Walking Around Angkor Wat, Cambodia

A Classic shot of Angkor Wat (Jennifer Miner)

Angkor Wat is not only the most famous temple area in Cambodia, it’s also, by far, the most popular travel destination in the entire country of Cambodia. Suffice it to say, almost everyone who includes Cambodia in their Southeast Asia vacation is going to spend at least a day or two exploring this massive, stunning, historic site. Walking around Angkor Wat is easy; it was made for walking. Instead of taking one day to roam the ruins, consider purchasing a three-day pass; at only around US$40, it’s a deal (the three days can be used in a one-week period, not necessarily three days in a row). For less than fifty dollars, that three days worth of exploration can give us and our travel companions looks into a culture long gone, insights about the Cambodia of today, and perhaps provide quiet moments of introspection into ourselves. I also suggest looking into Kensington Tours’ private guided tours of Cambodia: each tour can be crafted specifically to individual travel interests, and we can spend as much time as desired walking around Angkor Wat, with a private tour guide on hand to answer questions and explain the symbols and meanings behind the ruins.

Entering Angkor Wat Complex in Cambodia (Jennifer Miner) Walking Around Angkor Wat, Cambodia

While there are several historic entranceways to Angkor Wat, today the west gate alone remains open for all visitors. Approaching Angkor Wat along this pathway, seeing the famous faces of Hindu gods and goddesses, can stop a visitor in her tracks. Imagine Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom in their heyday; the 9th to the 15th century, when the almost 250 miles of Angkor Archeological Park were the epicenter of the Khmer Empire, bustling with monks and scholars. Today the pathways are guarded by faded and eroded faces of Hindu gods — imagine their fierce countenances in the year 10 AD.

West Gate Entrance Angkor Wat (Jennifer Miner) Walking Around Angkor Wat

Our Kensington Tours guide stopped us along the pathway to the main Angkor Wat temple to feed some roadside monkeys. They were absolutely not shy about scampering up to us (and, literally, up us) to fetch their bananas. This was a fun activity for our kids, and we appreciated the monkey pitstop.

Monkey Time in Cambodia (Jennifer Miner)

Soon, we found ourselves clambering up a pair of Asian elephants for a ride around the parameter of the main temple in Angkor Wat. Now, I’m putting this up here informationally, but also shamefacedly. After I posted a photo of our elephant ride on Facebook, several people let me know in no uncertain terms that riding elephants is not an ethical activity. Apparently, Asian elephants (being smaller than their African cousins) cannot hold the weight of three people, and should only be ridden on (if at all) with the rider at the top of their neck, by their head. Otherwise, it’s too much weight for them.

Elephant Riding in Angkor Wat, Cambodia (Jennifer Miner)

I didn’t know this, and was surprised. Our guide told us about how Angkor Wat was built in the ninth century: to get the sandstone bricks there, elephants hauled 500 pounds of stone at a time, a hundred miles from a mountain elsewhere Cambodia, to canals that led to the site. I never would have thought that three people would be too much weight for the elephants to bear; frankly, it didn’t even cross my mind. At the time, I saw it as a special Southeast Asian travel experience, to see Angkor Wat on the back of an elephant. At $15 a ride, it also provides sorely needed income to an impoverished country without many income streams or job opportunities outside of tourism and law enforcement.

Bas relief scenercy carving in Angkor Wat (Jennifer Miner)

Other ways of getting around Angkor Wat are on foot, in a van, by tuk tuk, and by bicycle. We definitely preferred biking and walking around Angkor Wat. On foot, slowly walking, our Kensington Tours guide was able to talk with us and answer questions about the temples, their history, carvings and symbols, and huge place in the history, religious life and culture of Cambodia.

Angkor Wat Faces in Cambodia (Jennifer Miner)

Angkor Wat is such an important archeological site because here, we can see Hindu influences from the Indian subcontinent, such as carved dancing shivas and ganeshas. Cambodian culture and Khmer art evolved through Hinduism and, later, Buddhism. The two are intricately enmeshed here at Angkor Wat, made so clear through ancient carvings as to be palpable.

Kensington Tours private tour guide in Angkor Wat, Cambodia (Jennifer Miner)

Angkor Wat is very touristy and crowded during peak travel seasons — there are so many group tours walking around Angkor Wat that they are impossible to avoid. But Kensington Tours’ guides get to slip past lines and crowds (I remember this during a Kensington Tour of the Roman Coliseum as well) which makes the crowds feel much more manageable. Arriving early in the morning also helps. Also, traveling to lesser-known parts of Angkor, such as Banteay Srei, means less photo-snapping tourists. Our guide realized this was what we wanted, and worked to make it so.

Statue Getting Covered in Strangling TreeBanyan Tree Root in Angkor Wat, Cambodia (Jennifer Miner)

Finding a quiet place to gaze as the carved, eroded statues, to think about the roots of giant banyan trees slowly growing to drape over the temples, and to feel the potency of what was once the great, major power of all of Southeast Asia, now relegated to ruins, is worth getting up early. Seeing Angkor Wat in a rare moment of peacefulness lends itself to a sense of being part of the passage of time, part of the whole. This is a most wonderful, meaningful piece of the Cambodia travel experience. Traveling to this temple enriched our lives.

Banyan TreeStrangling Tree in Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia (Jennifer Miner)

Kensington Tours provided private guided tours of Cambodia for my family during our Southeast Asia vacation.

Family Travel to Cambodia with Kensington Tours

26 Comments on "Walking Around Angkor Wat, Cambodia"

  1. I’m not an expert on it, but from what I’ve read, that kind of seat/carriage thing they strap to the elephant is extremely uncomfortable for them. Also, just because they can physically hold three people or pull 500 pounds of stone, doesn’t mean they should be forced to. Beyond that, elephants used in the tourist trade just live in really crappy conditions. By riding them, we’re fueling the whole horrible industry and helping this terrible treatment to continue.

    No judgement – I definitely made the same mistake and rode an elephant when I first got to SE Asia, and I really regret it now. The positive thing is that more and more people are talking/writing about it, making it less and less likely that tourists will go into the situation uninformed about what they’ve inadvertently supporting.

  2. “At $15 a ride, it also provides sorely needed income to an impoverished country without many income streams or job opportunities outside of tourism and law enforcement.”- While it seems like a good idea, it actually causes more harm than good. Sort of like giving money to child beggars. It’s not even really about how much weight they can carry but the abuse they go through that allows you to ride on them to begin with.
    It’s becoming more and more well known within the travel blogging community that it’s wrong to ride elephants. Spread the word!

  3. I like how you addressed the Asian elephant situation. I did read an article by I think the Natural History Museum in New York which mentioned something to the effect of that though it’s not ideal to have elephants participate in tourism (via transporting people), sometimes it’s the only answer. Because there are a lot of Asian elephants leftover from logging, loss of habitat and the like that actually need people to take care of them. And, those people need income. I’ll try to find it. Would I ride one? Probably not, but I’ve given plenty of money to mahoots in Thailand at least over the years for art and this and that.

  4. Ahh, this brings back so many good memories of my days touring Angkor Wat! It’s one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Sigh.

  5. Cambodia has always sounded like a dream to me! I’d love to see Angkor Wat, but is it swarmed with tourists?

  6. Wow, those banyan trees look amazing.

  7. What a fantastic family vacation! I would have loved the history, and my kids would have been all about the monkeys.

  8. What an amazing day that must have been. I toured temples in Indonesia and loved it but have not been to Cambodia. I also rode an elephant in Asia and later learned about the damage that those seats can cause to the elephants’ spines and the overall bad treatment of elephants that are used in the tourism industry. I like that you mentioned the concerns in your post!

  9. I’d love to visit Angkor Wat. Love you pictures. The elephant thing seems complicated. Great to address it though!

  10. This post explained Angkor Wat to me better than any other story I’ve read about the place.

  11. Hi thevacationgals,

    I’ve been traveling mostly in Asia due to business trip but not yet in Cambodia. I guess i will put this in my list for next year vacation and not for business thing but all for leisure and enjoy the walking at Angkor Wat soon.

  12. I visited in 2008 and did this all by myself with a tuktuk driver and didn’t really learn much. Just had pictures. I think it’s great to have a guide on places like Angkor Wat

  13. Angkor Wat is on our “love-to-visit” list :-). Spending a few days to soak up the sights makes sense, rather than a quickie one-day tour. Have bookmarked Kensington Tours…

  14. This looks amazing–definitely now on the list!

  15. Reading your post makes me want to go back to this amazing place. 🙂

  16. I’ve heard so much about Angkor Wat and about South East Asia generally, and I’d love to go there. It’s a huge area of the world that I’ve never visited (but then, there are always so many places!). Great tip about Kensington Tours, too.

    I think it’s great that you addressed the elephant issue. I only found out that it was anything other than harmless a few months ago – otherwise, like you, I would have simply thought that it was a great SE Asia experience, and helping to support the local economy. I don’t think it’s something for you to feel guilty about – after all, how were you to know? But I definitely think the word needs spreading about this.

    Great post though, and glad you had such an amazing experience. 🙂

  17. Good tip about the tour – we’re headed there this weekend and if we can avoid crowds and lines by getting a guide I’ll do it. Very impressive looking from the photos, the roots growing through the ruins reminds me of Indiana Jones. Looking really forward to seeing in person.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  18. My name is Solinda and I am an eighth grader at Albany Middle School. I have just started a two-month research project on Angkor Wat. I chose Angkor Wat to research because I am Cambodian and I want to learn more about my culture, and history. It is very interesting that we khmer build a big Temple with our own hand.
    I thank you in advance for your assistance. If you or anyone you now would be willing to be interviewed, please let me know. Also, if you can recommend any resources to help me with my research, I would greatly appreciate it.

    • Jennifer Miner | February 3, 2015 at 11:52 am |

      Hello, Solinda! I just tried to email you, but the email you provided with your comment isn’t working. I hope you see this reply to your comment.

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  20. Nice post by the way,it have lot of tips regarding the Cambodia.those banyan trees look amazing as well as the places

  21. Wow! Angkor Wat looks so amazing. I have not had a chance to visit this famous place. Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope I can come there someday.

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  23. I’d love to visit Angkor Wat. My wife is Thai and comes from Buriram in Thailand where Prasat Phnom Rung is located – a Khmer Temple Complex built in the style of Angkor. We intend visiting Cambodia next year when we visit Thailand. Nice post and great pictures.

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