Hi Everyone! Hope you all had a lovely Easter break. Exploring the ancient temple Angkor Wat has featured pretty high on my bucket list for a while now. It looks so enchanting – like a real life fairytale! If any of you feel the same way, we’re in luck! My lovely sister Michelle (and first guest blogger!) has just come back from an awesome trip to Cambodia and Vietnam, and has some brilliant advice and stories to share. So here the second post of her trilogy on how she spent 48 hours in Siem Reap. Enjoy! Kimmy x
Hi there, me again! Welcome to part two of my blog mini-series on Vietnam and Cambodia. My last post covered how we spent 48 hours in Saigon, and we will be picking up from where we left off, covering our time in Siem Reap (visiting Angkor Wat and the floating village).
48 hours in Siem Reap
We flew with Vietnam Airlines from Saigon to Siem Reap, which took about 45 minutes. The domestic airport at Ho Chi Minh was actually pretty good. I managed to squeeze in a 60 minute foot-and-hand massage (pricey at $45 but soooooo good), and grab a quick Milo from BK, so I was all set for my venture over the border to Cambodia.
Little bit of history for you – Siem Reap used to be the capital of Cambodia way back when (who knew?) until it moved to Phnom Penh in 1865. Nowadays the town is fairly typical for South-East Asia, and reminded me a lot of Ao Nang in Krabi (Thailand).
We stayed at the Hotel Somadevi Angkor Resort and Spa which was about half an hour from the airport and located on the main road into town. Our room was large, clean and modern, and the hotel has a swimming pool, spa and restaurant (super-convenient, but with so many amenities on the doorstep you can pop out to get food or a massage for a fraction of the price).
Our main purpose for including Siem Reap in our itinerary was to visit Angkor Wat, the ruins of the ancient Hindu (later, Buddhist) temple, and the surrounding temples in Angkor Thom (we only had one day pencilled in to our packed agenda for this, so we did the condensed ‘lite’ version – typically a full tour takes around three days). We had a private guide and tuk-tuk for the whole day, and I can’t recommend this enough – trekking around the temples is exhausting in the heat, and being able to move at your own pace, and have a tuk-tuk to drive you between temples, made it much easier. We also managed to squeeze in a trip to the floating village, which was really good fun (if you have the time I would thoroughly recommend adding this to your ‘to-see’ list!).
Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and the ‘Tomb-Raider’ temple
I’m sure everyone knows this already, but just in case, a little bit of info – Angkor Wat is the main temple complex (literally translates as ‘capital temple’) and is the famous temple that appears on the Cambodian flag. Angkor Thom is the name of an ancient city that contains a number of smaller temples, and the ‘Tomb-Raider’ temple (proper name – Ta Prohm) lies just outside Angkor Thom.
Our tuk-tuk picked us up from our hotel at 8am, and it was a 50 minute ride to Angkor Wat. On arrival you are met by this beautiful old building – everyone quickly gets out their cameras to snap photos, but our guide informed us that this is the just the gate into Angkor Wat.
This kinda sets the scene for what is to come – honestly, Angkor Wat is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. It is beautiful and breath-taking, and every other romantic tear-jerking adjective you can think of. I didn’t think it would have such a big effect on me (it’s just a bunch of old buildings, right?) but as you walk down the main tree-lined ‘road’ and the temple slowly reveals itself, it gives you goose-bumps. The cicada’s were in full song, and monkey’s played at the side of the road, and it just makes you – stop (and OK, it also made me want to cry … just a little bit … or maybe a lot, but whatever). I’ve popped some photo’s below, but these really do not do it justice – it is hands-down the most magical place I have ever been to.
You can explore all around the grounds of the temple (this is actually a little bit of a shame, as you can see the impact of thousands of feet on the ruins), and climb up into the main temple itself. Be prepared to queue for this bit – we waited for 50 minutes. Also, be warned – it’s pretty high. I forgot I was scared of heights until I was half-way up (at which point I froze, and my husband whisper-shouted behind me ‘you have to keep going’ as the gigantic queue of people behind us patiently waited for me to get my act together). The views from the top are incredible though, and totally worth the sweaty-palm climb.
[Note: I thought the slightly-rickety wooden stairs were bad, but if you take a look around the right-hand side of the temple, you will see the original temple steps which were still used by tourists until a few years ago. They are tiny, and there are no hand rails *shivers*]
(This was inside the top part of the temple)
After exiting the Angkor Wat complex, we took our trusty tuk-tuk over to Angkor Thom. There are gates on the North, South, East and West sides of the ancient city, lined with a row of smiling gods on the left and a row of angry devils on the right.
Angkor Thom contains a number of ancient temples, all of which you can enter and explore.
Our last stop on our ‘Angkor day’ was Ta Prohm, now more commonly known as the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’ (as it appeared in the film). Neither my husband or I had seen Tomb Raider, so this didn’t mean much to us – but you can see why it was chosen. The temple has been partially reclaimed by Mother Nature, with trees and roots growing through the structures. It’s pretty magical.
So, in summary – Angkor Wat is amazing and it belongs on every persons bucket list!
The Floating Village
A quick bit on the floating village, purely because it speaks volumes about people’s ingenuity.
There is a massive lake in Cambodia – the Tonle Sap – which many people used to live around. However, during the wet season their houses would flood – so they moved on to the lake. There is a whole village (including restaurants, corner shops, crocodile and fish farms, and a school) which floats. It’s incredible to see.
Other bits and bobs:
- On arrival in Cambodia you need to buy a visa, which costs $32pp, but the process is straightforward and quick – grab a form, fill it out (don’t worry about the request for a passport photo, they can take this from your passport), pay the money, and watch the little production line generate the visa.
- Everywhere in Cambodia accepts American dollars (even the street stalls) so there is no need to buy local currency. Make sure you have lots of $1 notes – it’s useful to pay in exact money where possible as change is often given in local currency (and you will struggle to convert Cambodian Riel’s outside of Cambodia).
- To visit Angkor Wat (and any religious or royal building) you have to cover your shoulders and knees – this applies to all you boys as well as the girls. Luckily we happened to have appropriate clothing with us, but it’s something we wish we had known before we travelled.
- On the way to Angkor Wat you stop at a ticket office to pick up your pass – this is a photo ID, and you have to present it to gain access to each temple (so keep it somewhere safe).
The ticket office also has toilets plus a place to buy water – you will want to take advantage of both, as after this there are no loos/ water opportunities until you are out the other side of Angkor Wat (there is a lot of walking, and it is hot, so you will want to take a lot of water).
Angkor Wat can get pretty busy – we went between peak- and off-season so it wasn’t too bad, but we still waited in line for 50 minutes to get into the main temple. You may want to plan the timing of your visit around the crowds – either the time of year, or whether you go early or late in the day. Another nugget of info – there are certain days in the year when the sun rises directly above the central turret of Angkor Wat (I think this year they were 25/26/27 March, so we just missed it). Also, the cicadas only sing in March and April (only a little thing, but it added to the magical-ness [pretty sure that’s a word] of the visit).
There are lots of places to eat on the main road into town – some are very basic (and cheap) and some are much nicer. We really enjoyed eating at the Indo-Chine Café, which was right opposite our hotel and which served traditional Cambodian dishes (together with non-local dishes if that’s not your thing).
Although we didn’t visit, Siem Reap has a night market which is a short distance from where we stayed. Take the bug spray though, as there are lots of mosquitos in Cambodia.
Internal flights (both within Cambodia and within Vietnam) are subject to change with very little warning – our flight from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh was cancelled (and we were booked on the later one that evening), and our flight from Phu Quoc to Saigon was also changed. It’s worth keeping an eye on the flight schedules online so that you don’t miss a flight / arrive at the airport super early. Everywhere has Wifi in Cambodia (and Vietnam) so checking things online is easy.
Tipping – surprisingly, our experience was that in Cambodia (and Vietnam) people generally didn’t expect a tip. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t tip – they were just really grateful (which was really nice!).
Crossing the road in Cambodia is the same as in Vietnam (see my previous post) – for all my fellow 80’s children, think ‘Frogger’ – but instead of a computer its real life, and instead of a frog it’s you
Aaaand that’s it for the second post. Hopefully some of the above is of help to anyone planning a trip – if anyone has any questions, please feel free to get in touch! I’ll be back soon with my final instalment on our time in Phnom Penh.
Read other posts in Michelle’s guest blogger series on Cambodia and Vientam: