Angkor: Cambodia’s Ancient Heart

When it comes to planning our travel destinations, we’ve learned a couple of things about ourselves. First, if we talk about a place long enough, we eventually make a visit. And second, we can never predict where our inspiration will originate.

We still remember the very first time we heard of Angkor Wat.  We’d just sold our old row house in the “Fan Neighborhood” of Richmond, Virginia, and were chatting with the buyers, a young couple who loved to travel. They revealed that, before moving in, they were heading to Angkor Wat.

Terri said, “Angkor what?”

“Not what … it’s wat. You know … a temple … a wat!” they said.

Nope. We’d lived in Sudan and England, traveled extensively, but we’d never heard of a wat. So we vowed that we would learn about Angkor Wat and go there. And as we said, when we set our minds to something … we eventually do it!


Located in northwestern Cambodia, just a few miles north of Siem Reap, the Angkor Archaeological Park has to be one of the most extensive temple complexes in the world. It was the capital of the Khmer dynasty and omnipotent kings ruled a widespread empire from the 9th to 15th centuries.

Every traveler has their “maybe someday” list and for years, Angkor was near the top of ours. A trip to Cambodia takes planning, and Siem Reap isn’t one of those “just drop by” destinations. So for a long time, we opted to travel to other spots that were a bit easier to get to. But on our last RTW, we were determined to pay a visit to a couple of our top choices that were too-long-on-the-list. Petra was one, and Angkor was the other.


Angkor is fabulous and we loved it. The history, temples and monuments are unique in the world, and in our next few posts we’ll share a bit of what we saw as well as a few visit-planning tips.

Whether you call it a top ten, bucket, or must-see list, Angkor needs to be on it. And we hope that our posts nudges everyone into a visit.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri


Photo Credits:
6. Sam Garza via Wikimedia Commons


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

60 thoughts

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. When we visited Angkor, it was incredibly hot and dusty, so these tuk-tuk drivers had the right idea. Sometimes I wished I could join them. ~James

  1. So very glad you posted these pics. We have 2 long-standing bucket destinations: Alaska and Angkor Wat. Don’t know how long it will take us to save up & actually get to each but your post is making us itch to get to the wat!!! Love next to last photo!!!

    1. Thanks Rusha. The great thing about a trip to SE Asia, is that if you spend the money and time to go all that way, there’s lots and lots to see very close by: Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, etc. The photo you love is Ta Prohm (watch for a post) and it was our hands-down favorite at Angkor. ~James

  2. Hey – I did not know you all used to live in the fan….
    I like some of the houses there- so charming – but not always my kind of homes or neighborhood!
    Anyhow – now I know a wat is a temple and the photos are beautiful and gold and culture rich – the two resting fellas are my fav.

    1. Thanks Yvette. When we moved back from London, I guess that we were trying to transition back to the US, and the Fan really reminded us of London. When we visited Angkor, it was hot, hot, hot. And, smart guys that they were, these tuk-tuk drivers let us (the dumb tourists) walk around in the sun while they snoozed. 🙂 ~James

    1. Thanks Brick. Any trip to SE Asia should include a stop in Angkor. There are a few ways to get into Siem Reap, the easiest being a flight from Bangkok, but you can also go overland (not as easy) from Thailand. It’s a fabulous site. ~James

  3. I’ve been 7 times…and I will go 7 more. It never gets old, and timeless beauty and history oozes from every ancient stone and radiates in the smiles of the poor yet happy villagers. A little of my heart will always be in Cambodia.

    1. Seven times – Wow Steve. We’ve only been once, but after being there, and seeing all there is to see, it would be great to have more time to soak it in. When it comes to this sort of stuff, it’s easy to get overload, and not fully appreciate what I’m seeing. BTW, I saw that Feb 1 they’re doubling the entry fees – Ouch. ~James

      1. Doubling the fees? Wow. Right now I think is a fair price…but doubling it? That’s just cheeky. Yes, there is just so much to absorb and it would take several longer trips to get anywhere close to being satisfied. Take care, Steve

  4. Your phrase, “Every traveler has a someday list…” certainly rings a bell and like you, Angkor Wat has had a prominent place on our list for years. Your timing of this post couldn’t be better for us as, finally! in February or March next year we will be going. 😀 Looking forward to your pics, observations and travel tips with much anticipation. So glad you were finally able to visit! Anita

    1. Excellent Anita. You both will love Angkor. There’s really no other place like it, and there’s so much to see in that part of the world. I assume you’ll be combining lots of other cool destinations. We’ve spent lots of time in SE Asia, so check out our other country posts. We’ll be doing a post in this series with tips so stay tuned. BTW, you certainly shouldn’t plan your trip based on this, but effective Feb 1, 2017 they’re doubling the entry fees.

  5. This brought back great memories of our visit there almost two years ago. Definitely a once in a life time expereince. It definitely helps to go at quieter times when there are less tourists, as you find then you have more of the place to yourselves, which adds to the magic. Beautiful photos.

    1. I agree Peta. It helps to go early or late, but honestly, it’s hard to avoid the crowds. For good reason, Angkor is on everyones’ list, and I don’t begrudge anyone seeing it. But, we found that as lunch time rolled around, and the heat increased, the crowds dwindled. That strategy didn’t make it any easier on us, but it did make our visit more pleasant. We loved, loved Ta Prohm, and we had it almost to ourselves. Of course, you could fry an egg on the stone, but it was quiet. 🙂 ~James

  6. I did not know a ‘wat’ was a temple and you’ve just added to my list of reasons why I’d like to visit that part of the world. I loved the photo of the temple with the monks in the bottom right corner … stunning composition.

    1. Thanks Joanne. As I said to someone else, any trip to SE Asia should include a stop at Angkor. It takes a bit of planning, but it’s definitely worth the effort. And just so you know, Cambodia would be a great place to thaw out. 🙂 ~James

  7. If I get the chance to go back to Angkor Wat, I woul do that in a heartbeat. It’s one of those places which become so popular and touristy for a valid reason. Of all the temples in the archaeological park, my favorite is Bayon for its enigmatic large heads. So fascinating!

    1. Bama, Angkor is one of those places that, to do it justice, takes more than one visit. I’ve seen comparisons to Borobudur, which you know intimately, and these comparisons are probably justified. Our favorite was Ta Prohm. ~James

    1. Thanks Tess. The yellow runoff that you see is actually the natural stone. The dark stuff on the walls is years accumulation of mold that makes the natural stone look like runoff. Cambodia is a hot and humid place. ~James

  8. Wonderful photos, and I look forward to future posts on Angkor Wat. I love the roots (or is it a strangler fig?) enveloping the old building.
    The place I keep thinking of visiting is Iguazú Falls in South America.

    1. Marilyn, that photo was taken at Ta Prohm, another ruin at Angkor (it’s our favorite actually). You’ll hear about it in a later post, but in the meantime, the roots and other growth is centuries-old kapok trees, strangler figs, and giant creepers. It’s amazing to see. ~James

  9. I don’t need any more nudging since Angkor Wat has been at or near the top of my list for YEARS! But your photos and words do remind me to get moving on this. I am held back only by available time as getting to SE Asia is no easy feat and I want to take advantage of other nearby destinations also. I love the golden glow in all your photos!

    1. Lexie, for an adventurous traveler like you, Angkor will be right up your alley. And you’re right about SEA. It’s expensive and time consuming to get there and once there, other cool places are relatively close by – well except for some places in Indonesia which can be very far-flung. I hope you can make it. You won’t be disappointed. ~James

  10. Did I just read we ‘will share visit planning tips’? Yay! Yes please and thank you a million times over. I will sop them up with my trip planning sponge brain.
    Cambodia is high on the list with Bali, Vietnam and Thailand. Do you suppose all that is possible in one go?

    1. This trip is definitely possible Sue, but to minimize flights you probably want to plan an open-jaws trip. Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand are all relatively close together, but Bali is farther away than you might think. You could do an open-jaws into Bangkok and out of Bali (or the reverse). You could also go round trip to Bangkok and do Bali as a side trip, but that would require a RT flight to Bali. We’ve bounced around this part of the world a fair amount, so if you have questions or need some ideas shoot me an email. ~James

      1. Thanks James I do think we will be taking you up on your offer for advice. Until we know more about Dave’s work situation and get back from Africa we will be on hold. I definitely won’t forget and just so you know before I wrote the post on Bali I read through most of your posts for inspiration. Thank you and Dave gives you an eyeball roll. 🙂

  11. Angkor Wat has been on my list for ages and I am not sure when I will make it there, but I hope it will be sooner rather than later. You managed to take some great pictures, what camera do you have? I am looking forward to hear more about the temples.

    1. Thanks Gilda. Angkor was a large city at the time with tons of temples and monuments. Given Cambodia’s harsh climate, it’s amazing that it has survived at all. There’s been lots of restoration of course, but it still has the feel of a time and place from long ago. The camera we travel with is a Canon Powershot SX 260. It has the balance of size, weight and features that work for us. As you can imagine, we did a post on it for travelers. Check it out:

  12. Love that: Angkor what? It was on my list when I arrived in Siem Reap in early 2009. But the sight of hordes of tourists that greeted me when I pulled up by tuktuk was enough to cause a wave of panic (and disinterest) to wash over me. Which is how I discovered the much-less touristy Pra Thom complex, a considerable drive away.. as astonishing and full of ancient gnarly trees as Angkor’s main site. I don’t regret tweaking my ‘bucket’ list one bit. But so glad that it was on yours.. and that you were dazzled!

    1. That’s always the rub isn’t it Amit – how to handle and plan around the crowds. We’ve seen many of the popular sites and it seems that crowds have only gotten worse. With low cost airlines and a more mobile society, I guess there’s no way around it. The best one can do is to research and plan to avoid the busiest times. One thing that I can say is that bus tour groups wouldn’t dare miss lunch back at the hotel. ~James

      1. Don’t get me started on bus tour groups.. But how right you are – about the hotel lunches, dinners and other en-masse activities 😉 A sense of humor certainly helps…

  13. Beautiful photos and amazing memories made! I visited Angkor Wat when I was backpacking around SE Asia, 16 years ago. It is an incredible destination that requires a few days of immersion in the touristy and less touristy areas of the complex. It sounds like you had a fabulous time.

    1. Liesbet, we did have a wonderful time, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I’m sure that it must have been lovely 16 years ago, with probably, lots fewer tourists. I’m sure that you agree that it should be on every serious traveler’s list. ~James

    1. Thanks Shubham. When we visited it was a challenge to get good photos. It was an incredibly bright day, so the light/dark contrast was hard to overcome. And of course, as always, there were tons of tourists, so that took some patience. ~James

  14. Angkor remains on my to visit list, having been to all of the countries surrounding it, but somehow never making my way into Cambodia (Sarah has visited).

    Perhaps it is the fact that it remains relatively close (other than NZ, nowhere is that close to Australia, but 8 or 9 hours of flying is nothing) means it can be done on a shorter break 😉

    1. That’s funny Chris, because we were the same way. We’d visited SE Asia a few times, and somehow had missed Angkor. We made it a combined trip with Luang Prabang, Laos and we’re glad to finally made it to a couple of places that had been on our list for ages. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment Vito and for dropping by the blog. Angkor is a very special place and it was wonderful to finally visit. If you haven’t been, I hope you can make it. ~James

  15. This temple still maintains its natural beauty … apart from being a tourist attraction, is there any other function of this place at this time? Are ceremonies still being held in this place at certain times?

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. When we visited we arrived quite early in the day to avoid crowds, so the only thing we saw were normal tourist crowds and a few group tours. ~James

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