We just arrived yesterday in Cambodia after crossing the land border from Thailand at Poipet frontier town. We’ll spend four days in the city of Siem Reap to visit the historic temples of Angkor.
We reach a huge gate marking the entrance to Angkor site: there are three types of ticket: the one-day entry (20$), the three-non-consecutive-day entry (40$), and the weekly pass (60$). We choose the second, as we surely can’t see everything in one day only!
Angkor site is a majestic complex of temples spreading over an area of 400 square km.
The first temple we visit is Angkor Wat, the most famous. At the view of the three central “towers”, we immediately realize to be in front of a world wonder: walking through the portals we try to imagine the fear of the farmers approaching the temple. Despite the early wake-up, we can’t avoid the crowd, and taking pictures without anyone in it isn’t easy at all.
Luckily the area is vast enough that it’s possible to find your quiet space. Visiting the site is pleasant as you can fairly move from a temple to another following well displayed paths. Distances from one site to another are around 2-3 km so it’s better to move by tuk tuk, motorbike or bicycle.
Next temple is Angkor Thom, the largest one, that includes architectures as the stunning Terrace of Elephants (and real elephants for tourists), the Bayon, Baphuon temple, which you can hike to the top, and other small shrines hidden in the jungle.
The temple of Preah Khan, a bit detached from the most popular ones, surprised us: certainly the lack of tourists contributed to create a fascinating atmosphere of mystery. The best aspect of visiting these places is exploring the narrow alleys that often lead to desert courtyards, wondering how the temple was in its greatest era, and pretending to be an explorer looking for treasures.
Last one we reach is Ta Prohm, completely surrounded by the jungle and once set of the movie Tomb Raider. Maybe our expectations were too high and we were slightly disappointed: there are mandatory paths to follow and this ruins a little bit the “wild” atmosphere.
At about 5.30 pm, when sunset approaches, the site closes down and it’s mandatory to leave the area, although it’s basically impossible to check on everybody in such a huge place (when moving around visitors should always show their ticket badges or have them ready to be inspected).
Siem Reap at night is a nice town that offers both local and international small restaurants, the choice is wide. We are exhausted from today’s effort, as a matter of fact the next morning we wake up late and decide to stay in town and study Angkor site map. We could never see all of it cycling around, distances are too big, our options are either renting a scooter or have a tuk-tuk driving us around all day.
So on our third day in Siem Reap we rent a motorbike (10$), baptizing Edo to ride in that insane traffic. We can’t understand how there are no crashes in such chaos!
Rights of way and turning signals do not exist, everyone literally hops on the road and drivers have to avoid anyone or everything else, showing off great slalom skills: that’s the generale rule, pretty much.
After a few kilometres on the main street, we take a narrower road that leads us straight to Kbal Spean, 35 km far from Siem Reap. We park our bike and do a short trek in the jungle for about 2 km before getting to a religious site where the river bed stones are carved beautifully. Unluckily it’s the dry season now, so there’s no waterfall: for sure a visit during the wet season would be much more worthy.
We have a quick lunch in one of the small houses built to welcome tourists and then we take the road back to Banteay Srei. It’s a small temple surrounded by rice fields and suggestive swamplands. It looks like a miniature (doors are only 1-meter high!), the colours are amazing, changing from the pink of the stones to the green of the moss.
But the highlight of the day is the road, its sights and everything we witness around it (when we are not trying to avoid the holes on the asphalt): huts alternated to very nice houses, food trucks always running fast, 3, 4 or 5 people on the same motorbike, barefoot children playing on the road side, stopping only to wave hi, students in their uniforms walking (just the more lucky ones cycling) home, and then skinny cows, pigs, dogs and chickens crossing the street every now and then.
Approaching Siem Reap the number of shops, luxury resorts and Burger Kings increases.
After returning the motorbike, we walk to the triangle shaped neighborhood where tourists can find shops, pubs, restaurants, a sort of expat area: among all this western style buildings, the local market is an adventure we hope not to experience soon again (let’s just say that hygienic norms to store food are quite different from ours, but I guess we’ll have to get used to this).
Returning to our guesthouse we take a stroll along the river, enjoying the sunset behind Wat Bo temple, right in the town centre, while the coloured lights of the bridges start to mirror in the water.
What we saw in these days makes us ask so many questions, all this beauty has stunned us but in the same time the contrast between an historic site like Angkor and the modern life now running around it is remarkable. Probably it’s better if we just appreciate the marvelous beauty of the temples without thinking more!
In the morning we have breakfast and get ready to leave Siem Reap, a new adventure on Tonle Sap Lake is before us!
WHERE TO STAY IN SIEM REAP:
- Natural Homestay Siem Reap: local hospitality and cheap prices for a budget stay;
- Onederz Khmer House: a beautiful hotel with khmer architecture inspiration;
- You can book all your accommodation in Cambodia with free cancellation here.
HOW TO REACH SIEM REAP:
- Bangkok-Siem Reap, train+bus: 6 hrs by train to Aranyaprathet, 3-4 hours from Poipet to Siem Reap by bus;
- Phnom Penh-Siem Reap, by bus: 6 hours;
- Siem Reap-Phnom Penh, boat on Tonle Sap Lake: read about our experience here!
- Angkor entrance ticket: 20$/day, 40$/3days, 60$/week;
- Motorbike rental: 10$/24hrs;
DO I NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE?
- Yes you do. Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Even if you trust yourself, you can’t always trust others. Better safe than sorry! Get your quote here.