Even though I was just there a few days ago it's hard to believe that I've actually seen and explored the massive, world-famous-sites of Angkor Wat. I've read about the temples in text books, seen numerous pictures on the internet, travel books, blogs, painting and post cards, but now I've seen it with my own eyes. Everyone says you can't imagine how massive the temples really are and even after being there it's hard to wrap my brain around it. Aside from the well-known main temple of Angkor Wat there are various other temples in the national park, if you wanted to you could easily spend days, if not weeks exploring this place, if that's your thing anyway.
The logistics of visiting the temples: passes, transportation options and the like are pretty well known so I won't bore you with those details. Knowing myself all too well I went with the one day pass and after spending a day in the heat and crowds, have no regrets about that decision. Although I enjoy photography and understand that the temples of Angkor have a vast and significant history, I knew that I'd be bored (or at least disinterested) by halfway through the second day.
As for transportation I was lucky enough to have a reliable and friendly driver by the name of Dara, someone I was introduced to via Facebook almost 3 years ago, thankfully I have a good memory. My friend Kyle visited Cambodia in September of 2010 and after returning, created a facebook group devoted solely to Dara, "The best Tuk Tuk Driver in Siem Reap". I remember coming across this group as I scoured Kyle's Facebook trying to decide if I should teach English in South Korea, something he also did, and stored it in my long-term memory bank, knowing that one day I'd make the trip to Angkor.
Fast forward to a week ago when I sent Dara and message on Facebook explaining the connection and notifying him I'd be in town soon. His response could not have been friendlier or more timely, perfect when your traveling with limited internet and slight heat exhaustion. When the day finally came for me to arrive in Siem Reap Dara made sure to call in the morning confirming what time my bus would be leaving Kampong Cham to ensure that he would be on time to pick me up. Just as he promised he was there waiting for me, holding a big 'Welcome' sign with my name on it and of course wearing a big friendly smile, clearly a family trait.
A nice perk of the Angkor Wat admission tickets is that it allows you to enter the park the evening before so that you can enjoy the sunset (along with 10,000 other tourits). I decided to take advantage of this so Dara came to get me from my guesthouse (which he also helped me find) at 4:30, leaving plenty of time to buy my admission ticket and drive to the temples. Although it's one of the famous and overcrowded locations, Dara drove me to Phnom Bakheng for the sunset. Being a hilltop temple it requires a short walk through gorgeous foliage before you're awarded with breathtaking views of the temple and surrounding area.
As my first introduction to the temples I was impressed with the architecture, especially the detail of all the carvings, but I must say the crowds and restoration work (two big cranes) were not as greatly appreciated. I'm glad I enjoy people watching though because this opportunity provided plenty of it. As if I didn't already know this world is filled with idiots, and people that think the rules don't apply, this night reinforced that. One would think that "keep off" and "do not sit" signs, accompanied by ropes would be pretty self explanatory, but to some this must have looked like please take a rest here. Using your ticket the day before for a sunset is definitely worth it, even if you have to put up with some crowds and a few mindless people, just be sure to get to bed soon after so you're ready to rise and shine early the next day.
Only recently has this country shown up on the SE Asia tourist route. With a dark, harrowing past it's amazing to see the smiles spread across the locals faces. I've met travelers with mixed impressions, but if you're lucky enough to connect with a few locals I'm confident you'll fall in love.