Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Breathtaking Siem Reap

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After spending our first day in Saigon, my friend, Lor and I headed for Siem Reap in Cambodia. Since we traveled overland, it took around 12 hours (including stopovers in the border and Phnom Pehn) before arriving in Siem Reap. Basically our second day was mostly spent in the bus. So all the sightseeing happened on the third day.

Our hotel arranged our tuktuk and tour guide for us so all we had to do is wake up early to catch the sunrise in Angkor Wat. We arrived in Angkor Wat at around 515am, bought our 1-day pass for 20usd per pax and waited for a while for the sun to rise. I can say that the sunrise is really one of the highlights of this whole trip. The view is just magnificent and it was really a great way to start our exploration of the Angkor National Park.

Angkor Wat Sunrise (taken on August 22, 2009)

After watching the sunrise in Angkor Wat, we went back to our hotel to have breakfast and rest a bit before leaving for our next destination - Bantay Kdei together with our tour guide Mr. Huat and our tuktuk driver Mr. Sookra (who I both recommend!) Bantay Kdei is a Buddhist temple and is not as grand as Bayon or Angkor Wat but it is a good starting point.

Bantay Kdei (taken on August 22, 2009)

After Bantay Kdei, we went to the nearby Ta Prohm which is famous for its massive trees and jungle-type feel. Our guide, Mr. Huat told us that the government made sure to retain the trees even if they are causing damage on the structure of the temple because they wanted to preserve the original feel of the temple. And it worked. But I think the main reason why this temple is very famous is because it is one of the location shoots of Tomb Raider.

Ta Prohm (taken on August 22, 2009)

One of the more famous trees in Ta Prohm (taken on August 22, 2009)

Then, we proceeded to the center of all, Angkor Thom or Big Angkor in English. Here, we saw the forum of the king, temples such as the Baphuon and the majestic Bayon. Bayon is famous for its collection of stone carvings with smiling faces on it and it is located in the center of Angkor Thom. This is one of my favorites.

Bayon (taken on August 22, 2009)

All smiles in Bayon (taken on August 22, 2009)

Inside Angkor Thom (taken on August 22, 2009)

We finished Angkor Thom at around 130pm and proceeded to the grandest of all temples, the Angkor Wat. Because we arrived at around 2pm, there were not much people yet (which is good). Mr. Huat told us that the throngs of tourists usually arrive at around 330pm so if you want to avoid the crowd, come before 330pm :D

Mr. Huat showed us around Angkor Wat and patiently explained the carvings on the walls of the temples. I was just so amazed with the skill involved in carving such intricate patterns. What is more amazing is that the people who carved the walls finished it in one go. Since the stones were already in place once carving starts, the workers had no choice but to concentrate and commit no errors. These carvings depict the story of Hindu gods and they were just amazing. After this, we went up the Angkor Wat. But since some parts are under repair, we cannot enter the top towers. As we were leaving the temple at around 330pm, just like on cue, the tourists started arriving. Mr. Huat was right! haha.

Angkor Wat afar (taken on August 22, 2009)

On Top of Angkor Wat (taken on August 22, 2009)

Carvings inside Angkor Wat (taken on August 22, 2009)

Our last stop in the Angkor National Park is the sunset viewing spot of Phnom Bakheng which offers a panoramic view of Siem Reap. You can get here either on foot or by riding an elephant. I opted to walk while my friend rode the elephant up. Since we arrived here early, there were only a few people. Sunset is not until 6pm so for around 2 hours, we chatted with Mr. Huat and he told us about Khmer culture, history and many other things. He is really a knowledgeable guide and seems to really enjoy his job. As we chatted, we did not notice the growing number of people in Phnom Bakheng. Just imagine, all the tourists we have been seeing had all gathered here to view the sunset. It was just jampacked but the view was worth it. The sunset was gorgeous and it was a great way to end our Angkor National Park exploration.

Phnom Bakheng (taken on August 22, 2009)

Sunset in Phnom Bakheng (taken on August 22, 2009)

After this, we asked our tuktuk driver, Mr. Sookra to drop us off in the center of the town where we did some shopping and had our dinner. What a wonderful day! :D

Where we stayed:
Kool Hotel. 37usd a night for 2 people inclusive of breakfast. We chose this because it is number 2 of all hotels in Siem Reap in Trip Advisor. (as of August 2009)

Pros: Great service,
friendly staff, great rooms, comfortable beds, has a pool, safe, great value for money. Upon arrival, a staff will sit you down and explain your itinerary. The hotel arranges all your tours and transfers.
Cons: Kinda far from the city center. The hotel provides free shuttle to and from the city center but only until 840pm. If you do not want to go home that early, you can hire a tuktuk to the hotel for around 1.5usd.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

What we ate:
First night: We ate in our hotel. For around 8usd for 2 people, we had Khmer fried rice, authentic Amok (the specialty of our hotel), and stir-fried chicken Khmer style.

Khmer Fried Rice (taken on August 21, 2009)

Amok (taken on August 21, 2009)

Second night: Khmer Kitchen in the town center. It is a famous Khmer restaurant so you can ask locals around for directions. We had Khmer curry, salad and Mchu Krearng (don't know what it is called in English) which a sweet/sour soup recommended by our tour guide Mr. Huat. Everything is around 7usd for 2 people.

Khmer Curry (taken on August 22, 2009)

Mchu Krearng (taken on August 22, 2009)

Our Itinerary:
450am: Left hotel for sunrise viewing in Angkor Wat
5am - 630: Sunrise
viewing in Angkor Wat
630am: Went back to hotel for breakfast and some rest
10am: Bantay Kdei Temple
1040am: Ta Prohm Temple
1140am: Angkor Thom
2pm: Angkor Wat
4pm: Climb up Phnom Bakheng
430pm - 630pm: Sunset watching in Phnom Bakheng
7pm: Went to town center for shopping and dinner
9pm: Back to hotel

Tour guide: 25usd whole day (starting from Bantay Kdei) - group sharing. I really recommend our tour guide Mr. Huat. He speaks good English. Aside from this, he is very knowledgable and seems to enjoy his work very much.

Tuktuk: 13usd whole day + 5usd for sunrise = 18usd - group sharing. I recommend Mr. Sookra, our driver. Very friendly and nice fellow.

Angkor National Park Entrance Fee: 20usd per pax

* Optional: Elephant ride in Phnom Bakheng: 20usd going up and 15usd going down (you can choose either or both)

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  1. @Music - Movies - Famous Actor - Famous Actress hi! yes I agree with you. It is really a beautiful place :D

  2. Wasn't Cambodian food a surprise revelation? I had Chicken Amok too and it was so good I remembered the name till now.

  3. @The Nomadic Pinoy I agree with you! hahaha I really did not have an idea what Cambodian food tastes like before I went but I liked it! :D hahaha oh I loved the amok too. I think we had fish amok, but my fave will have to be the Khmer curry :D

  4. Now how am I am going to stay happy sitting at home when you keep introducing me to all these remarkable places? Come on, have a heart?

  5. @Nothing Profound hahaha! I think that is a sign to start exploring ahah

  6. Oh... Siem Reap is wonderful... the smell of nature, fields, sounds, people, food, culture.... oh my... Siem Reap is one of the best places I have visited, more than once... I really recommend the fastboat over Tonle Sap, sitting on the boatroof and just see beautiful nature, getting wind in the hair and lay in the sun;)

  7. @ana wow!! the boat seems like a great experience :D too bad we were not able to ride it. I really agree with you. Siem Reap is just so wonderful and Cambodians are one of the nicest people :D