Angkor Wat was once just a wild dream. I was fresh from college when I read about it from one of my favorite celebrity blogs. I found it fascinating and grand. That moment, I told myself that I wanted to be there. I wanted to be in Angkor Wat and know for myself how it feels to be there. But I was young and just started working. I didn’t even have a passport yet. For the past few years, I’ve worked impossibly hard and barely spent long weeks of vacation, and so when the time came that I was actually free from the bondage of corporate slavery, I took the leap and decided to travel outside the country for 10 days. My destination in mind? Siem Reap, Cambodia (although I ended up starting my trip in Ho Chi Minh, backpacked to Siem Reap, and exited in Bangkok).
Angkor Wat, Siem ReapThe history and facts about Angkor Wat are just one Google search away so I’m not really going to retell its detailed history in this blog post. Instead, I want to share my personal experience and of course, my blissful snapshots. I purposely didn’t heavily edit the photos as I want to exhibit raw and real experience and mostly based on what I saw that day at Angkor Wat.
A little background..Angkor Wat is just one of the many temples in Siem Reap. A tuktuk driver offered a small tour for $17 for all three of us but since we wanted to go there by sunrise, we had to pay him extra. He only asked for $19 total but we gave him $20 because he’s so nice to us, he served as our tour guide, and clearly, he made an effort to communicate with us in English.
Our driver picked us up from the hotel at 4:30 am then we headed to where we could get our temple tickets for $20 each which was good for one day tour. They also have $40 each for one week tour, good for all temples. As early as that time, there were already many tourists lining up to get tickets. We were glad we went early though. They had to take a photo of each of us and gave us a paper ticket with our photo on it.
The small tour consisted of 8 temples – Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom being the most popular. We first headed to Angkor Wat because it’s where most people would witness the sunrise. It was still dark when we arrived and we had to walk through a path with bodies of water on both sides. The photos below were taken when we were already on our way out. I wasn’t taking photos at all when we were entering the temple.Then we had to enter the gate below to get inside the actual temples. Honestly, I felt emotional while walking towards the temple. The goosebumps kind of emotional. It was dark, cold and quiet (despite the relatively many tourists walking with us) but it wasn’t crowded yet. And that’s where it hit me — my Angkor Wat dream is no longer a dream. It’s so real. And yet so surreal. I was right – it was indeed fascinating and grand. It was so huge that I felt utterly small and vulnerable, but at the same time it made me strong inside.When I first stood in front of it, I told my friends that I’d stay there to take photos. They walked away to find a good spot. But it turned out I didn’t even take a photo (which explains why I only have a few photos of the landscape).At that point, I was just a girl standing in front of the Angkor Wat temple for the first time, admiring its grandeur from afar. I was so near yet so far. Or so far yet so near.That moment was priceless. I’ve already frozen it in my mind. There might or might not have been tears in my eyes and I really didn’t know why. And this is not even an exaggeration because I was kind of breathless (could be from the fast-paced walking) but I just knew it was something else.
If you are not into rich history or maybe temples, or ancient civilization and the story behind it – you will probably see Angkor Wat as just a bunch of bricks and stones put together to form a structure (like what I’ve heard from some people after visiting Stone Henge in England).But really, I think most people who go to Angkor Wat know why they are even there. And that it’s way, way more than just a bunch of bricks and stones. It’s a symbol of a rich cultural heritage – something that the world is proud of. It’s even the symbol printed on Cambodia’s flag.After waiting for about an hour for the sunrise – the sun did rise but we didn’t see it in its full glory, or at least from where we were standing. But still, watching the grand architecture from afar was glorious in itself. We then headed inside the temple where we had to walk up, up, and away. Built by Khmer King Suryavarman II, the temples were actually originally constructed as a Hindu temple during the first half of the 12th century but eventually, it was transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of that same century. Angkor Wat (City Temple) has since then become one of the largest religious monuments ever created.The temples are mainly in high elevation. Based on what I’ve read before, this is because the temples were sacred and one couldn’t just easily go up there for nothing. The walls are also adorned with very intricate carvings and designs that are symbolic of the Khmer Empire’s culture and heritage. It’s awe-inspiring to see these carvings on the wall and know for myself that these were created centuries ago. I saw many of these Apsara carvings depicted on the walls. They are said to be figures of Hindu mythology who were beautiful girls always ready to dance. If you fancy walking up the steep stairs to the temple towers, you can. Just like what I did. Slowly but surely. The original stairs were even steeper if you noticed, which was why they created the modern stairs for tourists to use. From up above, I wondered where that road leads. I really just took it all in one second at a time.The temple complex was immensely big so I was impressed with how the Khmers were able to preserve it very well.It took us about two hours to roam around Angkor Wat. And even then, it wasn’t possible for us to visit every nook and cranny. Meanwhile, just outside the main temple was also a sight to behold on its own.It was already bright and sunny when we left Angkor Wat. We were then headed to Angkor Thom where I truly felt like I was entering the world of Percy Jackson. Sneak peek of Angkor Thom… And oh, ANGKOR WAT? I’ve been there and I loved it! If this isn’t enough reason for you to go, then I’m not sure what is. But once in your life, if you can, I really think you should visit. For me, it was really an experience of a lifetime. I even want to go back. ♥