TBJ TRAVELS CAMBODIA 1: Hello, Siem Reap, Cambodia + Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom Tour + Travel Guide
When I was young, my mom bought me a big book called World Atlas; when you flip it open you can sit on top of the pages while reading and it gives you the feeling that you're traveling to the featured places. There's one particular chapter called TOP LANDMARKS TO VISIT AROUND THE WORLD and Angkor Wat is one of them; I've always found it - as well as the other featured landmarks - amazing that I vowed right then and there that when I grow up, I will lay my eyes before these landmarks. Last month, I finally saw Angkor Wat in the flesh as my boyfriend took me to Cambodia for my 27th birthday; it was a 4 days/3 night trips filled with wonder and I wish to share them with all of you this week!
We flew via Cebu Pacific and arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia at around 11 P.M. Our hotel of choice was Bamboo Angkor Boutique; we booked via Booking.com and according to the site, our booking included a Free Airport Pick-Up, but the hotel never picked us up due to miscommunication and language barriers; good thing the hotel was very near the airport and taxi in Cambodia is fairly cheap (we paid $10 only for a taxi ride from the airport to the hotel). The hotel staff apologized to us the day after.
Bamboo Angkor Boutique is one of the highly- rated affordable hotels in Siem Reap; it isn't exactly affordable, if you're going to ask backpackers and budget travelers who are more 'budget' than me, but for P5,000+ for three nights, the pretty good service, decent food, and good amenities, it's an amazing deal for me already.
Al Fresco area of Bamboo Angkor Boutique.
The bathroom, unfortunately, is not that stellar as the shower drainage is faulty: it's too small for the amount of water that comes out the shower, which in turn causes flooding at the back of the toilet; it's pretty manageable though and the hotel staff are always eager to clean the area every morning, and they even apologized for the faulty drainage system.
Overall, Bamboo Angkor Boutique is not bad for its price (plus you can settle your bill at the hotel; no need for advanced booking nor credit card!) and I don't mind staying in here again, but I'd love to explore other hotels just because lodging in Siem Reap is generally cheap!
Now let's go Temple hopping in Siem Reap's famed temples!
ANGKOR WAT TOUR
At 8 A.M., we set out into the hot Cambodian sun to accomplish our half day temple tour. We booked our temple tour via the hotel; as for the tour, it's $20 for a half day tour including a tuktuk and free water, and around $40 if you want to have a tour guide on board. Whole day tours are around $50.
TIP 1: Hire a tuktuk; you'll get to save more money!
TIP 2: If you want to save even more money, read up on the history of Siem Reap's temples before visiting so you don't have to hire a tour guide anymore.
TIP 3: Wear sunscreen, bring sunglasses, bring an umbrella, bring bottled water/water bottle, and bring a towel; it can get really hot in Cambodia plus you'll stay outdoors most of the time!
Before you begin with your tour, the Tuktuk driver will take you to a ticketing office. The most recommended option is to purchase day passes for better savings; we only opted for the One Day pass; these passes will grant you entrance to all the temples within the city, except Beng Melea and Banteay Srei just because they're located near the mountains already and they're counted as separate trips.
TIP: You can't purchase tickets at the temples; only at the ticketing office.
Welcome to Angkor Wat! You're seeing here the gate to the main temple; it's a 2 km walk from here to the main temple.
Angkor Wat is considered as the biggest religious monument in the world and arguably the largest testament of Hindu and Buddhist faith; at 500 hectares, it was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, by King Suryavarman II of the ancient Khmer Empire; it was a state temple and rumor has it that the king intended it to be his mausoleum as well as the temple's main entrance is facing the West and the site itself is located at the South. Angkor Wat is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site and symbol of Cambodia.
Angkor Wat is a splendid display of Khmer architecture and continues to give us a preview of what ancient wisdom truly is.
The site plan of the temple is square within a square to house galleries upon galleries and various artifacts.
There are a lot of Buddha statues around the area; you might be wondering why this is the case given that it is a Hindu temple; it is because Angkor Wat eventually evolved into a Buddhist temple and continues to be one until present day Cambodia.
TIP: Talk in moderate volume; don't shout; don't pass in front of people who are praying; don't deface the statues, walls, and artifacts.
One of the many pools around the temple; the pools used to serve royal guests, but they're of no use anymore.
Now here we are at the main temple grounds; these are the most visible peaks of the temple; the five grand temples represent Mount Meru, a mythical mountain in Hinduism that is home to Devas (deities). Check out how massive these things are!
Angkor Wat is home to the big, extensive bas reliefs; one series recounts the story of King Suryavarman's epic battles and one tells the story of the churning of the ocean of milk, a Hindu myth.
We spent about 3 hours going around Angkor Wat and that includes short and lengthy rests in between; it's better to explore this temple first thing in your tour just because it's massive.
TIP: Never hire a tour guide outside the temples because they may charge higher and chances are, they can barely speak English and barely know the history of the temple. If you want to hire a tour guide, inquire at the ticketing office. Official tour guides are wearing uniforms and an I.D.
BANTEAY KDEI TOUR
After a brief lunch at Sras Srang, a dried up man made lake somewhere near the temple complex, we headed to one of the lesser visited temples called Banteay Kdei.
Banteay Kdei is also called the "Citadel of Monks" as it was occupied by Buddhist monks for prayer and formation until the 1960's, but the real reason why it was built was unknown, according to academic sources.
Banteay Kdei is actually a photogenic temple! It's a must visit if you want to take a break from the crowds of the bigger, more popular temples.
ANGKOR THOM TOUR
Angkor Thom or the "Pantheon of spirits" is a walled temple city; a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that Angkor Thom is a temple like Angkor Wat, but for the sake of clarification, Angkor Wat is a temple on its own and Angkor Thom is a place comprised of many temples.
A lasting legacy built by King Jayavarman VII, Angkor Thom was once a capital of the 12th century Khmer empire. The city has about 11 temples.
Bayon is believed to be the gateway between heaven and earth, and is located exactly at the center of Angkor Thom.
Bayon is known as the temple with many faces; it is even believed that the faces are that of King Jayavarman VII himself.
There are a lot of temples inside Angkor Thom, but our trip didn't cover the minor temples; only the big ones.
P.S. I hope you can withstand temple fatigue!
TA PHROM TOUR
Formerly called Rajavihara, Ta Phrom was built by King Jayavarman VII as a monastery and university, as well as a temple dedicated to his family; much of the temples walls, gates, and sculptures represent and are meant to symbolize either the king's mother, father, brother, and mentor.
Ta Phrom was intentionally abandoned to the forest that embraced it and trees that grew on top of the temples over the years; scholars and conservation groups thought that it's best to leave the temple in its unique condition, a dramatic tableau of how man and nature are one, but there's no denying that the temple is slowly decaying and falling apart; today, a partnership with Archaeological Survey of India and government of Siem Reap started a rehabilitation for one of Siem Reap's most iconic temples.
A Spun grew on top of one of the satellite temples already; Ta Phrom rose to popularity when this specific area was feature in the movie Tomb Raider!
Just outside the walls of Angkor Wat is Ta Keo, a temple built in the Khleang style by King Jayavarman V; it's actually older then Angkor Wat; we never got to visit the inside already as we came from Ta Phrom a couple of minutes before and we could barely feel our legs already!
Drop dead, like literally at a massage parlor at Pub Street; if you want to visit all the temples including the ones outside Siem Reap alone, you prolly need about 3-4 days! As for us, we only visited the main ones; more reasons to go back to one of my favorite cities in Asia, Siem Reap. :)
Tomorrow, let's go nature tripping at Siem Reap's famous Phnom Kulen mountain!
Sharing with you the cost of our Siem Reap tours including the major transportation expenses. Please note that this may vary depending on the current exchange rate.
Check out my other Siem Reap, Cambodia diaries:
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