I would just like to share my three-day experience in Siem Reap last September that afforded it the title of one of my favorite countries so far.
Just a note: My companions and I are generally fast-paced travelers. We like taking our time because we are very interested in history and culture, and we want to take as many photos of so many things. Still, being young-ish (20s) frequent travelers with considerable stamina for walking, we find that we can keep on going and going without feeling rushed.
I already began planning my itinerary months prior to the trip and I came up with an itinerary that hits most of the must-sees in the region, plus a few short stops to quiet, lesser known corners to get away from the bustling crowd. I contacted and booked a tuktuk driver online two months in advance, and we were lucky to have found a driver (Mr. Lam) who was very punctual and so knowledgeable about the history of the sites that it felt like a guided tour. He also gave us a lot of tips of where to eat authentic Khmer food off the beaten track and what to do next.
We arrived in Siem Reap three hours later than expected because terrible weather caused our flight to be redirected to Phnom Penh for a two-hour detour. We arrived at the Royal Angkor Resort & Spa shortly after three in the morning. Oddly, the hotel was very, very dark and almost deserted - which is uncommon for hotels (not hostels) in general, even at this hour. Thankfully, the rest of our stay at the hotel was great. We intended to catch the sunrise at the Angkor Wat the next day, but given the detour, we decided to postpone.
We started the day really early, leaving the hotel at around 7:00am. The hotel was about a fifteen to twenty minute tuktuk ride to the Angkor Archaeological Park. Mr. Lam brought us to the park entrance to get our tickets, then we proceeded to Pre Rup. It was a wise decision to start here as the climb up was really difficult. The morning energy definitely helped. Admittedly, the view from the top was nothing spectacular - just the barren grounds of the temple and the trees that surround it - but it felt like a small victory to conquer the steps. We took about half an hour exploring the complex.
Our next stop was East Mebon. Architecture wise, it looks very similar to the Pre Rup. We also stopped by Banteay Samre. To be honest, both not stand out much in my memory. I believe we took about 20 minutes in each before we ran out of things to see.
We then made the 40km journey to the area of Banteay Srey. We took a short detour to the Landmine Museum before lunch. It was small and asks for a $3 entrance fee. There is not much too see inside, but the entrance fee goes to supporting young victims of landmines. It's a simple, seemingly inconsequential (to us tourist) way of helping out. By the way, if you are planning to visit, the kids have this "wishlist" posted in the entrance, mostly school and hygiene supplies, which you can bring if you could. We spent about 20 minutes here.
We were also supposed to go to the Angkor Centre for Conservation and Biodiversity but we missed the only tour at 1pm. We heard it's an interesting place, so remember to go there early if you want to catch it. There are a lot of cheap restaurants across the street from this so you can have lunch there at around 11:30 and walk across by 12:30.
After lunch, we finally headed to Bantay Srey. This was one of my favorite temples in SR. The temple is relatively small but the details of the stone carvings were amazing. You could spend well over an hour examining the different carvings in the area. September being the rainy season, rainwater filled up the entrance, creating a moat with the elevated parts. It was a beautiful sight. Unfortunately, the hour we chose to visit was one of the crowded hours so we had to struggle to get shots without other wandering tourists like us in them.
We ventured back to the main Archeological Park afterwards and arrived at Ta Som at about three in the afternoon. Ta Som is a small temple almost hidden by trees. It's a bit more run down than the other temples, but I liked this one because it was quiet and not frequented by tourists. We were virtually alone when we got there, except for a few locals, and we spent about half an hour looking around and sitting down under the shade of the trees. Watch out though - those locals will suddenly accompany you around the temple, telling you a bit about the history, then will ask for money after. If you're not willing to shell out a bit of money, make sure to shake them off early on.
We also stopped by Preah Khan, a small temple with trees growing out and taking over the walls. We spent about half an hour here, but it did not leave any lasting impression.
Our last stop for the day was Neak Pean. This is another favorite of mine. It was unlike any other temple we saw, but more for the path you must take more than the actual temple itself. Mr. Lam dropped us off at the entrance of the area where we had to walk on a long wooden bridge that cuts across a body of water. The small lake was lined with trees and covered with vibrant green life-form (algae? moss? I could not tell) which made for a picturesque scene. At the end of this bridge is a small temple that is submerged when it rains, which was the case when we were there. The actual temple is fenced off so you can't get in (probably as a safety precaution as it fills up with water), but you get a good view of it from there. We spent about half an hour here.
After this long and tiring day, we went back to the hotel to freshen up a bit and rest our tired feet. Afterward, we rode the hotel shuttle to the Angkor Night Market to check out the merchandise and to try out a restaurant at the famous Pub Street. I no longer remember where we ate, but I remember it being Mexican. It was good, but no where near as good as the family restaurants we tried elsewhere.
DAY 3 to follow soon...
Check out a few of my photos from Siem Reap here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eskai/sets/72157635800660956/
Temple Run in Siem Reap!
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