Angkor Wat means “City of Temples” in Khmer and you would be hard pressed to come up with a more fitting name for it. As the largest religious monument in the world (over 10 million square feet!) it is impossible to not feel blown away by it’s immensity. It is equally futile to resist stopping and exclaiming over the intricacy of the bas-relief friezes that adorn every wall and pillar of the galleries.
Angkor Wat is a very popular place to watch the sunrise, but after our overcrowded sunset experience we decided to miss the typical Angkor Wat photo opportunity. Instead, we visited Angkor Wat from 11:30-1:30pm hoping that everyone else would be out to lunch during this time. Happily our plan worked, and we only had to share the sprawling area of the temple with a few other tourists, some lazy monkeys and some very industrious Wat Grannies.
All of the temples of Angkor Wat are still used as active religious sites today. The Wat Grannies are the fairy godmothers of Angkor; older women, usually widows, who have taken monastic vows and maintain the temples. They keep the incense burning, the draped robes on the statues dust free and the whole temple ready and waiting to be used as an active center of Buddhism.
It is hard to imagine what went into clearing such a large area of dense, seemingly impenetrable, jungle over 800 years ago. The back breaking labor of the moat being planned and dug. The feat of cutting, transporting and fitting the huge stones. Of the years and years of embellishing the massive walls and corridors with carvings. It seems almost impossible that humans created this. I would be less surprised to hear that Angkor Wat came to exist gradually and organically over eons, like a mountain or a continent.
I am sure Angor Wat is a magical experience at sunrise, but I would venture to say it’s just as awe-inspiring when everybody else is out to lunch.
Our Angkor Temple Visiting Plan
Visitors are encouraged to see temples as a “small loop” or a “large loop.” It worked better for us to just look at a map of the temples and have some in mind that we wanted to see. We then chose times that we imagined the temples would be the least crowded and asked a tuk-tuk driver to drive us to that specific temple at that time. Specifically, this is how we used our 3-day pass:
Took a taxi out to see the farther away temples of Banteay Srei & Beng Mealea in the early morning and were back in our hotel room by 10:00 am.
Visited Angkor Wat while everyone else was out to lunch, went back to the hotel to relax until 4:00pm and then visited Bayon Temple in the golden hours of the afternoon until sunset.
Ta Prohm Temple from 6:30 am – 8:00 am
Visiting the temples “our way” ends up costing a bit more as we hired taxis for several round trip visits to the temples. The extra cost was worth it for us as we preferred seeing the temples with less people and we do better going on shorter outings to one specific temple than we do on exhausting full-day temple excursions. We think this helped us appreciate each temple more as we weren’t too hot, tired, or “templed out” to marvel at the uniqueness and beauty of each one.