After a less-than-upbeat time in Phnom Phen we ventured north on another six hour bus ride to Siem Reap – famous for being the home to Angkor Wat.
Siem Reap is a pretty touristy place but has some nice character too with night markets, bustling side alleys and for those looking for a big night out: Pub Street. We had a really good curry and found a pretty good Mexican place, where we constructed Diablo Royale style Rickys to cool off in the evening.
One tip that we picked up from fellow travellers was to book a place with a pool. It’s scorching there with temps up to 40C/110F in the middle of the day, so cooling of with a dip after a day site-seeing is key. We stayed at La Niche d’Angkor which was full of old people, but did the trick.
We commissioned our tuk tuk driver to drive us around the wats (temples) for two days (at USD 15 a day) and on the morning of our first day we stopped off via the ticket booth to get our passes (USD 40pp for a three day pass).
Day One – The Main Wats
Starting at 9am, we drove about 15 mins north to Angkor Wat, the most famous of the temples in the area. There’s lots of info online about it and if you with to know more you can read up here. We hired a guide for two hours (USD 15) which was pricey, but turned out to be well worth it. He had fantastic English and knew everything about the place. A lot of people do Angkor Wat for sunrise, but apparently it’s an absolute brawl to get good photo ops, so we decided against it.
You enter over a huge bridge over a moat, and we went inside via the kings entrance and walked along the main concourse towards the famous stupas.
We spent a lot of time waiting for tourists to move along so you can get your photo, but our guide filled the time with interesting stories of the place. My favourite was the one that was depicted just inside the main temple about a king and his monkey army that fought the equivalent of Satan and his demons.
There are beautiful inscriptions and carvings all over the walls and plenty of buddhas.
Interestingly Angkor Wat was around when the country was Hindu and then later became Buddhist, so they have both sets of statues inside and some have been converted from one to the other.
We ventured inside the temples towards the stupas but unfortunately it was full moon when we were there meaning the interiors were reserved for monks only. The views from outside are still great though.
After Angkor Wat we went to Ta Prohm, commonly known as the Tomb Raider temple after some of the Angelina Jolie movies were filmed there.
It’s a fascinating temple, based in the jungle and has become a bit dilapidated as ginormous trees have grown through the temple. They’ve now blended together and restoration occurs around the trees.
Again, this temple is really busy and you have to wait around for your shots, but I think they’re well worth the wait.
We then popped over to Banteay Kdei, another jungle temple where Katie made friends with some of the local kids trying to sell their wares.
With the heat really rising we braved one more temple and headed to Angkor Thom to see the jewel in its crown – Bayon.
This temple is arguably the most impressive in the area, with huge carvings or faces, which can be seen from every direction.
A short walk away is the terrace of elephants, where you can see remnants of what would've been a truly impressive walkway. They've done some restoration on the lions here but still have a long way to go.
Getting back at around 4pm we were truly exhausted and absolutely filthy. A dip in the pool revitalised us and we headed into town to watch Liverpool pummel Man Utd. to complete a great first full day in town.
Day Two – The Smaller, Outlying Wats
Heading out at 7am we aimed to be done before the sweltering heat got too much to bear again. With the main sites ticked off the list our guide showed us around the smaller temples, which fortunately were visited by a lot less people.
Our first stop was Preah Khan which was similar in style to Ta Prohm with the jungle intertwined amongst the stone. There were even a few monks hanging around.
Neak Poan was next. Here they'd built four huge pools of water with sacred animals funnelling water into them from the centre. It's cool to see but it's in need of a lot more restoration.
From here we visited Ta Som, another jungle temple, before going to East Mebon with some intricate details and elephant statues.
Our guide then gave us the choice to go to Banteay Srei which is another 20km away, but it would cost an extra USD 15. Our guide told us he cried the first time he saw this temple and we’d heard the temple was meant to be the best in town, so we went for it. The ride through the countryside was really pleasant and the temple itself was beautiful: well worth the extra money/time.
The carvings here are a lot older and are so intricate.
On the way back we squeezed in our last temple, Banteay Samre, which was deserted and was such a better experience. The only people there were us and some local kids.
We spent our last day in Siem Reap relaxing by the pool, catching up on our Slingbox viewing, shopping for tack in the markets and indulged in a massage at Lotus Dream (which was decent, but not great).
We loved Siem Reap and were sad to leave the great Cambodian people, but Thailand’s islands were awaiting us again. We couldn’t wait to tuck into an authentic pad thai and meet my brother and friend Henry in Koh Tao. Until then…