Expedition: Angkor Wat

Last week I spend 3 days exploring Angkor Wat and the surrounding area. Nothing could have prepared me for the scale of the largest religious monument in the world. The first day was spent exploring the Grand Circuit. I took my bike 4 miles North of Siem Reap arriving at Neak Pean at 7am. This Buddhist temple is built on an artificial island. I had beaten most of the tourist, meaning I was able to enjoy the serenity of walking along the thin bridge in the soft morning light. The Grand Circuit took me through 4 temples finishing as the midday heat started to reach its climax.

The second day took me 30 miles north to Kbal Spean – a river with carvings and ancient Linga statues laid into the rocks that form the riverbed. In true Khmer fashion the petrol dial of my bike was always stuck in the centre so it was inevitable that I would run out of petrol without knowing it. Unfortunately this was in the middle of nowhere, halfway to Kbal Spean. Luckily I had passed a petrol station recently which meant I was able to ride the first mile and then push the bike the rest of the way. After arriving at the entrance of Kbal Spean I had to hike a mile uphill through dense forest, I was then met by the riverbed and a small waterfall to cool down in. On my return journey I passed Banteay Srei – ‘the Temple of Women’ famously carved out of pink-hued stone.

The final day would be spent exploring the Small Loop, home of Angkor Wat. I received the most enjoyment from following the intricate carvings along the walls from West around to East. By using a guide book I had picked up earlier I was able to make sense of these huge carvings, pick out main characters and follow the narratives. After spending a few hours here I made by way North through the South Gate of Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom was an ancient city, meaning before all the huge trees there would have been homes, palaces and markets which sadly have left minimal evidence as they were all built with perishable materials. No temples reflect the claiming nature of the forest more than Ta Phrom. Ta Phrom is another enormous complex which has been maintained in almost the condition it was found in, and is preserved as the forest battles to claim the temple for its own.

You can only realise the true scale of the Angkor Wat temple complex when standing in the centre, with the ancient forest surrounding you, knowing that the next temple could be miles away. The Angkor ruins spread over 162.6 hectares (248 square miles), which is shocking to me, someone who believed Angkor Wat was just a single temple. Taking decent shots in a tourist hotspot without 50 tourists within the image is no easy feat but I hope you enjoy some of the images I was able to capture.