The Kingdom of Cambodia is a special place full of beauty and wonder. The people are warm, welcoming and working hard to rebuild their country after the last century’s horrific events. I am now their biggest fan and rooting for their success. Exploring Angkor Wat and the jungle temples was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Before visiting I had only heard of Angkor Wat but not I know that there is much more to see in the Siem Reap area.
I arrived in Siem Reap on a morning flight from Ho Chi Minh City. I stayed at the Sojourn Villas just outside Siem Reap. The hotel was a lush, peaceful sanctuary with the sweetest staff you can imagine. Plus, they do a great deal for the environment and the local community.
I had booked a guide and driver for three days to show us the various temples. Our guide, Mr. Sovandy, met us at the hotel with our driver, Mr. Saiya. We first went to Angkor Wat, the most well-known of the Angkor temple complex. I was giddy with excitement considering I had dreamt of seeing this place for over ten years.
Needless to say, I was not disappointed. This amazing complex which covers 500 acres was built by King Suryavarman II between 1113 and 1150. It was originally a Hindu Temple dedicated to Vishnu but later converted to Buddhist temple
Next we went to see Ta Prohm, the jungle temple.
The coconuts with straws are everywhere and a perfect fix to a hot sweaty day
The tree roots have taken over, just growing right into the buildings.
Next on the agenda, Angkor Thom. Literally meaning “great city”, this was built in late 12th century by King Jayavaram VII. There are many temples within this city including the one in the center, Bayon Temple.
We continued a visit of Bayon Temple since we were deluged the previous afternoon. The bridge with carved warriors on either side leading the entrance is ridiculously impressive.
After the entrance and the elephant terrace I once again saw the magnificent structure of Bayon Temple.
There are 256 Buddha Faces at the temple. Some say the face resembles the King who built the temple.
Next, a short drive to Preah Khan. Meaning “Royal Sword”, this was built in the 12th century for King Jayavarman VII to honor his father. Like many temples, it is still largely unrestored.
A sweet holy woman sits in the temple giving blessings for a small donation.
The doorways purposely designed to force people to bow in respect to the king. Even I couldn’t fit!
The variation in color on the sandstone is caused by aging and the elements and happen to be beautiful!
Next, Banteay Srei, also called the Citadel of Women. Built in 967 by Yajnavaraha and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. This palace was made to house women of the army and the carvings here are especially elaborate.
I enjoyed hearing a story that women soldiers were the best because the opposition found them too beautiful to fight. Not sure about the historical facts here but good story huh?
This temple had avery beautiful jungle location next to a lake.
After this I needed some relaxation time. Walking around these temples in the hot sun, up and down stairs, is more exhausting than it seems.
Back at the hotel, I took advantage of the tranquil spa and then had some pool time.
I definitely needed this pool time today!
Dinner was a unique experience at a restaurant in Siem Reap called Kroya. Located in the Shinta Mani Club hotel, it is a newer building and the restaurant features very fun swinging chairs for dining. I was blown away by the modern twists on traditional Khmer cuisine.
I went to see Angkor Wat at sunrise. There are ponds on either side of the center walkway and depending on the time of year, the reflection is best viewed at a specific location. In our case, in November, it was the far left side of the left pond. Many other tourists have also figured this out so get there early! It’s a small miracle I was able to get this picture. I came dangerously close to knocking somebody’s selfie stick into the pond…on purpose of course!
After enjoying the sunrise I was driven to Beng Mealea, which is about 44 km east of the Angkor temples. Built by Suryavarman II in early 12th century, the name means “lotus pond”. This was one of my favorites.
The entrance is in ruins with a Nagas, or group of serpent deities, in front.
This temple was an hour from Siem Reap. We enjoyed the drive because it took us through small villages and the lush scenery was beautiful. Every now and then we would see workers in the rice fields. We stopped at one hoping to get a closer look at a lily pond we had spotted, but then Mr. Sovandy spontaneously took us to the workers to talk to them about rice harvesting.
Interacting with the locals was really a highlight for me. I was sad to hear how difficult their jobs were. Bending over in that heat sickling the shafts of rice is grueling work. Once again, I realized that I should never complain about anything!
That afternoon I had to head to the airport but managed to squeeze in one last fantastic lunch at the Sojourn Villas.
This is where things get hairy. It turns out that I had the wrong visa and the airline would not let me check in for my flight to Hanoi. I had a 30 day visa but it was not a multiple entry visa. I had used an online visa company called evisa-vietnam.org. DO NOT USE THIS COMPANY! More details on this in my Vietnam blog post but essentially I paid them a lot of money for extra services, didn’t receive those services, then they refused to return our money. They also refused to help us with the visa situation in Cambodia.
The airport officials in Siem Reap were extremely nice and helpful, allowing use of their office and computer but he visa company was extremely unhelpful. Eventually, desperation set in and I agreed to an offer that originally had seemed insane. An airport official took $220 USD and my passport then drove to meet an embassy contact to get the visa. He returned just in time for me to board the last plane out of Siem Reap. I think this may have been the closet I’ve come to having a heart attack!
Read More: Destination Guide: Two Days in Hanoi
Despite the drama, I have only the fondest memories. I can’t wait to return to Cambodia and see more of the wonders this kingdom has to offer.
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