As a traveler, you tend to have cities, landmarks, or natural wonders that you just have to visit. Truth be told, I didn’t have many in mind before I departed for Southeast Asia. After arriving, however, it became very clear that Angkor Wat was not only magnificent to behold, but in many ways other worldly. For us, it became a mecca of sorts; a pilgrimage and rite of passage for my friends and I being first time backpackers. We heard the stories, saw the photos, and now, it was time to see it for ourselves.
We took the long overnight bus from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, crossed the borders, and learned new ways to say hello and thank you. Cambodia was different but the same as the other countries we had traveled through. People were kind and got by with very little, happy to show you around and tell you about the history of the country. Cambodia has had a tumultuous past but its people are remarkably resilient. I admire them so much.
After hearing other travelers’ recommendations for how and what to see in Angkor Wat, we decided to get up and go. We hired a tuk-tuk driver that picked us up and dropped us off every day. We bought a three day pass for $40 (one day passes are also available for less, though I recommend spending as much time there as possible) and looked on a map so we could plan exactly where we would go and how much time we could spend in each place.
If you or a friend is planning to visit Angkor Wat in the future, it’s important to keep in mind that the temple complex is gigantic. Angkor Wat roughly translates to “city temple,” which I find incredibly fitting. The main temple is the one you are most likely familiar with, but there are gorgeous structures and ruins scattered throughout the entire area, so please make sure you give yourself adequate time to explore.
It’s also important to remember that it rains a lot. The rain was a hindrance in our plans as it was hard to explore in the middle of a downfall. If it is rainy season, find out which times it is most likely to rain. We knew it rained primarily during the afternoon, so we made it a point to get up early, still giving us plenty of time to see what we wanted.
After we figured out the map, pass, and weather, we made the journey from Siem Reap to the temple. A pleasant ride, we were anxious to see the majestic structure for the first time and see what we had only known from textbook photos up until that point.
And although I think I’m good with words and can usually describe things in sufficient detail, I will always come up short when speaking of Angkor Wat. Unless you can witness the beauty for yourself, words will always fail. There is really no other feeling I can describe or compare to what I felt when walking up to the temple, realizing the age, history, work, love, and patience that went into building something so sacred. My words will never do it justice, and as I stood at the feet, I couldn’t help but thank the people who created it, and hoped that my generation would leave something just as beautiful for those we leave behind.
We spent hours exploring the interior, admiring the intricacy. No stone was left un-carved, no detail left un-thought of. I could never fathom the dedication that must have gone into Angkor Wat, not even close. We were able to see a few of the other more famous temples, each being as beautiful and inspiring as the last. We didn’t get to see the entire complex and I think it would take weeks to get the full scope. Yet we walked away feeling satisfied, enriched, and blessed to have been witness to something so spectacular.
Seeing world wonders in person that you had only seen in photographs up to that point is a feeling I’m quite fond of; I hope to never lose it. I’ll never forget the time I spent there and how insignificant I felt standing in the midst of it all. It’s nice to have reminders that human made structures like these, timeless and perfect, will be around even after we are gone. For a moment, I was proud to be part of it all.