Exploring Cambodia's Angkor Monuments
The Hindu temple of Angkor Wat, a 200-acre sandstone monument, is the headliner in an archaeological showcase of more than 100 Khmer monuments – including monasteries and entire cities that date back to the 13th century – scattered across a forested area in northwestern Cambodia roughly the size of Philadelphia. If you make the common mistake of scheduling Angkor as a quick stop on your way to Thailand or Vietnam, you'll miss out on its less-explored side. Instead, plan on staying for a week (late October and November bring the least humid weather of the year), basing yourself in the nearby town of Siem Reap. When you arrive, take advantage of the jet lag that wakes you before dawn and head over to Angkor Wat first thing in the morning, when the stone corridors are blissfully silent. You'll have the ancient carvings all to yourself before the sun bakes the granite walls and the unlicensed "guided tour" peddlers start vying for your attention. Hire an official guide from the Khmer Angkor Tour Guide Association – the organization's rigorous licensing process ensures that your questions about Cambodian culture and the Khmer Empire won't go unanswered. In addition to Angkor, the must-see list includes Bayon, where serene, eerily lifelike faces are carved into the pillars, and Ta Prohm, the jungle-choked temple that served as the set for Tomb Raider.