Siem Reap & Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Airport Rating N/A
Reception of locals *****
It was a couple of weeks into my cross Cambodia road trip that I finally reached Siem Reap. I had specifically gone with a tour group to ensure I understood the history and meaning of the Angkor Temples, however, even if you go on your own, you can hire tour guides at the temples, something I would definitely recommend.
The first thing I noticed about the city was it was much smaller than some of the larger cities in SE Asia such as Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok. The city it most reminded me of was Chiang Mai with its small roads and large tourist population.
The first night I had a walk around the night market, which is pretty large considering the size of the city and seems to stretch forever. As with other night markets in Cambodia, you can find anything from clothes, to paintings, little souvenirs and food stalls. The night market here is relatively cheap and you can haggle prices at pretty much every stand. I was told to begin at a third of the price and work my way up, which seemed to work well.
Massages are very cheap throughout Cambodia, and it was no different here, a 30 minute foot massage costing less than GBP 2. You can get all sorts from a back massage to head massages (which I couldn't really have with a patka/dastaar).
As with other medium/large cities its important to be on the lookout for pickpockets and also locals and sometimes tourists selling drugs, pretty openly.
As there are quite a lot of lakes nearby, and the area is a malaria hotspot, its also important to take some strong anti-malarial spray. I decided against taking the anti-malarial tablets, mainly because I wasn't sure about the side effects, but I would recommend taking some as mosquitoes are everywhere.
The Angkor ruins are amongst the most famous in the world and date back to the 9th century, although they were only rediscovered in 1901. The complex was the centrepiece of the ancient capital of the country and their beauty and historical importance has seen them being awarded UNESCO world heritage status. The temples are a mix of Hindu and Buddhist influences and their are various statues of Buddha, Brahma and Vishnu.
I got a two day pass for the Angkor temples, something that you need to purchase in the city before you reach the temples. I had heard a lot of good things about Angkor Wat in particular, so I headed out with the group at 4:30am so we could watch the sunrise over the temple.
We got there just before the crowds did so managed to get a good spot on the lake, within 30 minutes the side of the lake was filled with tourists, all looking to get the perfect view. After all the hype, it felt a little anti-climactic, but it did feel good to be a part of such an event, and I'm glad I did it. We then spent the rest of the day going around Angkor Wat, learning about its history, and trying to stay in as much shade as possible.
The grounds of the temple are quite large (covering 160 square kilometres) so I walked around for many hours, some parts involve very steep climbing, and once you are on top, you aren't protected from the sun, so make sure to wear sun cream and bring plenty of water. There are a lot of things to see, and being completely surrounded by temples dating back 800-1000 years ago really does make you feel like you are transported into another world.
Angkor Thom was possibly my favourite temple, a lot of the rock faces have been worn away, but here you could see the carvings quite clearly, even though the temple dates back to the 12th century. A short drive from Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom was much less crowded and the tree cover meant it was cooler and more relaxing.
The temples around here include the one's you may have seen in Tomb Raider films (Ta Prohm) and they are very impressive, especially the Bayon. Some of the rocks are held in position by the way the roots of the tree have grown and look quite precarious but really something special.
I definitely had 'temple fatigue' by the end of the second day, whilst all are very impressive, there will come a point where all you want to do is go back to your hostel/hotel and put your feet up.
The Flight of the Gibbons is a zipline activity through the canopies of the Cambodian jungle, about a 30 minute drive from the city and a couple of the Australian girls, the American and myself decided to give it a go. Compared to the prices of everything else in Cambodia, it is a little surprising to see something that costs close to GBP 100. It was worth the money, though. Safety doesn't seem to be the number one priority, although I never felt like I was ever in significant danger. Some of the trees that you zipline from are the tallest in the jungle, so if you have a fear of heights, this probably isn't for you, however, if you like a little adrenaline, I would definitely recommend trying it out. The guy's that run the activity are fantastic, they really add value to the overall experience and I can't speak highly enough of them. The trees were covered by large ants. I'm not talking a little big, I'm talking gigantic. We were told these ants bite so not to lean on the trees that we were tied to. "I'm hungry", shouted one of the tour guide. He then picked an ant up that was crawling on the tree and put it in his mouth and started chewing. Did that just happen? He then picked up another one and ate that too. He then asked if I wanted one. "No chance".
The whole activity lasts a couple of hours and you get to see Cambodia from a different vantage point.
The city is a good place to kick back and relax, especially after days of temple hopping, Whether you drink or you don't, the nightlife is more than just bars. I went along with a couple of girls from the group who had gone to Angkor Wat together and we had a very fun and relaxed night, I had experienced this in Vietnam, but again in Siem Reap locals were making a big deal about my physique (which is nothing special, I promise), which the girls found hilarious, its a nice little ego stroke, until it becomes uncomfortable, especially when they want to touch your pecs and shake your hand. The city seems to come alive when the sun comes down, with bars blaring out music (both local and Western), street vendors selling their good, massage parlours and a couple of night markets. Just walking around late at night is quite enjoyable and helps you soak in the atmosphere in a way you don't really get in the middle of the day.
There are a lot of activities to do in Siem Reap, and it is so much more than just Angkor Wat, but I will say 'believe the hype', Angkor Wat is definitely worth seeing and exploring for yourselves. A good night market, and a friendly atmosphere meant this was one of my favourite cities in SE Asia.
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British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.