Siem Reap was the first of my travels this year. I couldn’t decide whether it came at the time I needed it the most or the least. I have been dealing with grief for the past few months. My favourite person in the world left unexpectedly. Coping with death has not been easy. In a single moment, it felt like my whole world just turned upside down. My friends insisted that I join them for the trip. A getaway would help take my mind off things, they said. Reluctantly I agreed.
This time we flew into Cambodia via Malaysian Airlines, and to be honest, I am glad we picked a full-fledged airline compared to a low-cost one. The space, comfort and inflight entertainment onboard made the journey less arid. Two hours went by quickly, and we found ourselves going through the usual bustle of immigration clearance and luggage pickup. We purchased a local sim from at the airport from Metfone, and it cost us 5 USD for a 7-day prepaid sim with an unlimited internet plan. Mind you, Cambodia’s most common currency used is the US Dollars, so it’s best to visit a money changer before travel.
Our hotel arranged for an airport transfer, and we were pleasantly surprised to find the vehicle to be a Tuk-Tuk. The journey to the hotel reminded me so much of India, but with more structure and better traffic conditions. We stayed in eOcambo Residence which is an upscale boutique hotel designed by a famous Cambodian architect which showcased stylish Khmer décor.
After check-in, we decided to explore the city. We took a walk around the area and ended up having late lunch in Lily’s Secret Garden Restaurant. The cafe exuded simplicity and offered a good selection of vegan and vegetarian food. We ordered the green mango salad together with the fresh spring rolls. The food was incredibly fresh and delicious. Pricing was slightly higher than expected, but it can be compensated because of its sound quality.
We arranged for a tour guide from Sam Tuk Tuk & Tours. The owner himself, Mr Sam recommended purchasing the entrance tickets to the Angkor Wat temple complex a day before our visit. He then drove us to the ticket counter, and we each paid 37 USD (yes increased from 20USD!) for the one day pass. Each entry fee covers all 72 of the temples found on site.
Next, we headed to Srah Srang to visit the ancient Hindu temple Pre Rub. It was built in the 10th Century by King Rajendranman II and is dedicated to the Hindu God Lord Shiva. The temple consists of a pyramid-shaped temple-mountain with the uppermost of the three tiers carrying five lotus towers. Pre Rup means ‘Turning the Body’ and refers to a traditional method of cremation. This suggests that the temple may have served as an early royal crematorium. Pre Rup is one of the most famous sunset spots around Angkor, as the view over the surrounding rice fields of the Eastern Baray is beautiful.
The very next day, we woke up at 4 AM to visit the top attraction in the country. The majestic Angkor Wat Temple complex. The hotel staff were incredibly sweet to pack breakfast in lunch boxes. The journey from the hotel to the complex took us an approximate of 30 minutes. We found ourselves walking in the dark with plenty of other tourists. Luckily Mr Sam gave us a flashlight, and we headed in with the crowd. The air was fresh and crisp, unusual to the weather condition we experienced in Siem Reap. As the sun began to rise, the iconic structure began surfacing. It was one of the most beautiful sunrises that I have ever seen. We stood in awe along with a hundred other tourists, feeling like we travelled centuries back in time.
There we spent the whole day walking and exploring. The architecture, the energy, and the monks give to that place an incredible atmosphere. The highlight was the intricate carvings on the wall which are a unique way of telling stories. The Churning of the Ocean of Milk is a bas-relief scene which can be spotted in the southern part of the east gallery at Angkor Wat. It derives from a myth from Hindu epic Mahabharata, depicting the elixir of immortality.
Here are some interesting facts on Angkor Wat.
1. Spread over an area of 400 acres, Angkor Wat, which translates to ‘City of Temples’ is the largest religious monument in the world.
2. Constructed in the early 12th century by Khmer King Suryavarman II, it is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Originally a Hindu temple, then later turned into a Buddhist temple and still used as a place of worship until today.
3. Unlike other temples in the region that faces east, the temple is oriented to the west which is associated with death in Hindu culture. This direction faces sunset, which adds to its beauty and attracts many visitors at that time.
4. The construction of Angkor Wat was built without the aid of machinery. Five million tons of sandstone were used, and it has taken over 35 years with the help of 300,000 labourers and 6,000 elephants to build this incredible structure.
5. Paramount Pictures paid $10,000 a day to film in the temple Ta Prohm for the film ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. It was after the filming in Cambodia that Angelina Jolie made the decision to adopt her son Maddox.
6. Angkor Wat went through years of looting, and many statues were decapitated for sales of private collectors. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, which encouraged an international effort to prevent further damage.
Although Angkor Wat temple is the most well-known among the tourists, the Angkor Wat complex includes Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Prohm, etc., which are equally enthralling. It is advisable to spend one whole day to explore the beauty and complexity of the temples.
Next day, we headed up the slopes of Kulen Mountain. The journey from the city to the Kbal Spean took us 2 hours by road. We enjoyed the scenic drive through rice fields and rural villages as we made our way to the first stop. The highlight was the 1000 lingas, reclining Buddha temple and followed by a refreshing dip in the Phnom Kulen Waterfall.
We spent the next day exploring their local cuisine. One restaurant worthy of mention is Mie Cafe, an impressive Cambodian eatery offering fusion take on traditional flavours. Their Khmer chicken curry (very similar taste to Thai Green Curry) had a right blend of spicy and creamy. Another favourite of mine was the fried banana topped with vanilla ice cream. Theirs was notably different because they drizzled it with passionfruit compote, which made it extra tasty!
Another favourite spot in Siem Reap is the vibrant Pub Street. The nightlife scene comprises lively bars, cocktail lounges, international restaurants and nightclubs that stay open until 4 AM every day. If loud music doesn’t sound appealing to you, just a walk down the street offers plenty of massage parlours and beauty salon. We were so excited when we found nail parlours offering manicure and pedicure services from as low as 10 USD.
Also, before leaving Pub’s Street, don’t forget to try the fried ice cream rolls!
On the very last day before flying back to KL, we spent the day lazing by the pool, chilling and reading. After all, what’s a holiday if it doesn’t involve some rest and relaxation, am I right? 🙂
Let me know in the comment box below if you enjoyed this post or if I missed any must see in Siem Reap. If you are looking to explore other regions in South East Asia, don’t forget to catch my earlier article Lombok Island: An Indonesian Paradise.
Signing off for now,