Cambodia Day 2 – Angkor Wat and Apsara Ballet

Where and when: Siem Reap, Cambodia, April 2023

0745: It is an early start today as we visit the biggest highlight of the trip –  Angkor Wat. As the weather is very hot, our tour guide recommend an early start so we can finish the tour by midday when the temperatures soar to nearly 40 degrees Celsius.

0800: First stop is at the Angkor Wat ticket office. You have to visit the ticket office in person to buy your ticket. They take your photo and print it on the ticket to stop multiple people using the same ticket. 

Angkor Wat Ticket Office

0815: At entrace to Angkor Wat. “Angkor Wat” means the “City of Temples”. Angkor is derived from the Pali-Sanskrit word “Nagara” meaning city and Wat comes from the Pali-Sanskrit word “Vata”, meaning enclosure.

One of the entrances to Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat was built in 1122 AD during the reign of King Suryavarman II, as a Hindu temple dedicated to God Vishnu. Located on a 400 acre site, it holds the Guiness World record as the largest religious structure in the World.

Angkor Wat and its reflection in the pool

Few decades after it was built, Angkor Wat was converted to a Buddhist temple as the Buddhism rose in prominence during the reign of King Jayavarman VII. The result is a temple with many Buddha statues in places of worship, surrounded by many Hindu carvings and iconography.

One of the many Buddha Statues in the temple

The galleries of the temples have very large carvings ranging from 40m to 100m in length. The carvings depict scenes from many Hindu epics such as Ramayana, Mahabarata and the churning of the sea of milk.

Gallery depicting the “Battle of Kurukshetra” from the Mahabharata
Gallery depicting the “Churning of the Sea of Milk”
Apsara carvings at the Angkor Wat Temple
Angkor Wat Temple Mountain

Angkor Wat structure is a unique combination of the temple mountain at the centre (which resembles the Mahameru – abode of god Shiva in Hindu mythology) surrounded by concentric galleries.

Temple Galleries

1020: After Angkor Wat, we head to the Bayon Temple nearby. Although it is only mid morning, the temperatures are already in the high thirties.

Tip: Visit Angkor Wat as early as possible – especially when the weather is hot.  We arrived there at 0815, but the temple was already busy. The site opens at 0530 and visiting at this time means you avoid the crowds, and can finish your visit before it gets too hot. As an added bonus, you can see the sunrise over Angkor Wat.

To get to Bayon temple, we drive through the entry gates to the ancient city of Angkor Thom. This was the last major capital city of the Khemer empire, lasting from the 12th century to 17th century.

Entry gates to Angkor Thom

1030: Bayon temple was the state temple of Angor Thom. As a result, it is one of the most richly decorated temples in Siem Reap.

Bayon Temple

The Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the  serene and smiling stone faces of the Buddha, four on each tower pointing to the four sides. These are believed to have been modelled on the face of King Jayavarman VII who commissioned the temple.

One of the towers of the Bayon Temple

The tempel was lost to the jungle until rediscovery by French archaeologists in the early 20th century. The jungle overgrew the temple and much of the structure crumpled to as a result. There are many major restoration projects under way to restore Bayon temple and many other temples on the area.

Bayon Temple Restoration

1115: Head to Ta Prohm temple.

Entrance to Ta Prohm Temple

1130: This temple is most famous for being in the 2001 “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” film starring Angelina Jolie. The film is credited with raising the profile of Cambodia and Siem Reap around the World in the early naughties.

The temple was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and center of learning dedicated to his mother.

The most famous features of the temple are the trees growing over the temple. Tree roots have worked their way in to cracks in the temple structure, to the point the trees are both holding up the temple, and crushing it at the same time.

1230: Our tour of the Angkor temple are over, and we head to lunch.

The region around Angkor Wat has many other temples to explore, depending on how much time you have. Whilst Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm are the most famous temples, there are many others worth visiting if you have the time. See here for more details.

A couple of tips for visiting Angkor Temples:

Tip: Visit the temples with a tour guide if possible. Information boards are few and far between at all the temples we visited. A tour guide will be able to tell you the stories behind the temples.

Tip: Take Sunscreen, hat and plenty of water.  Our driver was excellent in this regard – he had a ready supply of ice cold water and cold towels in the van, which helped us enormously deal with the heat.

Tip: Wear loose cotton clothing (you need to wear clothes that cover the shoulders and knees to be allowed entry into the temples).

1345 After lunch we visit a local temple in the centre of Siem Reap.

1415: Back at the hotel for a rest.

1745: Visit to a local market. The road side stalls sells everything from food, cane juice and textiles.

Snacks – Assorted bugs, snails and spiders
Wide variety of fish snacks
Freshly pressed cane juice

There are many food stalls where families come to enjoy an evening meal. Market is open late into the evening to allow for everyone to come shopping after the work day has ended and the midday heat is gone. 

1900: In the evening we go to the Crystal Palace restaurant for dinner and a performance of the famous Cambodian Apsara Dance.

Apsara dancing is a form Cambodian Ballet, dating back to the 7th century.  In Hindu and Buddhist mythology, Apsaras are ethereal, alluring, goddesses from heaven. It is said that their dance could hypnotise anyone who watched. 

Apsara Blessing Dance – Performed to give blessing to kings, country leaders or visiting dignitaries

Apsara dancing in the modern era was revived by Queen Sisowath Kossamak of Cambodia who established the National Cambodian Ballet. Her granddaughter Princess Bhuppa Devi trained as a dancer from a very young age and toured the world as the Prima Ballerina of the National Cambodia Ballet. Women who train for Apsara dancing do so at a young age, to prepare their hands and feet for the flexibility required for the dance.

Folk Dance – Coconut Dance

The performance lasts around 2 hours and consists of seven dances – a mix of Apsara ballet and Cambodian Folk Dances.

Mekhala Dance – Depicting fight between the draught and the rains

2100: Back to hotel. Khmer New Year is only a week away so there are many decorations on the way.

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