From sunrise to sunset, Angkor Wat is one of the most majestic places on earth.
Hidden in the jungle for nearly 900 years, this Buddhist and Hindu temple was the centerpiece of the ancient Khmer Kingdom.
With towering spires reaching towards the heavens and intricate carvings covering the inner walls, a visit is sure to bring out your inner Indiana Jones.
When I first visited Angkor Wat in 2009, I left feeling like I had unfinished business.
“Angkor Wat was the first stop on our whirlwind three day tour of the Angkor complex that consists of dozens of temple ruins scattered over more than two square miles.
While it was smaller than I imagined (as I feel most famous monuments are), the place was absolutely amazing. Filled with intricate carvings and stone wall reliefs telling stories, it was the five central towers that really make the site special.
We must have spent three hours wandering the Angkor Wat grounds, though my access to the very top of the center tower was denied when I refused to bribe the guard $10 to let us up.”
When I returned in November, 2013, I took my time exploring the ancient ruins.
Hours turned into days, as I climbed over giant carved stones and photographed every inch of the massive complex.
Now, I’m thrilled to take you on a photographic tour of Angkor Wat.
Sunrise at the Lotus Pond
Wipe the sleep from your eyes; you’ve just woken up at 3:30 am.
Across Siem Reap, bar patrons are saying goodnight; but, you’ve already hopped into a pre-arranged tuk tuk and begun the journey to Angkor.
In the still of the night, you are alone with your thoughts as you pass by the still-closed ticket office.
Walking into a legend
Allow yourself to be transported back in time, as the sight of parking lots and tuk tuk drivers fades into a sprawling complex of stone and history.
There’s nothing quite like that first view of the towers, as you pass through the front gate and begin to walk down an uneven pathway.
The first to arrive
Upon arriving at Angkor Wat, you find only a few signs of life; including a pair of sleepy-yet-jovial ticket checkers, who declare you the first tourist of the day.
That’s OK… you don’t want anyone around anyway!
After walking to the reflecting lotus pond, finding a perfect spot to set up your tripod and ordering an hot cup of coffee, all that’s left to do is wait and watch as night gives way to day.
That’s one crowded sunrise!
Remember how tough it was to get out of bed at 3:30 am?
As you stand in your prime position along the water, more than a thousand people will fill in the gaps behind you.
Now imagine being in back of that mob instead of the front…
Take advantage of the beautiful early morning light
Moments after the sun peeks out from behind Angkor Wat, hoards of tourists begin heading back to their hotels or to nearby food stalls for breakfast.
As such, this is the perfect time to wander around the outer courtyard and bathe in the early-morning light.
A Tale of Two Scaffoldings
Leading up to your trip, rumors have trickled in of scaffolding covering Angkor Wat.
Much to your delight, you find that only a small part of the temple is covered at any given time.
To show this, here are are a pair of photographs of the front entrance from 2009 and 2013.
It’s finally time to go inside the temple complex
Whether you use the front entrance or one of the many side doors, you will find yourself in a long column-lined hallway.
This area is known as the outer gallery; and its walls are covered with thousands of exquisite bas-relief carvings.
The Inner Courtyard. Level II
Shield your eyes; the transition from Angkor’s dark galleries to the bright courtyard comes quickly.
After climbing a few stairs and stepping into the open, take a few minutes to admire the massive temple towers above.
Then, you wander.
The Central Tower. Floor III
Catch your breath; you’ve just walked up a steep set of narrow wooden stairs and reached the tippy-top.
Waiting for you is the central tower; the big boy; the main event; the centerpiece of Angkor Wat.
Congratulations; you’ve made it!
One last stop
Before leaving, you stop in the side courtyard of the ground floor to find the sun setting behind an old library.
Then, it’s out the back door
You are just as surprised as I am to learn that there are two ways in and out of Angkor Wat.
This is why you used the back door
Aren’t you glad you avoided that tourist zoo?
Flying high above Angkor Wat…
After your incredible day inside Angkor Wat, you decide that the only way to truly cap off your experience is with a helicopter ride.
This is what you see from above.