This post was actually supposed to come out nearly two months back, after my return from Siem Reap. However, life happened and I got really busy with work, more travel and I just did not get the time to write down about my experience. Anyway, here we are and I am repeating what has become my mantra for blog posts now. “Better late than never”. 🙂
Also, since there is a lot that I want to write about, I am splitting the post into two parts. The first one, which is this, will focus only on the sightseeing bit and the places where I went to. Part 2 will be about food and shopping in Siem Reap.
Siem Reap Travel
Planning for the Trip
So, how did the planning start? Randomly actually. I desperately wanted a holiday but did not have a lot of time so one day just decided, how about visiting Angkor and ticking that off my bucket list? Siem Reap is not too far away from Kolkata and can be managed within 3 days. I started checking up on flight fares, hotels etc and then in a conversation with a very old school friend, I brought up the topic. Kasturi, my friend, said that she would arrange for everything because she just started her own travel outfit, The Travelling Life (her IG handle is @the_travelinglife), and I could not have been more relieved. From air fares to hotel and transportation to visa, she took care of everything. And the best thing was that she had free time as well and so we agreed to travel together.
Getting to Siem Reap from Kolkata was not really a breeze. We checked out all affordable options and finally settled on the Air Asia flight to Bangkok and then a connecting flight to Siem Reap. The return flight was via Kuala Lumpur. Since we booked quite late, the fares came to around 25k in total but we also did include 20 kgs luggage. The price goes down a lot if you do away with the checked-in baggage option and can manage only with the cabin baggage allowance of 7 kgs.
Visa is available on arrival but we just found it easier to get an evisa. All you need to do is submit an online application, pay the fee of 36$ and you get the evisa emailed to your ID within a few minutes. In terms of hotel, we selected Saem Siem Reap, a considerably new hotel in the city, located not too far from the city centre.
Well, if you are going to Siem Reap, then the no 1 reason for your travel should of course be the Angkor temple complex. We visited at the end of March and I can tell you that the place was already as hot as a furnace. But I can also tell you that if you want to see the temples relatively in peace without having a bunch of tourists pushing and shoving, Jan to April is actually the best time to visit. Once the rains start and tourist season begins, it just gets crazy. Our guide said that all you can see are heads inside the temple complexes. So, brave the heat and go earlier in the year.
To gain entrance to the Angkor Archaeological Park, you need an admission pass, called the Angkor Pass. That pass is also valid for other monuments in the Siem Reap area, like Phnom Krom and Wat Athvea. The Pass can only be purchased at the official ticket counter which is around 4 kms away from Siem Reap town and open from 4.30 a.m to 5.30 p.m. We bought a 1 day pass for 37$ but if you are staying in Siem Reap for more days, it actually makes sense to get a 3-day pass for 62$ or a 7-day pass for 72$. That way, you don’t have to rush into seeing all the temples in one day and can space out your visits. Most of the temples are open from 7.30 a.m to 5.30 p.m. Angkor Wat is open from 5 a.m to 5.30 p.m making it possible for tourists to witness the sunrise and sunset. We did not go for either because those times are the most crowded and as much as we would have loved to see the sun rise or set against the backdrop of the gorgeous temple façade, standing in a queue for hours just did not make much sense.
The Most Important Temples in the Angkor Complex
Siem Reap is full of temples and if you are staying there for a few days, you can see all of them but if you have only a day or two, then I would suggest you absolutely see the following which is what we did.
- Angkor Wat – the largest of the lot and easily takes about 2-3 hours if you want to see everything so go early in the morning. Don’t forget to click a picture of the façade at the water lily pond in front of Angkor Wat but just be prepared to jostle for space because a crowd of tourists will also be waiting at the exact spot to click that perfect shot.
- South Gate Angkor Thom – Angkor Thom (big city) was once the Khmer capital and the south gate is a masterpiece. It is approached via a causeway and on each side of the causeway are railings fashioned with 54 stone figures that depict the Hindu mythological story of the Churning of the Ocean.
- Bayon – This temple is at the heart of Angkor Thom and best known for the gigantic face sculptures that adorn its 37 surviving towers. The faces are thought to represent Avalokiteshvara, a Buddhist deity.
- Baphuon – Located in Angkor Thom, northwest of the Bayon, this was the state temple once. It is shaped like a pyramid and is said to be a symbolic representation of Mount Meru.
- Terrace of the Elephants – This is part of the Royal Terrace, a 360 meter long sandstone wall that is carved with life-size sculptures of elephants.
- Terrace of the Leper King – Located to the north of the Elephant Terrace, this terrace is named after a statue of the ‘Leper king’ that originally stood at the centre. Now a replica stands with sculptures of royal dignitaries, priests, nagas and court ladies.
- Ta Prohm – Dubbed the Tomb Raider temple because it provided the mystical backdrop for the 2001 Hollywood hit starring Angelina Jolie, the root-riddled Ta Prohm temple is an incredibly fascinating site. Go here early morning or slightly later in the day to get the entire feel of the place.
For first-time visitors, before exploring the Angkor temples, I would suggest you go to the Angkor National Museum that houses plenty of images, paintings and artefacts. There are 8 galleries and a film screening called Story Behind the Legend that tells the story of Angkor and the Khmer empire. Tickets are priced at 12$.
On our second day in Siem Reap, we visited Koh Ker, the capital of the Angkorian empire from 928 AD to 944 AD. It takes about 2 hours to go to Koh Ker from Siem Reap and since the place is not as popular as Angkor yet, there are very few tourists so you can explore on your own.
The main structure of Koh Ker is the Prasat Thom, a seven-tiered temple very similar in appearance to the Mayan temples of South America but on the way there are plenty of temples that you must visit because they house some of the largest Shiva lingas in Cambodia. Unfortunately, no restoration work has been carried out in Koh Ker so the place is not as maintained as Angkor but I found the entire complex to be incredibly interesting. If you are fond of archaeology, history and old ruins, definitely add Koh Ker to your Siem Reap itinerary. You can also climb on top of the seven-tiered temple for great views of the countryside. Entrance is free.
Siem Reap is famous for Angkor Wat and Bayon but there are actually a lot more to see there. I did not know about the pink Banteay Srei or lady temple which I heard is exquisite or Phnom Bakheng, popular for sunrise and sunset viewing. Maybe next time.
That turned out to be a very long blog post but I just wanted to share all the details. Watch out for Part 2 where I will write about the food and shopping scene in Siem Reap.
If you want to visit Siem Reap or other places in Cambodia and want a relaxed, comfortable and hassle-free holiday, ask Kasturi of @the_travelinglife to do everything for you. The best tour planner ever!