Morning – Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm
Afternoon – Bayon, Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is by far the largest and most impressive temple complex in the region if not the world. The intact structure has been in continual use since its construction in the 12th century. With over 2 million visitors annually it’s important to time your visit to minimize the crowds.
I agonized over whether to do a sunrise visit to Angkor Wat and decided that braving the crowds and having to jockey for position at 5 a.m. or earlier really wasn’t worth it. I know many will disagree, especially those who made the effort to arrive at that hour. I suggest looking at sunrise photos and deciding for yourself.
Instead we arrived just after 6 a.m. with the sunrise just fading and some of the crowds thinning as well. The reflection on the water was still and with the cloud cover there was still a good effect with the light behind the towers. At this time of year, mid-November, to get the sun behind the towers you need to be on the very left edge of the left pool when facing the West gate. These are the pools within the walls, not the moat surrounding the complex.
While some sunrise visitors also visit the temple at this hour many leave to have breakfast. Still, at 7 there was a long line to reach the uppermost level but by 8 there was no line at all.
It’s a large complex but aside from the bas-reliefs, which really are spectacular, there isn’t that much to see. It’s mostly about the structure and the architecture. While the structure is intact much of the exterior carvings are worn down, more so than at some other sights. The interiors are largely unadorned. There are a number apsaras, celestial dancers, gracing the walls, but not much else.
While some facades are lit in the morning the front of the West gate is not. It is therefore best to come back in the afternoon.
The bas reliefs which run along the interior perimeter walls are generally in good condition, detailing mostly battle scenes. On the southeast side, however, there is a heaven and hell panel that I found intriguing despite its poor condition at the far east end.
The upper level is worthwhile for the views and a closer look at the central tower, but again not many carvings.
As we were exiting at 9:30 more and more visitors started to pour in the main entrance.
Ta Prohm, 12th to 13th century, is probably the most fun temple with the general ruinous nature of the complex and the large strangler figs and silk-cotton trees growing into the walls. This is the temple you see in Indiana Jones’ Temple of Doom. The complex has a maze like feel although it is more open than Preah Khan. When we visited they were restoring the Hall of Dancers and had the area roped off, directing the traffic flow around the building.
The complex was busy when we arrived at 10:00 but not overly so with mostly smaller groups. On a sunny day the midday light streaming through the trees made photography difficult with contrasting light and dark shadows.
Bayon Afternoon Visit
On the way to the temple we stopped at Angkor Tom’s south gate. It was busy at around 2:30 with the head gate tower and bridge well light if not still too harshly so.
Bayon, 13th century, is another iconic temple complex famed for its numerous face towers. It’s quite the spectacle and a photographer’s delight if you can minimize the crowds.
We arrived at Bayon at 2:45. Lonely Planet recommends an afternoon visit as most tour buses come in the morning. I don’t know if this is true but it was very busy when we arrived and was busier when we left at 4. This site is quite exposed and hot in the afternoon sun. If you have the time I would suggest arriving at 7:30 when the site opens and going straight to the upper terrace to see the head towers before the big tour groups arrive. People love having their photo taken with these heads so they spend lots of time shooting each other.
After you visit the terrace go back down and spend time on the lower level, especially at the south wall’s quite impressive bas reliefs.
November 17, 2018
For links to all the posts in this series see the Laos/Cambodia page.