The Temples of Angkor like you’ve never seen them before

The Temples of Angkor are on most peoples ‘bucket list’ but not many of you would know that if you visit during Khmer New Year you’ll see the Temples of Angkor like you’ve never seen them before. We’ve lived in Siem Reap for a few months and finally got round to making the 10 minute journey from our house to see what all the fuss was about. We visited 3 times during a week (to a variety of different sites) and were quite simply blown away by the sheer scale and beauty on offer; but even better our 7 day pass allows 4 more visits before the end of the month, which we are very much looking forward to (expect more temples of Angkor posts coming your way!).

Angkor Wat.

Our first view of Angkor Wat across the lake

The magnificent (and our favourite temple so far) Angkor Thom.

The magnificent (and our favourite temple so far) Bayon at Angkor Thom

This week saw Cambodia shut down for 3 days and celebrate Khmer New Year; we thought this just involved eating and drinking with friends and family, visiting your home town or village and playing some very loud music at all hours of the day (plus a bit of talcum powder throwing in the lively pub street area of town). Then we heard about a 3 day event at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom but were put off by the thought of so many people (an estimated 500,000), traffic problems on the already crazy roads and general Cambodian mayhem, so we planned to give it a miss. That was until we were told that the temples would be illuminated each evening and that “we shouldn’t miss out on seeing the Temples of Angkor like you’ve never seen them before”. Now this we had to see. So off we went on our trusty Suzuki Step weaving in and out of the traffic jams like true locals until we arrived at the moat that surrounds Angkor Wat and saw this:

Welcome to Angkor Sankranta 2015

Welcome to Angkor Sankranta 2015

The lighting created a beautiful reflection in the moat.

The lighting created a beautiful reflection in the moat

You could not enter Angkor Wat but could get close enough to the entrance to see the lighting from a different perspective.

You couldn’t enter Angkor Wat but we could get close enough to the entrance to see the lighting from a different perspective

At this stage our decision to brave the crowds was proving to be a good one; our daytime visits had been mind blowing the vision of the ancient temples illuminated with coloured lights was incredible. We jumped back on our moto and headed to Angkor Thom, a short journey that included some ‘off road to avoid the police roadblock’ skills (shhh don’t tell anyone) and the extra effort was more than worthwhile:

Angkor Thom and a giant blue tree.

Bayon and a giant blue tree

From every angle the temple looked amazing.

From every angle the temple looked amazing

Blue lights pointing high into the sky from Angkor Thom.

Blue lights pointing high into the sky from Bayon

Now you might ask “should we coincide our trip to Siem Reap with Khmer New Year?” and our answer would be “yes”.  Our advice would be to plan a trip to take in both the New Year celebrations and also a few visits to the temples as they usually are. Khmer New Year falls on 13/14/15 April so a trip directly before or after this should do the trick. With a bit of effort and planning you can escape the crowds and enjoy a moment of peace and reflection whilst visiting one of the true wonders of the world.

Have you ever visited the ancient temple ruins of Angkor at Khmer New Year, or another time? Tell us what you think by leaving us a comment below (we love to talk about travel so we’ll definitely reply).

Check out a selection of other Cambodia vegan travel blog posts…


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  1. Stefan April 21, 2015 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    STUNNING photos of the AW!

    Did you dare venture into Pub street during Sokram? He he he

    • Caryl April 22, 2015 at 9:25 am - Reply

      Beautiful isn’t it – such a treat to see it in a different light (in both ways!) We didn’t venture into Pub Street, you’re photos were enough to tell us it might be a little too crazy for us 😉

  2. Jojo April 21, 2015 at 8:31 pm - Reply

    Well damn, now I’m wishing I’d had time to fit Cambodia into this trip!! Nick and I will be there in winter though and we’ll just have to plan a second trip to see the illuminations some time.

    • Caryl April 22, 2015 at 9:29 am - Reply

      Don’t worry, I guarantee you’ll be amazed by the temples whenever you see them! Siem Reap is easy for vegan travellers too and the temperature is nicer in January (is that when you’re coming?) – a bit less crazy hot! Will write up all our tips in a guide at some stage too 🙂

  3. Drew April 27, 2015 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    Great photos and what a unique time to experience the temple complex. We went to Cambodia in 2011 and absolutely loved it. The temples are really amazing, though sometimes the crowds of tour buses can take a little of the magic out of it. We did the sunrise at Angkor Wat like everyone else, but while they were still taking photos, we just walked into the temple. We were completely alone in the temple for a good twenty minutes before anyone else ventured in. To have the temple to ourselves for that time felt very special and unique. If you have have days left on your pass you should try it. Enjoy the rest of your time in Siem Reap!

    • Vegan Food Quest April 28, 2015 at 12:44 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the tip Drew – we have a couple more visits left and we’re saving sunrise at Angkor Wat until last so we’ll definitely follow your advice and explore before the crowds descend on the temple! We’ve managed to avoid crowds so far by visiting some of the smaller, off the beaten path places or going to busier temples and just walking in the opposite direction to the masses – it’s amazing how you can find peace in all the chaos sometimes. Needless to say, we love the ancient ruins, such a special and beautiful place and we’re so glad we got the month long pass, one of the benefits of slow travel!

      What was your favourite temple?

  4. Vic May 26, 2015 at 10:12 pm - Reply

    We had the best time exploring the temples and were pretty pleased with our planning to see as much as possible without the crowds – like you we head backwards (works just as well in ikea!!). Imagine our delight whilst trotting round the Bayon temples (probably the busiest part of the day) to find the whole place suddenly deserted…. Turns out everyone around us had a six sense, and the heavens opened with the most spectacular thunder and lightening display we have ever seen. Soaked straight through, we finished wandering round the sites, it was practically empty the rest of the day (weren’t gonna let a ‘bit’ of rain ruin the afternoon)

    Would love to see Angkor light up in the dry though 😉 xxxx

    • Vegan Food Quest May 27, 2015 at 8:34 am - Reply

      hi victoria

      finding some space to your self whilst at the various temples is not only very rewarding but also not as heard as some people think, you are so right about treating it like a visit to Ikea:)

      the lights during Khmer New Year were incredible and we were very lucky to see this, we’ve had multiple visits since (Caryl’s parents bought us a month ling pass) so we have really got to explore – watch this space for further posts about our temple trips…

      paul x

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