There are some travelling sights that you spend months imagining, planning and waiting for. Cambodia was a place I had waited so long to experience, see and feel – now we’ve established it was a bit of a disappointment, but there’s one thing that really did live up to expectations. I’ve said previously that arriving in the country during low season really impacted on my enjoyment of Cambodia, but when it came to Angkor Wat, this was a time it really paid off. I went along with two girls from my dorm to check out the sunrise, and after rising early at around 4am, we jumped in our tuk tuk and zoomed off towards the temples. Now we’ve all seen the pictures of the sun rising over Angkor Wat and we all know what it looks like, but nothing can quite prepare you for getting to see this incredible sight with your own eyes. My pictures don’t do it justice and I don’t think I have seen any that do – it’s about the feeling of the place. The hushed conversation amongst the travellers, the silence as the sun begins to climb up over the temple, and the gasps as its bursts over the top. I was a lucky girl and the crowds were not packing out the grounds like I have heard they do in high season, there was just a small crowd around the lake and one that could easily be blocked from view and tuned out while I enjoyed the sight of what lay before me.After the sun started rising higher in the sky, I said goodbye to the girls I arrived with as they headed off to catch their flight home, then wandered into Angkor Wat. I was really struck dumb by the incredible structure and the history that lay amongst its walls, it was beautiful and I was glad to be left alone at that point. I really love having time by myself when visiting ruins or such places of history, it was the same when I visited Ayutthaya and Sukhothai in Thailand, I just love seeing them at my own pace and really having a chance to imagine what life was like in these buildings all those years ago. While I wasn’t overawed by Cambodia as a country, I was fascinated by the history of the nation and seeing this history right in front of me was amazing – it showed me something so powerful and strong from the same country I had seen left broken at the Killing Fields and S21. It was so interesting to see another side to the country’s rich history and I loved learning about the architecture and what the different temples were used for – my tuk tuk driver was really helpful at explaining even when we struggled with the language barrier.I really appreciated the lengths my driver went to in order to help me get as much from the experience as possible. It cost $18 for a tuk tuk driver for the day, but by paying that standard fee, you had your own tour guide included in the package. As you’ll know from previous posts, I wasn’t in the best physical shape at this point – I actually visited the temples two days after my bus crash and could barely walk at this point. But, after hearing what had happened, my driver went far beyond the call of duty to drive me almost into the temples and even help me around himself a few times so that I could really experience them. He was so kind and friendly, a complete change to what I had experienced before and it really helped renew my faith in Cambodians. He knew exactly what I wanted from the day and took me around the main temples and structures, and also stopped off to show me a couple of his favourites along the way, as well as scoring me snacks of fruit and water for next to nothing instead of from the overpriced sellers hanging around outside the temples.I actually spent around six hours around the temples altogether, finishing at around 10am when the sun was starting to get too hot for all the walking. When visiting, it is definitely better to start as early as possible, especially if you are biking round as I wanted to, because by 10/11 the sun does get very intense and there is little shelter around these structures. You could easily spend all day walking round and I know a few people who actually went back over a couple of days, but personally I felt a morning walking round was well spent and I really felt like I had seen all I needed to. I visited Angkor Wat for sunrise and then my tuk tuk driver wound his way round to Angkor Thom, my personal favourite Bayon, Elephant Terrace and Preah Khan, along with a few smaller ones my driver recommended. I absolutely loved Bayon and actually found it even grander and more impressive than Angkor Wat, all those faces carved into the rock were just mesmerising. I was so impressed with the detail to the structures considering what kind of tools those who built these would have been working with. I won’t whittle on too much, I’ll let you take a look at my pictures instead, but just know that I can completely understand why tourists and travellers flock in their hordes each year to visit these ancient ruins. They are stunning and really leave you with a sense of awe, a respect for what came before us and what they were capable of. It is an absolute must-see in Cambodia and in the whole of Asia, and I can’t recommend enough that you go for the first time at sunrise. The girls I went with had already been round the temples the previous day and had seen Angkor Wat in daylight before watching the sun rise over it and they were definitely slightly less impressed than I was. See the real magic of Angkor Wat when the sun is just peeking over the top and you’ll really understand why it is so talked about. If you are going for a sunrise viewing, make sure you are there from at least 5am at the latest if you want to get a good spot, earlier if in peak season and be sure to check what time the su. Will rise as it will change throughout the year. I would recommend getting your park ticket the day before or leaving plenty of time to queue because even in low season the queue was huge – luckily I stood in the wrong place and ended up getting pushed to the front in double quick time! Above all, enjoy, be silent – don’t spend every single second taking photos – and soak up the splendour of this magical place.
Have you been to Angkor Wat in high season – what was your experience like? What was your favourite of the temples? Can you offer any other advice to those going to see them?