Cambodia

Trish Griffiths on 28 December 2013
We spent several days in Siem Reap during December. This was a catch up visit to see Angkor Wat, something we had missed on previous visits to Cambodia.

We chose a boutique hotel which was a 5 minute walk from the main night market and entertainment area. Even so, it was still only $1 dollar for the local tuk tuk to bring us home. Most transactions in Cambodia are in US$, although you can pay in local riels as well. 4000 riels = $1, irrespective of actual exchange rates!

The entertainment area centres around Pub Street. As the name implies it has lots and lots of bars and restaurants, many open into the small hours. You'll also find lots of massage shops here with foot massage from $1 for 10 minutes, although $15 per hour is the accepted rate. You'll also find the night markets and arts and crafts shops in this area with some nice local designer shops along with the normal tourist memorabilia!

As for the main event, the whole area around Siem Reap is crammed with temples and palaces. It is worth doing some research before you arrive to make sure you see everything you want. Park tickets have to be purchased and come in 1,3 or 7 day passes. We went for the lightweight single day pass and chose just 3 of the main temples.

The day started off with us joining a very long queue of traffic heading towards the ticket booth. Thankfully our driver managed to ignore most of the normal traffic rules to get us to the front of the line pretty quickly. We then went to the booth and had our picture taken which was then printed onto our entrance ticket.

We were now on our way to the first temple with our knowledgeable guide. We wouldn't recommend going without a guide as they add so much more to the visit, not just information, but also by making the visit much less stressful. Avoiding the worst of the crowds is almost as important as the information.

Our first temple was Thom Prau, featured in the Tomb Raider movie. It is known as the jungle temple as they have left a lot of the trees in place, growing in, on and through the temple stonework. We found the force of nature with the religious imagery a beautiful combination. This became our favourite site!

From here we drove for about 5 minutes to our next temple, Bayon. This is renowned for the many faces of Buddha on each of its towers. The books say 216, but our guide assured us there was 220. We didn't count them but probably got that many photos!!

For lunch we went to a restaurant near Angkor Wat before the crowds arrived. It worked as we were the only people in there. We got served nice and quickly and then headed to see Angkor Wat (AW) as all the crowds headed in the opposite direction for their lunch :-)

As we headed towards AW, we passed by a pool of water that gave a perfect reflection of the temples outline. The best picture of the day. The temple itself was interesting, with massive carved frescos on the walls showing Hindu mythology all around the ground floor. You then climb up to the top of the temple via 48 (very steep) steps. From the top you get great views around all 4 sides.

After leaving the historical Angkor area we headed off to Tonle Sap lake. It's only about a 20minute ride from the temples so can easily be done either as part of a day tour, or from Siem Reap itself. On arrival we bought our ticket for the boat ride out to the floating village. These people are mostly Vietnamese and they have a fully functional village moored at the edge of the lake, including schools, shops, a church and even a hairdressers! Passing beyond the village you head out into the lake itself and it is quite a shock to realise you can't see the other side!

Following a relaxing foot massage back in town we headed across to Kings Road, a new development of restaurants across the river from Pub Street. It was nice and calm here and we enjoyed khmer food in a riverside setting.

We loved Siem Reap and were surprised by the vibrant nightlife which complemented the cultural feast we expected. Both are good, but together they make this part of Cambodia not to be missed.

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