In Focus: Angkor Wat

There are several historical locations that have haunted my dreams ever since the days of my youth, thumbing through my dad’s stacks of National Geographic magazine.

Like most boys my age, Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones were more than just movies; they were introductions into archaeology and ancient history. Flipping through photographic masterpieces, I was transfixed by the ancient cultures on each page. I loved the articles on nature and the deep sea, but ancient wonders always sparked my imagination.



Angkor Wat has always been a dream of mine. Before I started taking pictures or even traveling more than a few states away, I dreamed of this magical place on the other side of planet earth called “Cambodia” where they have massive temples shrouded in mystery. I wanted to go to that Cambodia-place and see “Anchor What” at first sight. Now older, a bit more experienced, and wholly less impressed by things than I was as a child, I am able to go see the places by which my dreams have been captivated since my youth.




08The temples are absolutely incredible. It has been so hard to even begin telling my story and experience with Angkor Wat just for the mere fact of how enormously inexpressible it is. The Angkor Complex is massive and each temple is unique and marvelous. We wander, meandered, hiked, climbed endless stairs, tripped on tree roots reclaiming the temple for nature, and took a million photos, hoping to visually represent how absolutely incredible this historical site is.  There were scams and people trying to get some extra cash here and there, sure, but the extraordinary size of each temple made it easy to trot off to a secluded area and take in the magnitude and mystery of the complex. The crowds at the main temple, Angkor Wat, were pretty large with everyone wanting to photograph the reflection pool at sunrise. Everyone has seen that photo, and we didn’t bother getting up at 4am to fight the crowds on hazy winter mornings. Crowds aside, I can’t stress enough how massive these temple grounds are. It is not difficult to get away from other people for a bit, especially at in the minor outlying temples in the Angkor Complex (except Ta Phrom which is also insanely popular…damn you Angelina Jolie).


What is particularly amazing when you tuk-tuk from temple to temple is how very different they all are. While Angkor Wat is spectacularly huge (almost 500 acres), the carved faces of Bayon are mesmerizing and enchanting. While the jungle reclaiming Ta Phrom displays nature’s awesome power, the intricate carvings and unrestored abandonment of Preah Khan feels like you’re exploring a temple of your own discovery in the jungle. Each temple has fascinating and enthralling differences, and really shines as a testament to the mysteriously wonderful and artistic people that lived here long ago. Many “biggest” and “most visited” locations tend to be too crowded with people for me to really enjoy a place, but Angkor was different. I would go back in a heartbeat and my fascinated longings to walk those sandstone walkways again have returned with a more vigorous fervor.


As jaded and unimpressed as adults become, I see it as my duty to maintain a childish fascination with the world we live in. I’m not saying that this is the best way to live, but it makes life, even the boring bits, more entertaining. Sometimes it’s a struggle to maintain a childish wonder and stay animated about experiences, but at Angkor Wat I was a child for 3 days and it was spectacular. All of the childish energy and bug-eyed smiles that I see in old pictures returned and stayed for the entire time I was in Siem Reap. My face hurt before lunch each day as we returned each morning with our three-day passes in hand. I smiled more than any other day (besides my wedding day).

11Undeniably I am at a loss for words from Angkor Wat. The ancient temple of my dreams entertained me for three blistering days and I’m thirsty for more. We were well guided by a friendly driver who met us every morning to drive us diligently to my dream destination, and Stephanie battled through the heat because she could see the sheer bliss on my face. I’ve always felt lucky to be able to travel this awesome globe, but Angkor Wat will probably always stand out as one of the greatest locations I’ve ever experienced. Stephanie and I are already thinking about how we could add a quick jaunt over to Siem Reap on another adventure in the future. We went in winter, but have you seen the pictures from summer? I’m sold.



24 thoughts on “In Focus: Angkor Wat

  1. Charisse Windebank says:

    This is the second blog post I have read about this place. So lovely! You definitely caught the wonder into words and the sheer gravity of Angkor Wat. I will have to try and make it to this heavenly place on earth.

    • Hedgers Abroad says:

      Thanks, Charisse! It was an incredible place to visit and we will certainly be going back at some point; hopefully in the summer where all the boss turns green and makes for even more dramatic contrasts on the stonework.Definitely go. Make whatever excuses you need to convince yourself and go! Cambodia is amazing aside from Angkor Wat, so I’m sure it’ll be an incredible trip for you, too.

  2. Duke Stewart says:

    As with you, I also had a boyish reaction when visiting Angkor Wat. It’s truly a remarkable place and I enjoyed reading about your time there. Of course it’s hard to keep those smiles back when walking around that and the other temples inside that massive former city. It’s good that you didn’t hold back. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hedgers Abroad says:

      Now to just go back with more time and in a different season! The three-day pass was entirely too short, but I’m sure you can attest to the endlessly fascinating aspect that makes you want to just stay.

  3. Jackie Park says:

    Reading your post felt like I was also there, basking in that Angkor Wat beauty and glory. I’ve never been to Cambodia, but have seen pictures of the place from friends who have been there. I hope that when my family and I go there one day, everything you saw and wrote here will still be there, and it won’t be even more crowded than the time you guys went.
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece. 🙂

    • Hedgers Abroad says:

      Thanks for reading! I, too, worry about how the development of Cambodia will alter the Wats, but I have hope that it will remain somewhat true to what it is today. I really encourage you and your family to visit Siem Reap and the Angkor Complex. It’s an inspiring and amazing place that should be seen sooner than later. Good luck, and let us know if you have any questions when planning your trip!

  4. Matt Inman says:

    You painted a nice picture for me, someone who has yet to see the magic of this place. Of course, all it did was make me jealous and eager for my own opportunity. I’ve been to Ayyuthaya in Thailand (which is minuscule in comparison to Angkor) and I absolutely loved that place. So I just know that I’ll have the same wonder and fascination as you did.

    • Hedgers Abroad says:

      That’s awesome! We were in Thailand on this same vacation, but we focused on beach relaxation and actually ended up with some pretty awful food poisoning that prevented us from visiting a lot of the cultural sites we planned on seeing away from southern Thailand. I’m certainly jealous of your Ayyuthaya experience, so I guess both of us just need to copy the other and we can swap comparative stories later!

  5. Nathan says:

    Ryan, I think we’d get along just fine! I had a similar reaction to Angkor Wat, I had a perma-grin for two days straight! I grew up on Indiana Jones and National Geographic as well and was lucky enough to have my curiosity fed by some awesome teachers. I felt like a kid again at Angkor Wat… exploring ancient ruins in a faraway place. So awesome!

    I am glad Preah Khan got a mention here, that was by far my favorite ruin in the Angkor complex. So impressive! Which ruin was a standout for you?

    Thanks for the great read and the impressive photography as well!

    • Hedgers Abroad says:

      Hey Nathan! We’ll let you know when we make a second visit and we can go ‘splorin’ together. What do you say?

      Seriously, the place is amazing and I was overcome with the same imaginary fantasies as I had as a child. If I had had a coil of rope, a crazy knife, and some binoculars, I wouldn’t have taken a single photo and would probably be banned from Angkor Wat for life.

      I’m glad you were able to experience these essential emotions as well. Angkor Wat is a time capsule for childhood imagination.

  6. A Place Like Me In A Girl Like This says:

    I like your sentiment about maintaining a childish fascination with the world we live in. I agree completely!
    This is one of those places that can haunt your dreams I think. I am sure the pictures can’t capture it fully (even though your photos are breathtaking).
    I am even more stoked to visit than I was before.

    • Hedgers Abroad says:

      I think the biggest challenge of adulthood is not abandoning the magic we saw in the world as a child. Adventure, human connections, and the arts are all great ways to foster this “child mind,” and Angkor Wat hit on all three points. Certainly one of the most amazing things I will ever see, and I look forward to going back one day (or for a month). I hope you get the chance to visit and struggle endlessly to describe or photograph the things you see and feel. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  7. Meaghan Wray says:

    I so connect with what you say here… “I see it as my duty to maintain a childish fascination with the world we live in.” I completely am like that as well, and I think that’s so important and I also think that longterm travel really fosters an environment for keeping that child-like wonder and hunger for exploration. I think your photos really captured its beauty.

    I want to go to Cambodia so badly and hoping I’ll make it there soon. I have 7 days at the end of July for vacation… Do you think that’s “enough” time to see the sights of Cambodia? I of course would rather go for much longer, but have to work with what I’ve got!

    • Hedgers Abroad says:

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked the post and the photos! Next time, maybe we will be able to concentrate more and make a video, but don’t hold us to that!

      As for your vacation, we spent a total of 8 days in Cambodia and this included 2 full days in Phnom Penh. I really regret only setting aside 8 days for that amazing country, but it was absolutely worth it. If I had 7 days and my sights were, again, set on Cambodia (will they ever NOT be set on Cambodia after seeing Angkor Wat?) I would head straight for Siem Reap and skip the capitol. You can have a lot of fun in Phnom Penh, but I prefer the history and laid-back pace of SR much more than PP. It’s an interesting, vibrant, and cultural city but without the hustle and bustle of the capitol.

      My short answer: Yes, that’s enough time. Go straight to Siem Reap and avoid rushing from city to city on crowded buses.

      Good luck!

  8. Taylor says:

    Angor Wat is one of those places that basically every blogger writes about if they’ve been. But your post still managed to stand out among the dozens I’ve read. I loved visiting the temples, and like you said, it was well worth it even despite the crazy crowds. There’s definitely a reason so many people make a point to visit this spectacular place!

    • Hedgers Abroad says:

      It really is incredible and worth a visit ahead of most places that people go! I dream of going back and when I remember my time here it is one of the easiest places I’ve been to not immediately think of the crowds and the problems with tourism tarnishing a dream. Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you liked the post. It seemed pretty impossible to summarize those three days since, like you said, hundreds of people have tried to express the inexpressible awe of the Wats. I’m glad you liked it, it means a lot.

  9. Evan and Rachel says:

    I think you captured nicely a lot of the things we felt on our trip to Cambodia. We went after a 5 month backpacking trip around SE Asia, and as I’m sure you guys know, you see a lot of temples in those parts. 😛 Temple after temple after temple can get pretty monotonous. Angkor Wat was the place that refreshed us, that pulled us back into the present moment to realize just how incredible it is that we’re standing there. Great pics too, and Cambodia will always be the place I had my last cigarette to me!! hahaha, random 😛

    • Hedgers Abroad says:

      Well we are certainly lucky to have been able to experience this same place, and you’re right: it stands out. Normally we get annoyed when people say that “if you’ve seen one temple you’ve seen them all” but I’m sure this would ring true after 5 months of travelling in SEA. There are so many temples in each and every city that they could eventually become commonplace and redundant, but I think it’s interesting that Angkor Wat bumped you out of becoming rutted in that mindset. It is an incredible place and now we know that if we ever get bored with temples, we have another excuse (like we need any more) to visit Cambodia!

      Travel on and be safe, you two. We really love following your adventures, as well.

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