The last leg of my one week trip to Thailand and Cambodia was 2 days in Siem Reap. I grew up in India where temples are abundant and I was not sure whether more temples was a good idea, but I have always wanted to see Ankor Wat.
I arrived at Siem Reap at 9PM. The airport is small but very rustic and artfully done. I checked into the Siem Reap hostel and headed straight to the night market. Night market and Pub St are the most happening places in this small town.
After dinner and a drink at Picasso Bar, I headed to Pub St. Here, there are street stalls selling alcohol. Western tourists hangout at these stalls and invite more people to join their parties . Siem Reap looks like any other small town in India. It’s a weird experience for someone not from the first world nations because people were drinking and dancing on the streets of a small town whose plumbing is so-so and the streets stink (maybe because of the rain when I visited). What is so special or exotic about this except the $1.50 drinks? I would never drink in such places in India or California where I currently live. Confused, I met with a few travelers and had a couple of drinks anyways. Most people I met were Canadians, flying away from the Canadian Winter! I went back to my room past midnight knowing that my sunrise plans were not going to materialize.
Faces of Bayon
Next day, I hired a tuk-tuk in front of the hostel and headed off to the temple complex. Cambodians are really genuine people and my driver Kau was no exception. His tuk-tuk bike was a Bajaj boxer, which is an Indian bike and we bonded over “Hamara Bajaj”.
Bayon in Angkor Thom with it’s smiling faces turned out to be my favorite temple. I particularly enjoyed shooting here and also guided my guide to shoot a couple of pictures of me. The gates to the temple are huge with faces on all four sides. The temples and Gods in Cambodia are massive, with steep steps and unique stone art. They take you back to an ancient age of rulers and religions and the mighty Khmer dynasty. Cambodia’s religion is a mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism even though it is called Buddhism.
The Bayon temple was originally built as a Buddhist temple but later modified into a Hindu temple when the rulers changed. While these smiling faces have 4 faces and seem to represent the 4 faced Hindu god Brahma, they are actually a combination of Bramha, Vishnu and Shiva. Third eye of Shiva is distinctly represented. As explained by the 20-something guide Rum. Do hire a guide in atleast one of the temples, they are energetic and like to talk about Cambodian culture. The temple is very distinct as in the Gods have only faces and do not wear any jewelry.
Ruins of Ta Phrom
Otherwise popular as the Tomb Raider temple, Ta Phrom was used as location for the movie Tomb Raider. Nature and ruins coexist in this 15th century Khmer temple. Huge trees grow around the ruins forming a unique form of art. It is a fascinating experience to walk around this mystical temple!
My last stop for the day was Angkor Wat. Angkow Wat is the most crowded of the Siem Reap temples for obvious reasons. I waited outside until around 4PM for the crowds to recede and was in the temple for the sunset.
There were hordes of tourists in the temples of Siem Reap and it’s almost impossible to get good shots of the temples without people in them. I had to wait around at spots and then crop out the tourists from my pictures.
Sunset is one the of the best times to be in Angkow Wat because the temple stones are lit up by the evening light. Angkor Wat is the largest Buddisht temple complex in the world. Its amusing to think about the strength of the people who built these temples without any modern equipment. No wonder Angkor Wat is considered the eight wonder of the modern world!
Apsaras and windows with cylindrical pillars adorn the temple on all sides. Sun sets on the opposite side of the temple. Watching sunset from Angkow Wat was one of the highlights of my Siem Reap trip. I could walk through these temple corridors endlessly, chasing sunlight and catching the rays. There is music in the stones and it feels as though the dancing apsaras come to life in the evening glory. I wandered around the temple until I was thrown out by the guards.
The next day, I went back to Angkow Wat to watch sunrise. The sunrise was disappointing as there were no colors. After that, I went back to Bayon again as this happens to be my favorite temple. I did go to a couple of smaller temples on what is called the outer circuit, but I was somehow not super excited about visiting more temples.
Haven is a must-visit Siem Reap restaurant. Haven serves Cambodian-Western fusion food and is run by Swiss expats! Great food, communal tables and pours out mind-bending drinks like ginger and chili flavored rice liquor shots!
Khmer Kitchen offers authentic Cambodian food. Amok is served in a fancy coconut shell bowl. While Cambodian food is not as intense as Thai food, it’s definitely cannot-put-my-spoon-down good with the Angkow Wat beer!
Picasso Bar off of Pub St is a small little bar with Western tapas food. If you are craving for something non-Asian on your long journey through Asia, check out this place. It’s also a great place to meet fellow travelers.
1 USD ~= 4000 Cambodian Riel. It’s hard to maintain this kind of cash. The bills run from 50000 a piece to 100 a piece. USD is accepted everywhere and there is no need to convert cash.
Also, accommodation is cheap in Cambodia. There are nice hotel deals with swimming pools and spas for 30-40$. I would not shoestring in Cambodia, atleast for a couple of days during my trip.
Have you ever been more fascinated by the airport than the city? Here is me saying bye-bye to Siem Reap at the beautiful airport!