5 Tips for Angkor Wat

Bayon Temple at sunset

The temples around Angkor Wat in Cambodia are among the world’s most important cultural assets. On the internet you can find many references to it as the 8th Wonder of the world and for many travelers these temples are the culmination of a trip to Southeast Asia.  Many of them are not aware of the scale of the temples, also that there is still quite  a population residing on site, most of whom are now living from tourism. With these tips the visit to Angkor Wat will be an even  more impressive experience.

1) Take your time

A day is not enough, and a weekly ticket might be a bit exaggerated. I recommend a three-day pass – but one which can be consumed within a week. This leaves time for other activities in between. After two days in the ruins – when the feeling comes up, that everything looks the same (keyword: ruined-out), a trip to the villages, or a day of doing nothing comes in handy. When purchasing the tickets, ask for the option of the three days spread over a week. It costs as much as a normal three-day ticket, but  is issued only on request.

 

Discover your inner Indiana Jones

The enchanted temple Ta Prohm

 

Take  enough time for each temple. A lot can be discovered only at a  second glance. On our first tour in the famous overgrown Ta Prohm temple, we were  disappointed, not only because there were so many people, but also because so much is fenced, and a few trees that encircle the ruins so beautiful are cut down. Additionally there are renovation works all over the aera.  Only when we went into  a quiet second round -walking without great expectations, everything is in flux, we wind ourselves through small cracks and collapsed buildings, which  are overgrown by trees.
2) Go by bike (and Tuk-Tuk)

 

Sleeping Tuk-Tuk driver

Our Tuk-Tuk driver shortens his waiting time with a nap

 

Anyone who is reasonably fit should at least rent a bike for a day (available in most guesthouses). This costs almost nothing and provides a good opportunity to be completely on your own and to look at the details on the roadside. The distance from the town of Siem Rap to the two main temples of Angkor Wat and Bayon is about 6km. The haunted temple Ta Phrom is still in good biking distance. The temples further away are reserved for those who are really fit. But you can hire a tuk tuk with driver (about $ 15 a day). Then more distant temples and even a sunrise or sunset is easier to achieve (also because driving in the dark without lights is not really recommended)

3) Time your visit!

 

The trick is to avoid the hordes, and simultaneously  have enough time to let the temples impress you – all this without a heat stroke. It’s a good idea to start early in the morning  from 7:00 to 9:30 -when most groups are still at breakfast. Also at noon, it is surprisingly quiet – but you have to be careful with the heat. And if there are too many people or too many ruins: there are enough secluded shady spots, sit down, watch the monkeys and let your spirits flow. This place has something very magical.
4) Take the right equipment with you

 

Steps at Angkor Temple

My travelmate Doris scrambles down the steep steps

Visits are often strenuous . More surprising than the heat  are the really  high and steep steps (I would think in Europe or even more in  America they would be locked because of imminent danger). Good shoes, a backpack and enough water are therefore  good helpers.

5) Do something different

Floating Village at Tonle Sap Lake

A visit at a floating village at Tonle Sap Lake

 

The surrounding area of Siem Reap has a lot to offer. I recommend taking a day off for example to have a look at the  “floating villages”. These are built on stilts in the nearby Tonle Sap lake and the people change according to season and water level between the stilted villages. A good insight into rural life, where fishery is the main source of subsistence. Further ideas for activities can be found  here.
And las but not least: Drink an Angkor beer! Where it would be more appropriate than here?

 

Angkor Wat

Angkor beer at Angkor Wat

 

Some thoughts on photography, or: Making photos of Angkor Wat

In the theoretical debate tourism is often descrbed as production and consumption of images.  Touristical publicity films and folders are produced to create desires and the travelers themselves make photos not only to show to everyone where they have been, but also to preserve for themselves the places of their longings.  Both the promotion material as well as the own photographies have the purpose to arouse emotions – by evoking longings and memories.

But here is also another aspect of photography: the concentrated attention on the environment, even the almost complete immersion, which converts a simple sightseeing into  an almost meditative experience. At least that is what happened to me in Angkor Wat (the largest and accordingly one of the most photographed temple complex in the world). For days we  stumbled around, sometimes surrounded by throngs of other tourists (and thus photographers), sometimes almost alone. Early in the morning, glaring at midday and just before the sunset – always on the lookout for beautiful impressions and fine paintings. The visit is therefore attractive as a search of photo opportunities. The criticism of it is, of course, thatyou do  not immerse properly,  build a barrier, which materializes in the camera. On the other hand, there is always a barrier and  while traveling you are  always an onlooker, as my  my travel companion noted so well. For me at least,  the three days in the temples of Angkor Wat (where I’ve photographed as much as the remaining 4.5 weeks of vacation together)were a lasting experience. And here are the results:

The social scientists like to call this the appropriation of the attraction. Through photography, I make the attraction my own. This has something, altough the advantage is, that Which has also, with the advantage of this is that it is still common property
If you want to read and see more:
  •  The tourist gaze,, a nice essay by Paul Kubalek, which summarizes the most important aspects around the topic of tourism and photography.
  • John McDermott,, who does with two chic and beautiful galleries in Siem Rap Pictures (B&W)  certainly a good business.
  • Doris Böttcher, whose subtle, hidden gallery we have encountered by chance in Phnom Penh – B&W also wonderful photos – in 6×6

 

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