Exploring the Splendors of Angkor Wat
Jun 12, 2023

Exploring the Splendors of Angkor Wat

VladyslaV Travel photo / Shutterstock

Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world. Built between the 9th and 12th centuries, it comprises both Hindu and Buddhist temples (and combinations of the two, with a little Animism thrown in for good measure). Angkor Wat has become the icon of Cambodia, even appearing on their national flag.

The Angkor Wat complex spreads over 200 acres, so you need a little assistance getting around. I chose different modes of transportation to explore one of the world’s architectural and religious wonders: tuk tuk, on foot, and by bike.

By Tuk Tuk

The first day I hired a private tuk tuk to take me to the far-flung reaches of the temple complex and a few of the noteworthy temples just beyond. It was well worth the money – only $25 for the entire day.

I felt like a princess being driven around (this was a motorbike tuk tuk), as I sat perched upon extra pillows in the back. The tuk tuk also had a fringed canopy, which (strangely) gave me immense pleasure.

We went to these six historic sites:

Pre Rup

Constructed in the late 10th century, it is considered an architecturally and artistically superior temple. It is quite a climb to the top, where the view is fabulous. I sat there for a while, enjoying the surrounding lush jungle scenery and quietude.

Banteay Srey

Located about 40 kilometers from Siem Reap, this temple is not part of the Angkor Wat complex. It is known as the “citadel of the women” because of the delicate beauty of the carvings. It is the only temple made of pink sandstone which is said to be prettiest in the light before 10:30 am and after 2:00 pm. My favorite temple of the day.

Banteay Samre

Many of this temple’s carvings are in excellent condition. I particularly liked the intricacy of the work. It is also off the main circuit, so you can enjoy the temple without the crowd and in relative peace.

East Mebon

A temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, it is described as a “mountain-like ruin” because of its massive size. It also has four large elephants guarding each of the temple’s corners.

Ta Som

The lichen-covered rocks give this Buddhist temple a green patina. It is best known for the giant tree that is growing from one of its gates – you’ll now notice it in many Angkor Wat photos.

Cambodia Land Mine Museum

Located just east of Angkor Wat, the Land Mine Museum is well worth the visit: educational and thought-provoking. A good way to wrap up the afternoon.

By Walking

The second day, I hired a guide to take me through the more famous portions of Angkor Wat. My guide’s fee was $25, plus a tuk tuk fee of $15 for the day. Again, a relative bargain for a personalized tour.

My guide, Vandy, was excellent. I arranged the tour through my hotel Angkor Spirit Palace (also excellent — the pool was lifesaver in the late afternoon heat.) If you’re going to Cambodia, you can contact Vandy directly and he can serve as your guide (he can also arrange for your bus / airport pick up and provide accommodation support). His contact info is: vandy_so {at} yahoo {dot} com. Tell him Erin sent you and you’ll get a 10% discount!

Vandy guided me through these amazing Angkor Wat temples:


Featuring 37 towers with most sporting 4 giant carved faces, Bayon was my favorite of this second day. It also had excellent bas-relief carvings of sea battles between the Khmer and Cham dynasties.

Close up of Bayon. Photo by Erin Michelson.

Angkor Thom

A royal city, Angkor Thom is surrounded by a 3 kilometer moat. Used as the capital city in the late 13th century, the city has five gates, each topped with 4 massive faces. An impressive testament to the Angkorian empire.

Terrace of the Elephants

We just did a drive-by of this 2.5-meter tall, 300 meter-long terrace that is adorned with carved elephants standing at attention. Next time, I would stop and explore it in a little more detail. But maybe that’s because I’m becoming a big time elephant fan.

Angkor Wat

Vandy saved the best for last and we tackled this architectural jewel after getting fortified by lunch. The main temple’s 3-tiered pyramid is crowned with five towers carved like in the shape of lotuses. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. We saw a bride getting her portrait taken in among the ruins. Truly a beautiful sight (and site!).

By Bike

OK, I swear I fully intended to rent a bike. But then I heard you couldn’t actually ride into and through the temples, the bike needed to be locked outside. And the Angkor Wat complex is more than 5 kilometers from the center of Siem Reap where you rent the bikes. And it was so bloody hot!

So, no, I didn’t actually tool around on two wheels. Instead I went back to my palace hotel and splashed around in the pool, which in my mind is the perfect way to end my 2-day Angkor Wat odyssey!

Erin Michelson is a social entrepreneur and world traveler. A self-styled Adventure Philanthropist, Erin is embarking on a 2-year global giving adventure called Erin Goes Global. Starting in Fiji on New Year’s Day 2011, Erin Michelson will travel to more than 70 counties on 7 continents during 2011-2012. Along the way, Erin will be volunteering with global non-profit organizations, including building wells in Uganda and tutoring young girls in Bangladeshi boat villages. She’s donated $25,000 and is holding monthly polls to see which worthy nonprofits receive the grants!