This past December my wife and I went to visit our daughter in South Korea for Christmas. My daughter had requested to visit Cambodia. Now, one of the places I have always wanted to go was Angkor Wat, so how could I refuse that request!?
Now for those who do not know, Angkor Wat is actually a large area with various ancient Khmer (Cambodian people refer to themselves as Khmer, and a lot of the signs and placards and books you will see make use of this reference. The ancient civilization that sprung up in modern day Cambodia is also known as the Khmer) cities and temples and is, in fact, the largest complex of religious temples in the world. And so it has always been on my 'bucket list' of places to visit and explore.
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat Archeological Park
And explore we did! And even though we were there only for two days, and the sunrise and sunsets were not spectacular, I did some good shots of the temples and some finer details. In a sense, I considered this to be more of an architectural shoot rather than a pure landscape shoot as I took photographs mostly of temple buildings. I didn't have my tilt-shift lens with me, so had to make do with my Tameron SP 24-70mm and my Canon EF-70-200m f/4L. I think I got some nice shots!
What was different about this trip is that I rented a Sony A7RII to check it out and see if I want to upgrade to a Sony camera versus the Canon offerings. I have been evaluating the Canon 5DSr, the Canon 5D Mark IV, and the Sony A7RII. I brought along my Canon 5D Mark II as a backup, but most of these photographs are from the Sony. I will discuss my impressions on the Sony in another post, so I won't really be discussing the Sony here in this post, but rather focusing on Angkor Wat.
Access to Angkor Wat Archeological Park
A pass is required to access Angkor Wat Archeological Park at the cost of $37US for one day visit. For your $37US, you get a paper pass with your photo on it. It is printed out on an inkjet printer, so if it is rainy or really hot (hot enough to sweat profusely) you may want to keep it in something that moisture won't get into. NOTE: The pass when I was there in December was $20US, but as of February 1st, 2017, the price increased to $37US. See this announcement about the price increase, https://www.tourismcambodia.org/news/index.php?view=detail&nw=228#comp.
My 'Pass' to Angkor World Heritage Site, i.e., Angkor Wat Archeological Park
This is a very important piece of paper as you will show it at all the temples you will visit. Sometimes someone in a uniform would walk up to us and ask to see the pass. But this pass will get you into most of the temple sites in the central Angkor Wat area, such as Angkor Wat itself, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Ta Neo, Thommanon, Banteay Kdei, among others. There are some locations to the north (we didn't make it up north) where the pass is not accepted.
If you want to know more check out the links in the Helpful Links section below.
Even though Cambodia has it's own currency, US dollars are the de facto medium of exchange. Everything will be priced in US dollars! From the store and menu at Hard Rock Cafe (yea, there is one of those in Siem Reap, got the hat which says "Angkor" by the way), to the purchase of the park pass -- everything is in US dollars. I had to exchange US dollars for Cambodian currency at the hotel desk so I could have some (the young woman thought I was strange, she just shook her head and had to pull some of her purse).
The Cambodian Riel (a 2000 Riel note, around 50 cents)
The Tuk-Tuk is the way to get around in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat area. Yes, there are cars, but Tuk-Tuks are actually much quicker and seem to get preferential treatment at the parking areas when visiting the temples. Now, I was there in December, which is the beginning of the dry period and it isn't really that hot (only in the 80's). And they are everywhere! And easy to pick up and take you where ever you want to go.
Tuk-Tuk (taken with my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone)
If you don't know, Cambodia is pretty poor. I didn't see a lot panhandling like you see here in the states (at least here in Arizona). But when out at the temples you will be surrounded by children who will try to sell you stuff. Everyone and everything tells you not to buy from children as it encourages them and keeps them from attending school. So even though we were surrounded by kids at several temples and it was hard not to give them some money.
We did tip all those we came into contact with, from our tuk-tuk driver to our tour guide to the waiters at the restaurants. Knowing that they made little, it seemed like it was the appropriate thing to do. If you walk around in Siem Reap, there are some nice places and some not so nice places.
We didn't see shanties, but there were some places that were definitely poor. What we did see were people who were friendly and willing to help. In the stores, the shop keepers were very willing to answer questions and provide you with anything you needed. There were a lot of helpful and friendly people, my impression of Cambodia, besides the temples, were of friendly folks you meet along the way.
Helpful Links and Other Resources
These are the links I explored to get me started in my research of the area. There a ton of sites out there that will provide you all the information you would ever need to explore Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.
- The Angkor Guide, https://www.theangkorguide.net/
- WikiTravel's Angkor Archeological Park, https://wikitravel.org/en/Angkor_Archaeological_Park
Perhaps the most recommended book on Angkor Wat is Ancient Angkor by Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques. I bought this book and used it at each of the locations we visited. The articles were not long and were easy to read. And the book gives you enough to understand the temple complex history and place in Khmer history. And of course, with Michael Freeman being a photographer, the photographs are really great. You can get this book on Amazon by clicking this link https://a.co/cogUIHP.
I was only at Angkor Wat for a day and a half, but we visited a lot of temples. So I plan on a post on Angkor Wat, another on Angkor Thom (which includes the Bayon), another on Ta Phrom, and another on Thommanon and Banteay Kdei. So that will be 4 upcoming posts on locations around the Angkor Wat Archeological Park. And of course, some awesome photos!