Every travel itinerary in Cambodia must, by all means, contain Siem Reap and the amazing Temples of Angkor. It is yet another UNESCO protected area and for some the most impressive and memorable of all Southeast Asia’s ancient sites. You can tell by the intro that our hopes and expectations were really high regarding this adventure 🙂 We did not even bother ourselves with the typical budget minded question of buying a one day – 37$, 3 day – 62$ and 7 day- $72 pass. We wanted to see it all and spent as much time as possible in this place but did not have quote as much time as a whole week.
Adventure! Why visit Angkor
Well there is many reasons but to us main ones are:
- Bucket list experience – who does not have it on their list?
- Experience a very magical and spectacular sunrise with most iconic ancient skyline – lotus lake to the front of Angkor Wat is the place to be
- It’s home to impressive architecture, some dating as far back as 12th century
- It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site – and rightly so as it represents an important part of Khmer Empire history
- It’s got some amazing art – you can find almost 2,000 carvings of apsara – celestial female spirits – on its walls, alongside other detailed etchings of Hindu and Buddhist myths. Play an explorer and try to find them all.
- It’s easy to get off the beaten track – the whole complex is located on 163 hectares (1,626,000 m2; 402 acres) of land. You can cycle around for days and still find new places of interest.
- It will leave you amazed and thinking about it for years.
As our newly met friends Julia and Rene opted only for one day pass, so we decided to share a Tuk-Tuk together to do the exhausting dawn to dusk loop. We were so excited that we could hardly sleep – seriously – as we knew that the next day we will see all the major spots in the Angkor complex. We started just after 5 am and got to Angkor Wat Temple by 5:30 am. It was already packed with people – quite unbelievable on one hand but not so much on the other as Angkor is supposed to be the most visited site in SE Asia. For that reason we could not take any strategic position for the sunrise view by the lotus pond but it was still great to just be there anyway. We don’t travel only for the photos right? It that particular moment sunrise at Taj Mahal came to my mind … another majestic ancient building, another fabulous trip;-) Dark silhouette of Angkor came to our view and we could hear people gasping in amazement.
What are the main temples
We spent some time walking around Angkor Wat Temple, admiring architecture of this largest religious structure in the world, its beautiful 5 lotus shaped towers, sculptures, courtyards and bridges. Some smart monkeys were fulling around, stealing water from tourists or grabbing their bags. We then continued to the ancient city of Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple. This beautiful temple with more than 50 Gothic towers and more than 200 enormous smiling faces was just astonishing. We loved the feeling of just wandering around small corridors, people watching and imaging of how this temple must have looked like when it was fully operational. Located very close to the Royal Palace must have been of a great importance. Then Babhuon Temple (shaped as pyramid with great view around from the top platform), Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King and few more small temples followed to just as more details to the Angkorian puzzle. All so ancient and majestic, survived wars and changes of kingdom for centuries. There is a definitely great vibe around this place if someone is into history.
The biggest highlight for us that day though was Ta Phrom Temple and we spent a lot of time just around this area of Angkor Complex. Still looking undiscovered and not reconstructed this temple lies in embraces of a centuries old jungle. This place gives you real Lara Croft or Indiana Jones experience and even more. You may even imagine that you are a discoverer of this place…well maybe if you can erase all the loud, Chinese tourist from your mental picture 😉 Nevertheless with the soft afternoon light upon this place it looked amazing and it is by far our favorite place in the whole complex. We always opt for the most authentic and Ta Phrom Temple with its giant tree roots coming out between stones, moss and creepy plants all over its corridors and with its walls crumbling down is unquestionable winner for us. It is also one of the few temples, that we would really want to come back to one day;-) We were supposed to finish our day at Pre Rup Temple for sunset but when we got there we decided that Angkor would be a better spot so we changed the plan 😉
It was a long day but worth every minute and every drop of sweat in this unmercifully hot weather (must have been like 40C). We were so tired the next day that we felt like staying in and just doing nothing. We visited few markets and had some nice food in the center but that was about it. Good thing about 3 day pass is that it is really valid for a week so you don’t have to use it in 3 consecutive days. We really wanted to see the Apsara Dance Show when in Cambodia and we already missed our chance in Phnom Penh. Theatre ticket in Siem Reap is around 40$ but we managed to find a place in the Pub Street area that provided 2h show free of charge (there is a lot of places like that around actually). You only have to order some food which to our surprise was not awfully expensive. Temple Restaurant is located at the beginning of the Pub Street and serves Cambodian and western food. We came to the point that we really craved a good pizza and they had real pizza stone oven so we had one. Together with a pitcher of Angkor beer and this beautiful show it was a perfect evening in town, which we, by the way, really got to like.
We didn’t want to only limit ourselves to the main Angkor complex so we decided to cycle 15km out of town to see pre-Angkorian Rolous Group. We probably should have gone there first to keep the chronological order of our trip but nonetheless it was a great trip. The temples are maybe not as spectacular as main Angkor temples but they have huge historical importance in Khmer culture. As the earliest large stone temples they mark the beginning of Cambodian art. We also loved the experience as they were almost completely deserted. Maybe not so many people make an effort to go there but for us it was quite something. As I said – we love every place that looks authentic and this temples don’t lack it at all. Some of the smallest temples were not even restored but only supported on wooden stilts. Tomek keeps saying that overall this place was much more interesting for him than any of the other ones. You are probably interested in how the cycling went, ha? Well, to our surprise it was much cooler to cycle than to walk or sit in a Tuk-Tuk so we quite enjoyed it and 30 km is not that much to do in a day;-) We completely recommend doing it yourself even in boiling weather.
So the hopes were high and the outcome was great as well. We totally enjoyed this experience and we loved the temples a lot. If we were to do it again we would have probably gone just by bicycle and start with to all the little crumbling temples at first and then finish with the main, famous and crown temples. No matter how it is done and how much time you have to see them, one thing is certain – you will leave Angkor with a felling that you have just visited the Royalty of all the Temples In The World.
Useful travel tips
- Currency: Cambodia uses USD. There’s no real need to carry the local currency, Cambodian Riels (KHR), unless you paying for really small things on the street
- Hostel/ guesthouse prices: dorm rooms in Siem Reap start around $2 USD per night for a basic room with a fan and cold shower room. For a private bathroom with hot water, expect to pay closer to $15 USD per night. Free WiFi is generally standard, and a few hostels also include free breakfast. Pools are great to have and quite common.
- Average cost of food: there are loads of food options within the temple complex (though prices are higher than in the city). You can easily find restaurant meals in the $5-7 USD price range. And, around the temples, you will find little stands with cheap meals for about $2-3 USD. fresh fruit and juices are everywhere around for as little as $1.50 USD.
- Transportation costs: Tuks-tuks can be hired all over the place and they will charge around $25 USD per day. Bicycles are another way to explore the complex, with prices around $2 USD per day.
- Suggested daily budget: $30-50 USD assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating cheap street food, and using local transportation. You can easily spend more when staying in fancy accommodation, taking organised tours, eating and drinking in expensive restaurants.