Said my guide at Angkor Wat as he ended his tour of the Angkor Wat Complex and left me to climb up to the top of the temple. Oh and heaven , it certainly was! But Siem Reap has sooo much more to offer besides just the Angkor Wat. There are countless temples and ruins all around this ancient city.
My Cambodia journey began in Phnom Penh, but Siem Reap was my first destination. Knowing that this was the main focus of my trip , I gave myself a good five days here. While most people cover Siem Reap in 2-3 days, I knew I would want to cover the temples at my own pace and also go to the not so popular ones and keep some time to repeat a few places. The Phnom Penh to Siem Reap journey was a super comfy 6 hour journey, via a local transport operator called Giant Ibis, which became my favourite intercity travel option in Cambodia. Their buses were complete with free wifi connection and even a free snack on the way!
I checked in to my hotel, Golden Temple Villa (recommended by Lonely Planet), which was an adorable local khmer run enterprise – with the most delightful staff and service. When my first room was unsatisfactory, they immediately bumped me up to a better room.
Not wanting to waste my evening in Siem Reap, I decided to catch the Phare Circus , which was recommended to me by a friend. This is one spectacle in Siem Reap you do not want to miss (and yes, this is a circus for adults! :)).
My hotel got me in touch with a tuk-tuk guy who took me around for all my Angkor temples. He eventually got used to my pace and learnt to wait for me patiently as I explored each temple.
I started my day by covering the Grand Circuit Tour, which basically covers the outer ring of the Angkor Archaeological Complex covering places like Pre Rup, East Mebon, and Preah Khan. But I took a detour to also go explore Kbal Spean – which is a set of stone carvings made in the river bed. While it is a long walk to the the top of the hill, it is definitely worth a visit for the treasures it holds there – there are carvings of Lingas, Bramha and even Ganesha along the bed .
Next stop was the Bantaey Serai , which loosely translates into citadel of the women – is a fine specimen of Angkor Style intricate carvings of scenes from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
While I was mighty impressed with the scale and size of the Angkor Wat, it was the Preah Khan Temple that has to be my favourite in the entire Angkor Archaeological Complex. Preah Khan has a unique flat design – with the entrance welcoming you with massive structures of the Devas and Asuras churning the ocean and exit flanked by massive Garuda sculptures .
The entire complex is under restoration by the World Monuments Fund , as it has vegetation eating into the structure. Once , you start walking in to the complex, it pulls you into its many layers and every step has a new set of treasures waiting to be discovered. I had to give myself two trips to this temple , to satisfy myself of having covered the temple completely!
I started Day 2 with the Angkor Wat . Before my trip to Cambodia, I went with the purpose of seeing the mythical Angkor sunrise. The sunrise was one of the most beautiful ones I have seen yet (not that I have seen too many #notamorningperson 🙂 ).
This was followed by the mysterious Ta Promh ( of the Tomb Raider fame), where you can see an intense struggle for survival of the fittest between nature and man’s creation- which has probably lost its element of mystery thanks to all the publicity it has received. It is interesting to note that the conservation in collaboration with ASI.
I ended this day with the breathtaking Bayon temple – which may possibly be narcisism in its finest form 🙂
If you have the passion and energy , I would definitely suggest spending a day exploring the Beng Melea. This temple is completely in ruins. But there is a unique mystery and atmosphere that surrounds these collapsing structures.
Finding an odd sculpture/carving tucked away in a corner of the temple or even climbing over the rocks to maneuver your way through the temple is an experience I will never forget.
This can be clubbed with a tour of the Rulous Temple group which include the fascinating Preah Ko, Bakong and Lolei.
Your Siem Reap trip is not complete without a visit to the Angkor museum. I did this on the last day which helped me relate to all that I had seen over the last four days.
If you think temples are the only thing that Siem Reap has to offer, you are wrong. The night life at Siem Reap is probably the best in Cambodia. At the end of an exciting and tiring day of temple running, you can get a traditional Khmer body or foot massage and chill at any of numerous pub and restaurant hopping options along Pub Street. This street is also a great place to stock up on Cambodian souvenirs.
With that, ended my trip to Heaven! 🙂