An Amazing Four Days in Siem Reap
For my birthday, Alex and I spent four days in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was our first trip to South East Asia, and exploring Siem Reap has whetted our appetite for more adventures in S.E. Asia! We had a WONDERFUL time!
Highlights from our trip:
Our hotel: The breakfast buffets were AMAZING! Fresh pineapple and watermelon juice, wonderful coffee, fresh-cut mangoes, dragon fruit, pineapple and watermelon, and pain au chocolat! There was even a guy playing a roneat (Cambodian Khmer xylophone) while we ate every morning. Lounging around the pool was just what we needed after a day full of sightseeing.
- Angkor Thom complex: Angkor Thom was the old capital city of the Khmer Empire. It’s HUGE. We were thankful we hired a driver who took us from our hotel to Angkor Thom, and drove us around the complex. He had a cooler full of bottled water so that we could stay hydrated. When we arrived at the Bayon Temple around 9 AM, it was already very crowded with loads of Chinese and Korean tour groups. It was hot and humid, and I swear I have NEVER sweat that much in my entire life! Bayon Temple is in the exact center of Angkor Thom, and it’s very famous because of the 216 stone faces atop the many towers. Alex and I thought it was very strange that the original steps (to all the temples we saw) were very steep and shallow (almost not even the length of MY foot)- maybe they couldn’t quite figure out how to build steps back then? The wooden steps that are placed over the original steps are still extremely steep. It was scary climbing up and down! The Baphuon Temple and Elephant Terrace were beautiful!
Ta Prohm: This temple has a “flat” layout and hasn’t really been restored. It’s mostly ruins with HUGE trees growing out from the rubble. It’s amazing that the trees could grow from rock, without much soil. Because it’s overrun with trees, there was almost an eerie feeling to Ta Prohm. Angelina Jolie’s movie “Tomb Raider” was set here.
Angkor Wat: Before seeing Angkor Wat, I had read a bunch of reviews on Tripadvisor. And to my surprise, it actually wasn’t voted the #1 (or even in the top 5) attraction in Siem Reap. So, Alex and I didn’t have high expectations since we had read that it was overrated. Our driver dropped us off at the back entrance of Angkor Wat, right after lunch, around 3 PM, the hottest time of day. I was so hot that I had to find a place to sit in the shade, but there wasn’t a breeze! We wanted to drink more cold water but we were so full on our lunch of curries and fruit shakes that we couldn’t drink anything. Angkor Wat is impressive just by the sheer size of it! It is THE biggest religious monument in the entire world!! It was originally built as a Hindu temple but then was converted to a Buddhist temple. It was amazing walking around something that was built almost a millennium ago! Since we were walking from the back entrance to the front, as we exited the main complex and turned around, we saw the front of Angkor Wat, exactly how it’s depicted in movies and paintings. It sounds cliche, but I think Angkor Wat was our favorite.
Pre Rup: We went to this temple after Angkor Wat, since it’s supposed to be one of the best spots to view the sunset. However, it was getting cloudy so there wasn’t much of a sunset. Alex and I climbed to the top, snapped some pictures, and were ready to go back to the hotel for a nice shower. The unique thing about this temple is that stone has a reddish hue.
Beng Mealea: This huge temple was about an hour or so away from Siem Reap. We went on a recommendation from our friend Aubrey, who said it was her favorite temple. We took the “scenic” route to Beng Mealea, through some of the poorest areas of Siem Reap. We saw the THINNEST cows we’ve ever seen- the ribs looked like they were about to poke through the skin at any moment. The traditional Cambodia home is built on stilts, not for the rainy season, but for a cool place to take a nap, in the shade. Beng Mealea hasn’t really been restored. There’s a wooden walkway around some of the ruins, but you’re free to climb over the ruins and explore on your own. There were many overgrown trees. Since this temple is sort of “out of the way,” there weren’t any large tour groups.
Banteay Srei: This small, red sandstone temple has some of the best preserved carvings. It’s amazing how detailed the stone facades are! Banteay Srei is called the “women’s temple.” I personally really loved this temple because of the intricate stone carvings (it has the same detail as fine wood carvings!).
Preah Khan: We weren’t originally going to see this temple, but I’m really glad we did! The temple layout is a flat design, with four corridors (one from each cardinal direction) meeting in the center. The temple was dedicated to the king’s father, so it’s called the “father’s temple.” It used to be elaborately decorated with gemstones and pearls, which were embedded into the stone pieces. Now, all that’s left are the stone pieces themselves, with empty holes where the jewels used to be.
Pub Street: Our hotel was a ten minute walk to the Pub Street and Night Market. Alex and I really enjoyed the food in Siem Reap. We loved the different curries as well as the mango salads. Of course, we had fresh fruit shakes with every meal. I’m still sad to be back in Korea, in the land of kimchi and spicy stews!
- Massages: It was awesome to sit down to a 30 minute foot massage (at only $3 each!) after a long day of temple sightseeing! We did this every night, and on our last day in Siem Reap, we splurged for the full body massage! I had an oil message while Alex had a traditional Khmer massage. It was very relaxing, and cheap!
- Crocodile Farm: We were curious, so our driver took us to the crocodile farm. There were A TON of crocodiles, separated into different enclosures based on their age (and size). They looked really creepy and many slept with their mouths open. There was an option to buy a live chicken for ten dollars to feed them but I just wanted to get as far away from them as possible! We did end up eating Khmer BBQ, and one of the meats was crocodile. Tastes just like chicken! Really!
- Tuk tuk ride: In Cambodia, riding a tuk tuk (a motorcycle with a cabin attached- that can seat four people) is very cheap and convenient. It’s the most common form of transportation in Siem Reap. Alex and I thoroughly enjoyed our tuk tuk ride to Preah Khan. It was nice to go at a slower pace than riding in a car, to be able to take in our surroundings.
- Phare the Cambodian Circus show: We really enjoyed this show, a cross between gymnastics, acrobatics, and circus. The performers are trained by a school run for troubled teens. It’s for a great cause and it was very entertaining!