On 3rd February 2018 we arrived in Siem Reap after catching a bus from Battambang earlier that morning. We had booked to stay at Central Hostel which was a nice hostel with air conditioning, cheap water refills and good wifi – it’s somewhere we’d happily stay again. After searching for a while we came across a restaurant called Psa Chas Restaurant which had a cheap, extensive menu so we stopped here for our lunch and ate for a couple of dollars which was a bargain. Pub Street – the main nightlife and food street in Siem Reap – didn’t have food we could afford but this restaurant was just a street or two over so we were confident we wouldn’t have to spend a fortune whilst we were here. Later on we ended up finding a street by the river that, in the evening, was lined with small stalls selling fried rice and noodles for $1 as well as more adventurous snacks like deep fried tarantula and snake skewers if you dared to try them!
During the day, this street is mainly full of fruit shake stalls which stay open in the evening too. We bought a $1 shake which was passionfruit, mango and dragonfruit and was probably the nicest fruit shake we’ve had throughout Asia! Because it was giving us nutritious fruit, was refreshing and very cheap, we ended up having fruit shakes as a staple of our diet over the next few days. We would have happily drank them for the rest of the trip if that had been an option and really enjoyed having the opportunity to have a lot of fruit.
Siem Reap also has loads of markets and throughout our time in the city we went to a number of them, both during the day and at night. What we enjoyed about these markets was that you were pretty much left alone to browse instead of constantly hounded like we had found in Vietnam. The markets are all huge and sell souvenirs, clothes, sarongs, beautiful blankets and everything in between. Niall was able to get some new trainers here which were very good quality and only cost him US$15. His trainers were in a bad state with massive holes in and we had joked about it quite a bit as shoe-shiners had always commented on the state of them when we were in Vietnam. That’s what happens though when you wear the same pair of shoes in all terrains and weathers nearly every single day for over a year.
We also bought trousers here ready for going to India as we would need to cover our legs (especially me) during our time there and we were able to get three pairs of trousers for $10 which we were really pleased with.
In the evenings we would also go to pub street where we were able to get a glass of beer for 50 cents. The street was all lit up and very lively with people eating and having a few beers in all of the restaurants and bars that lined the street and surrounding alleys. One evening Newcastle United were playing Crystal Palace and so we found a bar that had the match on which was a very nice bar and it also had the end of the film World War Z so I was able to the watch that while Niall watched the football. The waiter found it quite funny watching Niall’s reactions to every near goal or referee decision during the match, he was a Manchester United supporter – a widely supported team throughout Asia!
The next day (Sunday 4th February 2018) we were up at 4:20am to get picked up at 4:45am for a sunrise tour of Angkor Wat and some of the surrounding temples. Angkor Wat is the main attraction that brings people to Siem Reap and probably the most famous landmark in Cambodia. It was $15 for a tuk tuk driver to take you around some of the temples and then an extra $5 for a sunrise pick up but that was the total price so paying $10 each for a driver for as long as you needed and having him get up super early to get you there for sunrise isn’t bad at all!
Angkor Wat was built by Suryavarman II who reigned in Cambodia between the years 1112 and 1152. The temple was designed to replicate the universe in miniature form. The central tower is Mount Meru which is the Mount Olympus of the Hindu faith and the land of the gods. The lower courtyards are the continents for us mortal humans and then the moat is the oceans. Each king wanted to better their ancestors’ structures in size, scale and symmetry so the whole area is full of spectacular temples.
Angkor Wat faces west which is associated with both death and the Hindu god Vishnu. This has meant that scholars have decided that Angkor Wat serves both as a temple and a mausoleum for Suryavarman II. Despite the mausoleum being one of the planned functions of the temple, Suryavarman II died in battle against the Vietnamese and so was never actually buried here.
First we were taken to get our tickets from a ticket office that was outside of the Angkor Wat temple complex. The ticket office had been upgraded from the last time I visited Angkor Wat in June 2014 and the tickets for entry had also gone up by $10 to be $30. Your tickets are printed with your photo on and we were able to pay on our card which was handy.
Once we arrived at the site, the man checking our tickets wouldn’t let me pass as I had shorts on. He told me I had to buy a sarong before I could go into the site and then there was a woman there ready for me selling sarongs for the extortionate price of $20 dollars. I was able to get it for $10 which was still ridiculously high and I was feeling quite annoyed particularly as I could have brought my sarong had I realised or even worn leggings – it was my fault for not checking. It hadn’t been an issue on my last visit so it hadn’t crossed my mind. Once I was allowed through, I realised that I had been scammed and that I hadn’t needed the sarong to enter the complex itself but instead for specific parts of the temple and so could have bought a much cheaper sarong inside of the complex as there were a number of stalls that would have brought the price down. It took me a while to get over my annoyance of the whole thing and for me being so stupid.
We walked down the path to where you could see Angkor Wat towering over a lily pond. There was a central walkway that let you go either right or left down by the pond to get a spot for the sun coming up. We chose to go right as this was the less busy side of the pond and so meant we could get to the front and have an unobstructed view. I think the left is more popular because there are less trees in view and it’s the side where the lily pads are but it was drastically more busy so we wouldn’t have gotten remotely near to the front. We also didn’t see a massive difference in the two views so decided to go to the right. We had brought bread and cheese slices to have for our breakfast and lunch for the day to save money and so had cheese sandwiches before the sun came up. The sunset was nice. There wasn’t a massive amount of colour but it was still pretty with some oranges and yellows coming through and was infinitely better than the last time I went for the sunrise at Angkor Wat when it just got light with a cloudy sky and didn’t show any form of colourful sunrise at all!
After the sun came up we had a walk around the pond and then headed into the temple itself. It’s a beautiful temple and all focusses around towers which are topped with a lotus-bud design. The central tower rises 55m up from the ground and the entire site is designed to be as symmetrical as possible which is really nice. Everywhere you look there are areas you can explore and intricate statues or wall carvings to see. We spent at least a couple of hours just in this one temple as it’s massive and we wanted to take our time to see as much as possible.
The construction of the temple is believed to have involved 300,000 workers and 6000 elephants which I find incredible. The upper level of the temple, also known as the Abakan Sanctuary only allows a certain number of people up there each day and you have to queue as well as be checked that you’re wearing appropriate clothing before you’re allowed up (this was when I needed my pricey sarong). We queued and around twenty minutes later we reached the front of the queue and could climb the very steep stairs to the top. The steps were purposefully made very steep as ‘reaching the kingdom of the gods’ would never be an easy thing to do and once you reach the top there are more statues and carvings to see. There was also views over the temple complex which was nice to see and you felt really high when you looked down onto the courtyard below.
Angkor Wat is surrounded by a 190m-wide moat which we passed when we first entered the temple and also passed to leave. As we left we saw some monkeys who were on the outside of the temple near to the moat. It was crazy to see the amount of people crowding around one monkey and you’d have thought it was famous with the amount it was getting photographed. The monkey didn’t seem bothered though and was quick to show it’s teeth if people started thinking they could get too close to it.
Our next stop for the day wasto Bayon Temple whichwas probably my favourite temple as it had so many intricate carvings and giant stone faces – around 216 of them – wherever you looked. Bayon was built in the 12th Century under the reign of Jayavarman VII. The Lonely Planet says that this temple “epitomises the creative genius and inflated ego of Cambodia’s most celebrated king”. This temple was very busy though as it isn’t as spacious as Angkor Wat and I think we arrived there at the same time as some tour groups so the timing wasn’t great – it was still good though.
It is thought that the Khmer empire was divided into 54 provinces at the time the temple was built and that is said to explain the 54 pairs of heads on the third level of the temple. The temple is made up of three levels with the first two being covered in carved murals and the final storey being where the many heads reside. On the outer wall of the ground floor, there are scenes drawn of everyday life in 12th Century Cambodia. These include farming, civil wars, battles, circus acts and fishing. It’s very interesting to look at the different pictures and there are a lot of elephants in them too which makes me think elephants were very common at the time – it’s a shame that’s not still the case. As well as this, some of the statues seem to have been modified from a Buddha to a Hindu god which is believed to have occurred at a later date by a Hindu king. I read that this is common throughout the temples as the kings changed religions over the years which I think is very interesting as they obviously wanted to be able to keep using these grand structures.
Next to Bayon is another temple but I’m not sure if it’s part of the Bayon complex or a stand alone temple. We had a look around anyway and it offered lovely views from the top. It was after exploring this temple that we headed to the Elephant Terrace which is a raised platform with stone elephants carved into it. There was a massive car park here where we hunted for our driver amongst the many many tuk tuk drivers!
After Bayon we were taken to Ta Keo Temple which is probably the simplest of the temples we saw as it didn’t have fine carvings or decorations. Ta Keo was built by Jayavarman V as a dedication to the god Shiva. It’s the first Angkorian monument to be built of sandstone and this is speculated to be one of the reasons for the lack of decoration – the sandstone may have been too hard to carve into. Other reasons that are thought to be why the temple was never finished was the death of Jayavarman V which halted the work or because the temple was struck by lightning which was seen as a bad omen and so the place was abandoned – maybe it’s a bit of all of them!
The temple has five towers with one central tower depicting the mountain summit and reaches a height of nearly 50 metres. The four lower towers surround this at the corners of the temple which was a typical style for the time.
You can climb up the towers which gives you good views over the surrounding area and down to the bottom of the temple. I would have loved to see all of these temples in their prime when they were used and frequented by royalty. I bet they were even more spectacular!
Next was Ta Prohm, which is one of the most famous temples in the Angkor Wat temple grounds. And for good reason as it was used for the filming of Tomb Raider (starring Angelina Jolie). Apparently this temple looks the most like it would have been when European explorers first came to the temples around Angkor Wat. The jungle has consumed this temple with tree roots surrounding temples and going through the gaps in the rocks and some fully swallowing the walls of the temple so that all you can see are giant roots – some of the biggest I’ve ever seen. This temple was also very busy with a few tour groups looking around when we were. The inside had to be explored in a one way system which I think might have added to the crowds but I can’t be sure. It was built in 1186 and was originally known as the Monastery of the King (Rajavihara) and was a Buddhist temple dedicated to Jayavarman VI’s mother.
Our final temple of the day was to Banteay Kdei. This was a very peaceful, almost deserted temple and was a lot more chilled than the other temples we had visited. We had been up for hours and our feet were hurting from walking around all of the temples so it felt right that this was our last temple and it was nice to walk slowly around the ruins and walkways. Some sections of this temple had no one around and all you could hear were the birds in nearby trees. There was even a tower that was full of little bats which was cool and I hadn’t realised until Niall pointed it out. We liked it here. Banteay Kdei is a 12th century temple and was originally built as a monastery with its name translating to mean ‘Citadel of Cells’. Quite a lot of the temple look like it’s in ruins and apparently that’s due to construction work being done too fast on them which is a shame.
We were exhausted from a long day exploring and both fell asleep in the tuk tuk on the way back into Siem Reap. It had been a great day exploring the temples, even though I’d seen them before it didn’t take away any of the beauty of the place. I’m really glad we went even if it did really tire us out.
Siem Reap was probably our favourite city in Cambodia. We were living off good food for $1 and even better fruit shakes as well as glasses of beer for 50 cents! There are loads of markets to browse and then pub street offered you some great nightlife. The place has a really nice vibe to it and I think it’s somewhere I could keep coming back to. Even doing relatively little isn’t a problem in Siem Reap and I’m glad it’s where we ended our time in Cambodia. Plus, you can’t beat Angkor Wat!
Yet again, Cambodia didn’t disappoint and Niall really enjoyed himself too. We got to do a range of stuff and it was relatively easy to travel around although you could definitely see the poverty of the country compared to that of Vietnam. Everyone was so friendly and we felt very welcome so my love of the people here hasn’t faltered. Cambodia has been through some terrible times in its past and had the entire world turn its back on them during the Khmer Rouge. Despite this, the country is still accommodating and friendly to the many tourists that visit it and I highly doubt this will be my last time here.
Until next time, Cambodia!
Sending love x