Travelbloggers guide and top tips for Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
This was to be my second visit to Siem Reap and the temples and ruins of Angkor. Spread out over an area of some 600 acres amidst the tropical humidity of Cambodia it is at once beguiling and mysterious in its state of semi ruin, a state accentuated by the creeping gripping roots of giant fig trees that have embedded themselves into the stonework and structure of so many of these part ruins. Indeed it is this very otherworldly quality that led Hollywood to use it as the location for large parts of the film Tomb Raider.
To sum up my experience of the return to Angkor In a word magical!!
Angkor Wat itself is surrounded by a 650-foot wide moat encompassing a perimeter of more than 3 miles, it is approximately 13 feet deep. This water way adds further to the enchantment of the area as a whole. The trees and roots that add so much drama and structural damage to the remaining temples are those of the Ficus strangulosa tree, a member of the fig family of trees. Although they caused a lot damage to the structure of a lot of the temples, in some they have become so embedded as to become part of the supporting structure. In many it is hard to see how they could be removed at this point, without causing further major damage to the remaining element. They also add to the drama and mystery of the area, having become synonymous with the temples and aesthetic of this region throughout the world.
Angkor was originally conceived in the 12th century by the Khmer Empire as a Hindu Temple in honour of Vishnu. Built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II as his state temple, it would eventually, in death, become his mausoleum. In the 14th century it was converted to a Buddhist temple when adornments of the Buddha were added to the temples. Angkor was also once the capital city of Cambodia, before its eventual relocation to the capital we know today Phnom Penh.
Fossil Spotted this on the lintel of the entrance-way to one of the temples.
Top Travel Tip Many of the itineraries on offer proposed a sunrise visit to the Angkor Wat site on the first morning of visit, this is a mistake as first you have to go and purchase temple passes at what will be one of the busiest times, meaning you end up arriving later when all the best viewing spots have gone. Far better to start a little later on your first morning, assuming a 3 day tour, using this first morning to buy your 3 day pass then set off to visit the various temples in reverse order to the majority of the crowds, whilst still availing of the best light conditions, (frankly any less than 3 days to my mind is not worth travelling half way across the globe for!)
We started on day one at 9 am heading to the ticket office which was virtually empty. We did not make our first visit to Angkor Wat until mid-afternoon on day one, when the sun was lower in the sky and the light softer. We visited again for sunrise the following morning, setting off at 5 am and because we already had our passes driving directly to the entrance way to Angkor Wat. Our guide then brought us to a perfectly located spot on a ledge of one of the outer temples in the grounds of Angkor Wat. As we were the first ones there we got prime position from which to view the spectacular sunrise over Angkor Wat. In fact, before sun up every ledge and step of this temple filled and overflowed, but none had a better spot than the one we occupied.
Faces of The East Gate Angkor Thom
South Gate and main entrance to Angkor Thom
Portrait of a Monk taking shelter from the scorching sun Angkor Wat
The red rings on his arms and back are the result of a traditional Chinese treatment for fever or pain. The technique is called cupping and involves glass cups heated on the inside with fire to create a vacuum and then placed on the afflicted area of the body. The cup’s suction pulls at the skin and is said to “suck out” the body’s toxins.
View from the highest point Angkor Wat
Monk in the high reaches of Angkor Wat takes in the view from an arched opening.The temples of Angkor Wat are still in use today as a place of worship.
Novice monks take school lessons.
Many poorer families in Cambodia will send at least one of their children to spend time as a novice monk in monasteries around the country as a means of both supporting the child and providing him with a free education.
Colonnade Angkor Wat
Top view of South Gate of Angkor Thom
Ficus Strangulosa consumes the walls and archway
During our first meeting with our guide, the evening before our 3 day tour was to start, I had suggested to him that we did not want air conditioning in the car, but would rather just have the windows open. Ever the diplomat Sophanna said, ok let’s see how we go. Day one and a couple of hours in I had completely changed my mind and was so glad of the relief offered by the air conditioned 4×4 and the ice cold eucalyptus soaked and refreshing face towels on offer.
As another requirement of our itinerary we also wanted to visit local villages and markets, but again this requires careful planning as many have become little more than sanitised tourist traps selling a false image of what life is really like for the majority of Cambodians in this region. Having visited the Kompong Khleang community last time I was here I was keen to revisit to see how, and if, things had changed. Being that bit further away from Siem Reap it is also a lot less crowded with tourists, we probably saw about 4 others visitors whilst we were there. From here it is also possible to take a boat trip out onto Tonle Sap Lake and visit a floating village. The inhabitants of this floating village, originally from Vietnam, mainly live off the fish trade. It offers a fascinating glimpse into a traditional and nomadic way of life that has been in existence for many many years. It is also a great way to get a taste for life along the river and offers a unique glimpse into both the construction and day to day comings and goings of the stilt village. My picture post of this visit will be under a separate blog post in order to do it justice.
We flew Air Asia first from Chaing Mai to Bangkok, then following a 2 hour stopover took a direct flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap With both flights taking little more than an hour it saved having to stay in Bangkok.
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Top Travel Tip It is now very easy and cost effective to arrange an e-visa through the Cambodian embassy in London for anyone living in the UK. I used the service for this trip and found it to be very fast and efficient.
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We booked well in advance and got a great deal on a one bedroom apartment at Hotel Chateau d’Angkor. This is a great hotel based in the heart of Siem Reap itself and a short walk from all the main pubs, restaurants and sights that Siem Reap has to offer. Shop around the various hotel comparison sites for the best deals.
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Angkor Tour Guide
As mentioned in the blog after many months of research we finally settled on Sophanna Muon who runs Angkor Tour Guide for our 3 day itinerary. I am now sharing the results of my research and giving you the details to one of the finest guides in Angkor and Cambodia, lucky you who find this!
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I am not going to publish a copy of our itinerary as I believe that part of the adventure and excitement of any visit lies in the construction and planning of an itinerary, but am happy top offer advice and help in the construction of an itinerary for any that might require it, just email me, or post a comment with your contact details, and I will get back to you.
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