Prior to our trip to Cambodia in March last year, Angkor Wat had been on my list of must see destinations for years. Well finally getting there and seeing it was unforgettable (do yourself a favour and if you have time, spring for the three-day pass and take some time and just chill in this amazing place). So naturally I jumped at the chance to host a tour for Two’s a Crowd to Cambodia, a five day add-on to their brilliant 12-day Vietnam tour, late last year.
Imagine getting back to Angkor Wat for a second time that year. But Angkor Wat was not the only destination on offer during our five days in Siem Reap.
We actually started our Cambodia experience with a cooking class a short stroll from our hotel. It was a very pleasant morning learning the fine art of Khmer cooking, including rice paper rolls and Amok fish curry. Then of course we all sat down to enjoy our creations with a cold beer. Our afternoon was spent at our own leisure, swimming in the pool at the hotel, shopping in markets, sipping coffee or hailing a Tuk Tuk for a trip to surrounding attractions. Siem Reap actually is very easy to navigate and has so much to offer in the way of restaurants, bars and shopping. As much as it is ‘touristy’ it has a unique charm to it.
It was actually cooler in November, so it made a day touring through Angkor Wat a little less ‘sweaty’. It was equally as impressive and moving on my second visit. A few of us were up early to try and see sunrise. I grabbed us a Tuk Tuk and away we went. I didn’t realise the ticket box location changed and the process of getting tickets took a little longer than anticipated, but we got it sorted then got to Angkor Wat and joined the throng of people waiting for sunrise. It really is quite spectacular, even with all the tourists.
After sunrise it was breakfast and a well earned coffee. Then we waited for the rest of the group to arrive. Once all together we started our tour of the temples. First Angkor Wat of course. It was busy in there but not frantic. We were told the story of the carvings that adorn the walls. Originally built as a Hindu temple in honour of the God Vishnu, by the end of the 12th Century it had become a Buddhist temple. It is actually the largest religious monument in the world.
After Angkor Wat it was of to Bayon. Built in the late 12th century by the Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, it was the official State Temple and the centre of Angkor Thom. Climbing the stairs to the upper terrace brings you to the famous ‘face towers’ of Bayon. They are the smiling face of the deity Lokesvara. The views from up here are just surreal.
A quick stop at the elephant terrace and we were of to Siem Reap for a beautiful lunch and a well-earned rest before heading back to the temple complex to see Ta Prohm, the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple. Walking through this complex, in its untouched state, you see the power of Mother nature. It is a spectacular site with the trees growing through the stone walls. There are many little nooks and crevices you can sit in and just take in the serene surrounds. This is my favourite temple – I could easily spend a day just chilling out here.
Our next day was spent cruising on the Tonle Sap. A huge inland lake that along with the Tonle Sap River connects Siem Reap and Phnom Phen, and further on to connect to the mighty Mekong River. Boat was one of the main forms of transport from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap during the wet season. But now road is the way to go and has replaced the boat trip. It was a nice morning cruising the waterways observing whole villages that live on the lake and rely on the lake for their very existence.
That evening we enjoyed a dinner and traditional Apsara dance show. Telling stories of Khmer culture through music and dance. A perfect way to end a five-day tour in Siem Reap. Still want more to do in Cambodia? Check out our piece on five things to do in this beautiful country.
This tour was an add on to a tour I hosted for Twos a Crowd a tour company in Melbourne, Australia dedicated to the needs of adult solo travellers.
We were in Siem Reap for five days and four nights and stayed at the excellent Steung Siem Reap Hotel conveniently located right in the heart of town.
Highlights were obviously the temples of Angkor Wat but beyond that the amazing array of restaurants, bars and the markets. Oh also the pool at Steung Siem Reap was a great way to refresh and unwind after a long hot morning.
Was it long enough? Well that depends on how long you want to spend at the temple complex. The three days is great if you want to take a packed lunch and just chill out in the temple grounds. But if you feel more than one day would leave you ‘templed out’ then four night is the perfect amount of time to take in Siem Reap.