This is a late post that has been in the writing for months. Too much procrastination, travel and other things kept me busy!
Hello you! I’m in a jolly mood, well rested from my two weeks away from work! I’ve just come back after traveling for 16days across three countries. I was in Singapore for a week courtesy a business training which was just an alibi to have a lot of fun. From Universal Studios to Orchard Street to Marina Bay Sands to Clarke Quay – we painted the town blue (company colour). Having been to Singapore before in 2013, I was looking forward to the next leg of my adventure – family vacation for a week in Cambodia and Bangkok. Ideally people cover Cambodia and Vietnam but since we didn’t feel like rushing through Vietnam, we decided to spend a few days relaxing in Bangkok after the tiring travel through Cambodia. Our Cambodian itinerary of 5 days covered Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
Day 1: Siem Reap
It was tricky planning our flights since my parents were flying in from Delhi, sister and brother in law from Bangalore and me from Singapore. We all arrived by mid afternoon in Siem Reap. There are two international airports in Cambodia – one in Siem Reap and one in Phnom Penh. Basis the cheapest flights available, we decided to fly directly to Siem Reap. There is an option to avail Visa on Arrival but we took our visas (fairly simple process) from India itself to avoid standing in long queues at the airport. I didn’t see much difference in the time taken by us and the VOA folks, so one may choose not to do that too!
Usually most tourist try to cover Cambodia and Vietnam, in which case the ideal route to travel would be flying to Siem Reap then taking the road to Phnom Penh and thereafter onward by road to Vietnam. We decided to forego travelling to Vietnam and instead chose to travel onward to Bangkok.
We booked this really cute Airbnb and reached the place from the airport in 20minutes in a tuk tuk sent by the Airbnb caretaker.
Our AirBnB was an old wooden Cambodian house that seemed right out of the a dream. We had the entire house to ourselves with the caretaker living on the ground floor and we occupying the three rooms on the first floor. I was in awe on arriving at the Airbnb.
We quickly got ready to go buy our Angkor Temple Complex pass so that we could visit the temple at sunrise the next day. There are multiple types of passes – 1 day, 3 days, 5 days, 7 days. We bought the 3 days pass each for $62. Another amazing thing about Cambodia is that the currency used is a mix of their own and USD. So, there is no need to buy local currency as long as you have US Dollars.
Our plan for the day was to visit the Banteay Srei Temple which is also a part of the Angkor Temples but is about 20-25 Kms away from the other temples that are clustered around each other. The clustered temples have been broken into two routes and most tuk tuks/tours/guides take you along either one in a single day.
Lonely Planet – considered by many to be the jewel in the crown of Angkorian art, Banteay Srei is cut from stone of a pinkish hue and includes some of the finest stone carving anywhere on Earth. Begun in AD 967, it is one of the smallest sites at Angkor, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in stature. The art gallery of Angkor, Banteay Srei, a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, is wonderfully well preserved and many of its carvings are three-dimensional. Banteay Srei means ‘Citadel of the Women’, and it is said that it must have been built by a woman, as the elaborate carvings are supposedly too fine for the hand of a man.
It took us about 25-30 minutes from the Angkor Ticket Counter to Banteay Srei. We decided to this temple without a guide as it isn’t as elaborate as the other temples. The temple is relatively smaller when compared to the other Angkor temples but definitely stands out as the colour and carvings are very different from the temples in the Angkor complex. It took us about 40 minutes to cover the entire temple.
From the temple we proceeded to the Landmine Museum, which is about 15 minutes from the temple. The Landmine Museum has on display the many landmines that the founder has found and diffused all throughout Cambodia (planted during the wars that hugely impacted Cambodia). With potentially 5,000,000 still in the ground, landmines have immensely impacted the history and culture of this amazing society.
Post this we headed back to the Siem Reap Market to the famed Pub Street to relax the night.
The street is perfect to eat, drink and chill out after a long day exploring the temples. We, also, checked out the supermarts near the street and found alcohol prices even cheaper than the duty free.
The second day of our visit started with the bucketlist item we were there to check mark – Sunrise at Angkor Wat!! We reached around 5AM and the sun was already rising. There were atleast a thousand tourists there waiting to catch the perfect shot of the sun rising above Angkor Wat.
We spent close to 3 hours exploring Angkor Wat. The temple is huge and our guide had a lot of stories to tell us. After a quick breakfast break we headed on to Angkor Thom to visit the second most famous temple in the complex – Bayon!
We walked from Bayon Temple around the Angkor Thom complex to the other temples in the vicinity which were still in the process of being properly restored.
Post this we were pretty exhausted but decided to wait it out till sunset at the Phnom Bakheng. But honestly this was a bad decision. We waited for long at the temple for a sunset that was a disappointment because the sun set behind the clouds.
We were super exhausted by the end of the day. Firstly, it was extremely humid – we were constantly dehydrated. Secondly, since Angkor Wat required knees to be covered we wore maxi dresses and long skirts which quite frankly killed us! We moved to cotton pants for the next day. Thirdly, from sunrise to sunset – it was really exhausting. If you have time – I’d suggest exploring the complex over 5 days.
We ended the day with a much needed drink at the Pub Street.
For our last day exploring the temples, we decided to take it easy. We woke up and ate a traditional cambodian meal prepared by our caretaker. Post breakfast, we proceeded to the temples at around 9AM with the target to complete the other temples by lunch time.
We were covering the other circle of temples today. We started with Angkor Thom – the one I was dying to see. Angkor Thom or the Tomb Raider Temple where the movie was shot. The temple is famous because it displays the power of nature with large tree roots growing over the temple ruins and giving it a beautiful and haunted look! Definitely a highlight of this visit.
We spent a considerable time in Ta Phrom just because it was such a photogenic temple. From here we went on to visit all the other smaller temples in this circle – Banteay Kdei, Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, Preah Khan. Of these I found the first three only worth visiting, the others seemed repetitive. Ofcourse, if you have 5 days to spend here exploring each temple at leisure should be your plan.
Since we finished our tour of the temples by lunch time, we pretty energetic at night! We decided to explore the various night markets at Siem Reap. We went to two of them and despite being excited to shop a lot, I found the markets pretty disappointing. If you are looking to buy cheap tees (3-4$), cotton printed pants, bags, lights, souvenirs, etc. you will find them all here but not of the best quality. We decided to head to one of the restaurants near the night market for dinner and skip Pub Street which is always super crowded and loud!
The next morning we took a taxi to Phnom Penh and spent 2 days exploring the capital of Cambodia with its dark and scarring history. And onward to Bangkok, about which I will write another day!
Overall the trip was amazing. The people in Cambodia are very nice and warm.
Thanks for putting up with this long blog! Hope you liked it. Leave your comments below!
Some useful Information:
Airbnb – https://airbnb.co.in/rooms/22559678 (loved our stay here because our caretaker was very helpful but since its in the country side we did face an issue with rodents!)
Visa – https://www.evisa.gov.kh/
Angkor Ticket – Physically at the counter as your photo is printed on it (Do not forget to carry the tickets each day as there is pretty strict checking!)
Cambodian History – http://localhistories.org/cambodia.html
Currency – accepts USD everywhere
Month I travelled – March end
Travel – hire a tuk-tuk for shorter distances (2-3$), for longer distances a taxi can be hired
Airport – Angkor International Airport (closest), Phnom Penh Aiport (7-8hrs drive)
Food – Pub street is the best place to find a variety of cuisine!