The temples of Angkor Wat stand shrouded in mystery as the haze disappears in the early morning light. Throngs of tourists start to fill into the complex alongside the monks shuffling in a daily procession of prayer through the main entrance. Steeped in a thousand of years of history, the extensive UNESCO heritage site cannot be merely seen in one day, a visitor should dedicate at least three days to explore the “principle” monuments of Angkor Wat. Once a thriving metropolis, the area was the epicenter of agriculture, military operations, irrigation and religious ceremonies. In order to fully understand the importance of Angkor Wat and the Khmer civilization, it’s essential to allocate ample time to explore the region and learn about the ancient culture from a dedicated guide or handbook. Immerse yourself into Cambodia’s natural beauty intertwined with a turbulent history of the Killing Fields under the Communist Khmer Rouge regime.
Renowned small-group adventure travel company, G Adventures offers a classic 9-day trip for those who are limited on time, but still want to experience a well-rounded tour of Siem Reap and the key highlights of Cambodia before ending the journey in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Learn more about their affordably priced Cambodia Experience and read on to get a glimpse of the breathtaking sites that await you in South East Asia.
Phnom Kulen National Park
Phnom Kulen National Park is considered by ancient Khmer people to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia. Once used as the ancient capital city II in AD 802, King Jayavarman II claimed independence from Java on the grounds thus giving birth to present day Cambodia. Stretching for more than 13km down to the Angkor Plain, the sprawling site also contains temple ruins and Preah Ang Thom, an 8 meter tall statue of the reclining Buddha reaching nirvana carved into a sandstone boulder.
A journey to Siem Reap is not complete without a dedicated day spent unearthing the complexities found at Angkor Wat. It is advised to arrive by dawn, as the temples are best viewed in the early light before the swealtering sun begins to beat down overhead. Upon arrival, one begins to understand the architectural masterpiece that the Khmer people constructed as the epicenter of the vast empire. Its immaculate composition, balance, and sculpture work make it one of the impressive monuments in the world. Take the time to learn about the stories behind the stone etchings that line the extensive walls of the temple structures from an experienced guide.
Ta Prohm Temple
Better known as the ‘Tomb Raider” temple made famous by Angelina Jolie, Ta Prohm remains one of the most majestic temples in the Angkor Wat complex, standing today in its original state as when it was discovered by researchers. Massive roots of huge trees now jut out of the cracks and snake across the temple structures. Discovered by the French in the 19th century, they decided not to conduct a full-scale restoration of the temple as the trees were so intertwined with ancient walls, they had eventually joined together as one.
Old Market District
Just outside of Angkor Wat lies the bustling tourist district of Old Market also known as Psah Chas. The increase in tourism over the past decade has given way to a variety of hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs that contribute the vibrant, developing city. With a continual influx of new American, British and European tourists, the Old Market is a perfect place to shop for a souvenir or find a coffee shop to catch up on e-mails.
Photo Credit: Amanda Ho | @misselectrify