The Wats of Angkor are some of the most impressive and massive structures I have ever seen in the world. Like many I’m sure, I thought there was only Angkor Wat. There is so much more. The Wats of Angkor comprise of several complexes spread out over several miles. There is no way to see them all in one day and on foot. Some people rent mountain bikes. We did what most do, we hired a tuk-tuk driver for the day to drive us between each temple complex. And definitely don’t waste your time with a 1-day pass… get at least a 3-day pass like we did. Even better if you have the time, get a 1-week pass. There are some temples I wish we could have gone back to and explore again. Keep in mind, for us, with 3 kids, a “day” at Angkor is about 5-6 hours including lunch. The park is open from 5:30am to 5:30pm if you can handle the heat and carry enough water with you.
All the hotels and tuk-tuk drivers themselves carry pre-printed maps showing two popular day trip routes around the temples; a long route and a short route. For our first day we decided to take the short route with our driver. This would take us to Angkor Wat, east to Banteay Kdei and Srah Srang (the royal bathing pool), north west to Ta Prohm (also known as the Tomb Raider temple), then into the Angkor Thom complex to Bayon Temple.
We started at Angkor Wat but didn’t want to spend too much time here as we wanted to save this temple for our last day. We went through the gates, over the moat, and only into the first set of chambers before returning to our driver.
The temples of Banteay Kdei were small and still in a bit of ruins. It was actually a perfect place to really start looking and exploring the temples. The east gate was a face-tower and offered an interesting yet ominous welcome. We spent a little time exploring these temples before heading east across the road to look at Srah Srang. Being the dry season, the royal bathing pool was pretty empty, so not much to look at today.
Next it was off to Ta Prohm. Also known as the Tomb Raider temple because Ta Prohm was the set for the movie Tomb Raider. After the discovery of many of the temple complexes at Angkor, it was decided to pick one complex to not restore but rather to leave as discovered. That temple was Ta Prohm. Nature has been minimally removed to allow passage into and around Ta Prohm, but for the most part, very little restoration has gone on. It is quite impressive to see the very large trees and their roots wiggle their way through the stone structures. This temple was very fun to explore, even for the kids.
SIDE NOTE: Outside of Banteay Kdei we bought an “Ancient Angkor” guide book. This proved very useful for us and for the kids. They really enjoyed thumbing through finding out where we were and how we should walk through the temples noting what to see.
After Ta Prohm, and lunch, we headed south west to the Angkor Thom complex and the Bayon Temple. This was hands down our favorite temple!!! I really wish we could have had the time to go back again. What makes Bayon so interesting are all the “faces” looking at you from everywhere; along the walkway leading to the gates, the gates, inside and around the temples. It was very impressive. We spent quite a bit of time here. It started to rain a bit that afternoon, which is also very nice for the kids to cool down. We ended up playing in the rain in one of the courtyards inside Bayon. 🙂
The next day we came back to Bayon first to finish up. Many of the temples have libraries, usually 2. They are smaller buildings within the walls of the temple complex but outside of the actual temple. Bayon had 2 libraries that offered great views from it’s second floor… if you were willing to climb the steep steep stairs up. Which of course we all were, except for Tai.
After the rains and after Bayon on Day 1, it was time to head back to the hotel for the night. We dropped our stuff off, grabbed another tuk-tuk to the night market and Pub street, and had dinner and dessert. Then early to bed as we were heading back out to Angkor again in the morning.