Angkor Wat is a truly impressive world heritage site. The central temple covers 1.6 sq km, apparently the world’s largest religious shrine. However it is only the most visited place in a sacred landscape, comprising 1,000 temples and shrines, and extending in an archaeological park over1,000 sq km, some eight times the size of Jersey. Anne and I spent five days exploring the area by Bike, cycling some 216 km. We were entranced; there was so much more to see.
Having cycled across three countries, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, we had a peaceful week at Siem Reap in Cambodia, which has flourished as a tourist centre close to Angkor Wat. There is a smart international airport some 7km outside the city, the route between the two fringed with large hotels. There were relatively few visitors, as we were there just after Chinese New Year and the Vietnamese Tet Holidays and with the shadow of the Coronavirus. We stayed at a boutique hotel on the edge of the city.
You can visit Angkor Wat by tuk tuk. However we hired Bikes and bought entry tickets for the week for $72 each. This compared with a $32 entry ticket for a single day, so good value if you make repeat visits, which I thoroughly recommend. There is also a definite limit to the richness you can absorb on any one day. Anne & I found four hours exploration of the archaeological park on any day quite enough, after which we returned to enjoy relaxation in the hotel pool/ yoga etc.
The Map indicates the essentially geometric form of the landscape, its east –west, north-south alignment, corresponding to projection of an image of heaven on earth, the mandala, by Khmer monarchs. The pattern is repeated in the form of the surrounding bunds, where wet rice was cultivated.
The Khmer kingdom was an inland theocracy, managing water flow. The temples and city of Angkor are surrounded by artificial lakes and channels. 50km to the north are the hills of Phnom Kulen, from which sandstone used in the temples was brought. With rainfall on the hills, the rivers and streams flooded, eventually resulting in seasonal expansion of Tonle Sap, the Great Lake, to the SE of Angkor. Water management around Angkor resulted in holding back water in the bunds, encouraging rice cultivation.
The temples comprise passages and terraces leading to further passages and crossings. Unlike approximately contemporary European cathedrals, there is no useable interior space
In my view, if you travel to South East Asia, you should hire Bikes and luxuriate in the Ankgor Wat complex, staying for at least four days. Six or seven would be better!