk drivers when I visit.  BTW, your twitter link doesn't work, so I can't re-tweet.

  3. I only had one day in SR so I hired a tuktuk. Sunrise at Angkor Wat was magnificent, and I also caught the sunset in Phnom Bakheng. I completely agree that the sun was merciless though, which is why I slept more than an hour in an out-of-site ruin in Ta Prohm. That was my best time in Angkor Wat hahaha

  4. I love Angkor Wat! Awesome place actually! Had to wake up very early to see the sunrise but then it was kinda cloudy that morning so we didn't see the sunrise. A lot of people, even if obviously they wouldn't see the beautiful sunrise still opted to stay in the lake. So what we did, went straight to Angkor Wat and we were just about 5 people since all are still outside, hoping for the sunrise! I wanna share my blog post and some pictures! :)

  5. a tuktuk driver and a guide is all you need. tuktuk will take care of transpo and the guide will tell you how to make the most of your time and which place to go first. of course hindi sya budget friendly but it will save you time and effort wandering by yourself. and sila nang bahala sa mga nangungulit magtinda ng mga souvenirs. hehehe.

    share ko lang rin Angkor Wat trip namin: http://www.calvinshub.com/2011/01/vietnam-cambodia-in-7-days-part-8-angkor-wat/

    and yeah, panira yung green nets and scaffolding sa facade ng angkor wat. :P

  6. haha. I never had that 'enlightening' moment in Angkor Wat either! No matter how hard I tried, i wasn't hit one bit. But I had a number of stares from people when I removed my shoes and walked barefoot. No use wearing shoes when dust had gathered all over. haha

  7. I'm pretty sure you're not exaggerating Liz. That's a lot of km on bike! But I'm sure you thought it was worth it!

  8. Oh yes, tuktuks are your best bet Sheila. Spend the few extra dollars on that. Thanks for the heads up, we'll get that twitter link fixed soonest.

  9. So I gather wala ka din spiritual epiphany Aleah? Haha... I really wanted to feel so much awe but failed big time. It was still a lot of fun though. I envy your sunrise and sunset moments!

  10. You took some really great photos Carla. Looks like a great celebration in Angkor Wat. That's a great way to spend your birthday!

  11. Pareho tayo Ed! Wow, barefoot in Angkor Wat! That makes a good post title! I did that a lot in India, not willingly like you though...

  12. haha, I created my post about it here: http://soloflighted.com/2011/02/04/cambodia-trip-walking-barefoot-at-angkor-wat-temple/

    pero iba pa rin ang bloopers ninyo! We were lucky na medyo malamig yung panahon at the time. pero gamit talaga ang headwear dahil sa orange dust :D

  13. My friends and I rented bikes for the day and although it was hot and we were sweaty the biking really wasn't that bad (and we are definitely not people who bike very much). So perhaps it depends what your expectations are. If you're in a tuk-tuk then you miss a lot of the scenery you pass from temple to temple. As long as you are well prepared (Skirt/dress never a good idea for a bike) then biking can be a good experience. Our biking day at Angkor was probably our favourite spent at the temples.

  14. all the pictures are nice but the last one...parang scene sa fantasy movie...hehe ayos

  15. Did you happen to bike out to Banteay Srei?  This entails a very long, sweaty bike ride.  This was one of my favorite temples for sunrise and sunset photography, as the yellow light harmonizes with the pink stone, also bringing out the magnificent carved details.  Also, very few people during these hours (unlike the zoo at Angkor Wat).  Undoubtedly one of the top 3 temples in Angkor.

  16. "I was hoping to connect with the temple when my skin touched the stones of the shrine but I was unsuccessful." 

    Maybe I should have tried walking barefoot! Nice way to induce a spiritual experience! Or just a nice way to feel like a carefree local..

  17. I agree, riding a tuktuk may keep you from really soaking in the experience. But if you only have 2 days to explore the temples, you also get to fewer places on bikes. Glad you enjoyed your bike experience! It's also great exercise.

  18. Wow, fantasy movie talaga? Flattered. The light was really perfect in that moment.

  19. I don't think we made it that far to Bantay Srei Jody. Perhaps we should have ventures out there. Yeah, in most major temples there was a zoo atmosphere and we couldn't isolate our shots. But still a great and enjoyable trip all in all!

  20. reminds me of my angkor wat exploration years ago. i think i'm fortunate enough naman to see the temples turn to gold while the sun set. problem is, camera battery is empty. hahaha fail parin!

  21. Oh, that last photo is precious! I, too, dream of having the postcard-perfect sunrise/sunset photo of Angkor Wat. Hopefully the skies will be kinder when I get there.

  22. Looks like you also had your share of (mis)adventures James! 

  23. Here's hoping that the travel gods will let nature give you a fantastic show in Angkor. Take those beautiful pictures for us Jonna! We can't wait to look at your photos ;)


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