Monday, 14 April 2014

Temples of Angkor, Cambodia

The main reason why people come to Siem Reap is to visit the nearby temples of Angkor. 

While most people think that the whole complex is called Angkor Wat, that is actually only one of the temples from the Angkorian period. 

I decided to opt for the 3 day pass (although I only ended up going two days - I was a bit templed out by the end) since it was the same price as the two day. 

Angkor Wat 

We started off at Angkor Wat, the magnificent temple complex surrounded by a huge moat. 

We decided to get a tour guide here and I'm glad that we did - it gave us a good idea of the history of all of the temples that followed as well. 

Our guide was awesome, and even got us to take a selfie. 

We got up bright and early our second day to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, but it was unfortunately super cloudy so it was a bit of a bust. 

Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple

Angkor Thom is the old capital city, and is quite a large complex. It has a wall around the whole area, which takes a while to drive through. 

At the center is Bayon temple, one of my faves. 

It has a ton of Angkorian faces that are still intact. 

All of the Buddha and Singha (lion) statues were defaced during the 12-13th century when a new king came into power and decided to change the national religion from Buddhism to Hinduism. 

Since one of the Hindu gods also ha four faces, he decided to leave this temple more or les untouched. 

It was amazing to climb up the temple and see all of the huge faces all around. 

Phnom Bakheng Temple

At the end of our first day, we saw the sunset on Phnom Bakheng temple. 

It is quite tall, so you have a great view overlooking the surrounding forest. 

It also gives a beautiful hue to the ruins. 


Ta Prohm 

Hands down my fave temple here, Ta Prohm is one of the only temples that has been taken over by the jungle. 

It is so wonderfully mysterious to see the mossy temple with huge tree roots climbing over the walls. 

We wandered around the complex for about an hour before anyone else arrived - one of those rare tourist-free moments at the temples of Angkor ;)

Gotta love those trunks. 

Panorama view. 

Banteay Srai

We made the trek out to Banteay Srai, which is 37km away from the rest of the temples. 

It is one of the most intricately carved temples, with the details still intact. 

There were mobs of people when we arrived, but we were still able to appreciate the grandeur thanks to the roped off sections ;) 

People seriously have zero concept of takin your turn to take a picture and then carry on for someone else to take a snapshot. Boggles my mind. 

Overall, my time spent at the temples of Angkor was wonderful. It is an amazing snapshot into the past. 

I was a bit burnt out by the end of the second day since I had already been to a bunch of old temples the two previous days, but I can understand how people can spend about a week seeing all of the temples. 

It gets ridiculously hot (I mean, HAWT!) at midday, so it's best to go early in the morning, return to Siem Reap for lunch, and come back at around 3pm. 

If you can handle it, the crowds are a bit sparser at midday, so if you're looking for a more intimate time with ze temples, that's the time to go! 

However, the temples are always busy, so I wouldn't get your hopes up too much ;) 

One thing that I found a bit difficult to deal with was the hordes of children selling things like bracelets, guide books, bongos, postcards and magnets. Their wares were usually pretty cheap, so I felt guilty not buying anything, but it's that awkward feeling of not wanting to perpetuate them staying out of school when they can make so much money off of tourists this way. 

'Okay lady, you buy four for one dollar. Okay lady, you buy four for one dollar. Okay lady...' 

It's a bit exhausting. I ended up buying some stuff, but I didn't really know how to feel about it.

Anywho, obviously the temples themselves are amazing as one of the wonders of the world ;) 

Definitely a must-see!

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ah, Siem Reap. What a funny and wonderful place you are. 

We arrived in the city late on our first night, so we were able to see the city in all it's lit-up splendour. It's kind of like a mini-Vegas in some parts, with large tacky hotels lining the airport road and lights strung up everywhere. 

We stayed at the Golden Banana Hotel, which is def not a backpacker place. It has an amazing pool and gorgeous trees everywhere - again, I was spoiled! Ah, what a life. 

Pub Street

On our way to pub street, we stopped at a Mexican restaurant called xxx for the best (and only) Mexican food I have had in a loooong while, along with $1.50 daiquiris. Amazeballs. 

We then hit up pub street and all of it's fabulousness. We stopped at a place for $1 draft beers that had a Filipino Journey cover band. So good. 

We ended up at the infamous Temple bar, and I soon joined the crowd dancing on the street. There was a huge group of flamboyant Cambodian guys who had dances to all of the pop hits, so we all followed along (or at least tried to) in rows behind them. So much fun! 

Night Market

There is obvi a huge night market here, complete with a neon sign and flashing arrows pointing you in the right direction. It has the same loverly touristy souvenirs along with some knock-off purses and head phones. 

The city itself is huge and has a good energy to it. The prices seem a bit more than in Laos - for example, my dorm is $6 a night instead of the usual $4 - but you can still find some good street food (curry, noodle soup, etc) for $2. 

There are tons of more high-end western hotels and restaurants for those who are craving a taste from home as well! 

I stayed at a cool place called Downtown Siem Reap Hostel, which even had a pool(!) and regularly had live bands playing. 

Someone pointed out an awesome running path next to the river as well, which has cool sculptures and parks along the route. 

Overall, Siem Reap is a bustling city with a good vibe and a great party scene. Can definitely understand how people get stuck here! 

If you are here on the weekend, you MUST check out the Khmer Circus and the concert at the children's hospital - I misse out on this, but heard amazing things about both!

Temple Tour in Cambodia

During my time in Phnom Penh, I met one of the travel writers for the Lonely Planet aka every backpackers bible. 

He was heading out for a tour of the more remote and less-visited temples with a few of his friends that were in town and asked if I wanted to tag along. 

Um, heck yes! 

Kok Nokor Temple

Kok Nokor is a 7th century temple, so it is actually pre-Angkorian. 

It is quite a small site, but interesting nonetheless. 

The architecture is very similar to Angkor Wat, so it was a good introduction to this temple style. 

It is def in the middle of nowhere, but still has a $2 charge. Not really worth it compared to some of the other temples we saw afterwards. 

Monkey Temple 

Someone had the bright idea of walking up the 816 stairs to the monkey temple (me). 

It was a brutally sweaty climb, but it was def worth it to see all of the monkeys at the top! 

There were a bunch of different modern temples at the top of the mountain, with one that had a huge Buddha footprint and a papier mâché tree inside. 

Tres cool. 

Snoul AKA Spider Village

We made a pit stop for lunch at 'spider village', known for selling cooked tarantulas in the market. Obviously, I indulged ;) 

They really weren't too bad - kind of a BBQ after taste. Yum!

We also stopped at a village where they carve statues out of sandstone - so cool to see the unfinished statues lining he dusty road! 

Kampong Thom 

We arrived in Kampong Thom about an hour before sunset, so we dropped our stuff off and went for a boat ride along the river. 

So beautiful! 

Our place wasn't too shabby, either. 

It had a great swimming pool - so necessary in this heat - with cute little bungalows. 

I had my first experience with fish amok at the restaurant. 


Sambor Prey Kuk Temples

There is a new road that has been constructed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to Sambor Prey Kuk, so it has become much easier to get to compared to a few years ago. 

The ADB is also helping construct a market place at the entrance in the hopes of increasing the tourist flow to this temple. 

I thought that these temples were really cool, giving us another taste of Angkorian temple architecture. 

These ones are actually older than those around Siem Reap, so it is recommended to see them first to appreciate he grandeur of the Angkor Wat complex. 

My fave was the temple that has essentially been swallowed by a tree. 

Nature strikes back. 

There were cool octagonal temples here as well. 

I would def recommend making a stop here if you can!

Preah Khan Temples

My fave stop on our tour was at Preah Khan. 

There are two locations of temples. The first is an overgrown temple that still has faces intact. 

So cool! 

The second is a large enclosure with many crumbling temples. 

It's kind of tragic, actually, because they were all still in pretty good condition until the 1980s when treasure hunters came in with modern drills and completely destroyed the foundations and cause them all to crumble. 

The result is a mysterious temple graveyard, of sorts, with trees starting to take over. 

Koh Ker

Our last stop was at Koh Ker, which is about 120km north east of Siem Reap. 

It is a huge temple complex, which you could explore over two days - there is a guest house available there if you choose to go this route. 

We showed up at around 5pm, so we went straight to the site where there is a huge Hindu temple, which resembles a Mayan step temple. 

There are stairs that you can walk up and look out onto the surrounding jungle. 

An awesome place to watch the sunset! 

There are also amazing old temples that lead up to this one, so mysterious in the jungle. 

Overall, I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to see these temples that are off the beaten track - we were the only tourists aside from a few at Koh Ker(!). 

If you have access to a land cruiser or a moto, I would def recommend heading out to some of the more remote temples and not just those near Siem Reap. 

It's amazing to be able to explore temples essentially all by yourself. Loved it!