“A bustling city with the infrastructure ready to welcome the world”
Type : City Break Best Date : Nov – Jan Expense: cheap Things to do : Roam, Shopping, Points of Interest: Scwedagon Pagoda, Sule Pagoda, National Museum of Myanmar, Abandoned Amusement Park, Kandawgyi lake and many more
The Good: Cheap, much more modern than first percieved The Bad: Very Traffic walking sometimes easier than traffic, Pavements are not made up,
Yangon is the largest and most populated city of Myanmar. The city is no longer the capital as it has been recently replaced to Naypyidaw (on 2006) which was purposely built to uphold the administrative functions of the country.
I stayed in Yangon for around four days in total which I think is enough for the former capital city of Myanmar. I was staying near China town in a hostel and nearly everything was a walkaway from the location. There was plenty to see in the city and below are descriptions and my experiences towards these points of interests.
Firstly, the main place to visit in Yangon is the Schwedagon Pagoda also dubbed the Golden Pagoda which is like its unofficial name gold plated and diamond studded. This Pagoda which is 99 meters tall can arguably be seen from most places in Yangon. It is the country’s main and most important Buddhist pilgrimage site. Although closed at night, the best time to see this is when dark as various spotlights illuminate the pagoda in stunning picturesque ways.
Half the size of Schwedagon the Sule Pagoda is also a place to go. It is situated in a very busy manic part of Yangon’s centre near markets and colonial buildings. This pagoda is ancient and built around 2,500 years ago. It has always been octagonal, but it has constantly been repaired and renovated. For me this place didn’t really seem to cater for tourism and was strictly for worship (felt like it anyway), for this reason I did not enter the Pagoda.
In the middle of a busy district is the Myanmar National Museum which showcases Burmese art, history and culture. A beautiful place for visitors who want to learn more about the nation in a single building.
Kandawgyi lake which is also known as the Royal lake is also a nice place to visit. Situated near Yangon Zoo it is said to have marvellous views especially upon the sunset. The main attraction for this lake is the Karaweik Hall which looks like a huge barge floating on the lake, a spectacle to see. The hall hosts entertainment with reception halls, theatres, restaurants and conference halls.
One of the best hidden secrets of Yangon is the abandoned amusement park, which I don’t think is an official tourist attraction but very popular for adventurous young travellers. The amusement park still has all the rustic rides brilliant for photos, beware though as this park is not maintained so plants have grown and there are plenty of mosquitos.
For nightlife China town is a nice place to go, there is several outside bars and pubs. The street is also good when looking for food at night there are so many different restaurants to choose from. Two high end bars I went to were Eclipse and Port Autonomy. Port Autonomy is situated near Yangon river just next to 42nd street. This bar is classy compared to the other bars across Yangon, great place for cocktails in a chilled atmosphere. Eclipse in the other hand which is situated above Melia Mall is a nighlife multiplex with sport bars, clubs or a full throttle rave. Eclipse is a higher end complex so dressing a little nice would be recommendable.
Yangon was what I expected it to be but with little surprises. Before seeing Yangon for myself I envisaged it to be like that of Vietnam’s Hanoi. However, the city was much more updated and advanced than I first thought it’d be. The city had more upper-class malls and shops than I thought they’d have. Furthermore, the parks and Pagoda’s were clean updated and well organised. However, the downside was that the road traffic was very bad and that at times walking was a better option. Even when walking the pavements would not exist and you would find yourself walking side by side with vehicles, however this was safe and I never found myself in danger at any time.
All in all Yangon is a city which although chaotic at times (roads/ streets), there is beauty there if you choose to see it. Its people are some of the friendliest on par with all the ASEAN nations I have been to. It is evident that Yangon is constantly improving and that its government is fully behind it. I fully recommend a visit to this city apart from its beautiful golden structures it is cheap, friendly and safe, a big thumbs up.
Exploring the temples of Bagan’s archaeology zone was a joy to experience. I personally didn’t plan nor did I know the temples which I would end up visiting. I came to Bagan with an open mind and with a go as it goes attitude. Instead of availing tours and tuk-tuks I rented an Ebikes to roam freely around only stopping when I see a temple or pagoda of any kind. So in no particular order these are the temples I saw, which I believe are worth going to and a little bit I learnt about them.
Firstly and probably the main place to visit in Bagan is the Schwezigon Pagoda which is the centre of pilgrimage in the province. It is one of the oldest and most significant monument in Bagan. The Pagoda is said to be the architectural influence of thousands of following Stupas around the region and it is said that because of the Schwezigon the campaign of mass temple building began in Bagan. Its special beauty comes from the gold plated central pagoda and the Makaras (Hindu sea creatures) guarding the all four stairways.
I believe this pagoda is definitely one to visit. Although one of the oldest the impression I got was this was one of the newest and most modern, maybe this was due to the constant update and restoration.
The Ananda temple is said to be Bagan’s holiest temple. legend has it the King Kyanzittha built the temple with the image of a legendary Himalayan cave temple which eight monks from north India told him about. He wanted to bring this image to Bagan and after building this temple he had its architectures executed so the design would never be copied again. Centring this temple are four 10 metre high standing buddhas, all with their own identity and expressions. Like nearly all the temples in the region Ananda was also damaged by earthquakes and has been extensively restored.
This temple was great to visit, it is very active and in my opinion the busiest out of the lot.
Dhammayangyi temple is Bagan’s largest temple and is visible in nearly every angle of the region. The temple was carefully but cruelly built by King Narathu as rumours state that builders got amputated if the construction wasn’t up to his requests. This temple is the most mysterious with bricked passageways. This temple is the best preserved out of all temples in the Bagan’s archaeological zone.
This temple reminded me of Siem Reap’s temple designs, albeit very well built.
Another significant temple to visit is the Gawdawpalin temple which is the second tallest in the archaeological zone. Construction started in one of Bagan’s more prosperous time during the reign of King Narapatisithu however it was not finished until his successors reign in the 13th century. Like many of the surrounding temples Gawdawpalin has also been extensively restored.
At the time I visited this temple which was later in the day, I was more or less getting templed out (getting bored) as I visited so many in the day. However this temple andits structure was a sight to see.
Another of Bagan’s tallest structure the Thatbyinnyu can be seen from most places of Bagan’s archaeological zone. One interesting aspect of this temples build was that for every 10,000 bricks used one brick was set aside to keep count of the total used. After its completion the tally pagoda which sits besides Thatbyinnyu was built.
I saw this temple from a distance as it was my first view of Bagan’s sunrise. It looked very similar to Gawdawpalin.
Other than those above, there are plenty other smaller temples and pagodas to see and there are just so many to mention. Although much smaller and some damaged and left to rubbles these still function as a serious religious venues and rules like taking off shoes and wearing longer trousers are required. I saw many smaller temples just riding around on my Ebike scooter, there may be way too many to visit all.
In my opinion the temples and pagodas in Bagan are beautiful individually but it did not give me the same chills as Siem Reap’s temples did. Saying that Bagan’s temples made an outstanding picturesque, panoramic landscape as a whole collection perfect for the world famous sunrises and sunsets. Its temples are not yet as congested as other religious attractions such as the Vatican, Siem Reap and others alike, but I do feel it will soon get the crowds that Myanmar ought to have. Although the structures are very old, they are all very well built keeping in mind many were repaired and refurbished after various earthquakes.
Overall in my opinion Bagan was a brilliant place to visit, but I did get bored very quickly going through temples to temple. Maybe it was due to the sheer amount in the archaeological zone or that many temples had similar appearance. However it is somewhere that should be visited as there is a little more to the province than just its temples.
“One of the best Sunrises and Sunsets the world has to offer”
Type : Rural, Provincial, Religious Best Date : Dec – Jan Expense: Fair Things to do : Sunrise/ Sunset, Ebikes, visit temples/pagodas Points of Interest: Anada Temple, Schwezigon Pagoda, Scwesandaw Pagoda, Mt Popa, Mani Sithu Market, Old Bagan and many more The Good: Utmost freedom not much tickets/ security, The Bad: Not much nightlife, little grocery shops, little in transport modes
Bagan is a province neighbouring Mandalay situated in the centre of Myanmar. Formerly known as Pagan, it is a popular destination due to the remaining (approx.) 2,000 ancient Buddhist pagodas, temples and monasteries said to 10,000 in the past. All temples have been damaged due to earthquakes however many more significant ones have been restored and improved. Nonetheless all standing temples and Pagodas as a collection make the beautiful landscape that is getting ever popular with tourism.
I stayed in Bagan for a total of three days which like Siem Reap was advised as enough when visiting the region. There wasnt plenty to do in Bagan apart from visiting the temples, so choosing your hotel with a swimming pool or other activities is highly advised.
There are so many points of interest to visit and although there are not too many modes of transport there are various ways in which you can explore . There are tuk-tuk taxis but I didn’t see many, horse carriages are also available but I personally didn’t come across on how to avail these. Hotels usually offer free bike rentals where a deposit is required and the usual tours on buses or private cars are widely available. However the main mode of transport and one which I honestly thought was brilliant and made my holiday were the E-bikes. Renting these were very cheap on a daily rate and were incredible in roaming every single corner of the province, not to mention it was fun and the freedom was great.
Firstly as a tourist the main thing to do in Bagan is to see the Sunrise and Sunsets which boasts to be one of the best in the world. There is not any one particular place to see/ watch these so you may want to do some research to find out the best spot, however the best spots can be very busy. Alternatively you can find a local who is willing to show you secret and beautiful locations which are less crowded, they don’t ask for money but you may need to buy a painting which isn’t too much, plus you will have a souvenir to bring home anyway.
The sunrises are popular for the panoramic scenery with a bonus of hot air balloons flying mid point of the sun’s rise. You may have to get up at 4am to find your spot and it may take up to 2 hours to see the full rise. The hot air balloon experience usually occurs during sunrise is around $300.
The Sunsets are similar and popular for its picturesque panoramic views. It happens around 5pm and takes a duration of 2 hours to see the whole set. After the sun is fully down some Pagodas light up giving bonus beauty to the dark landscape which may not be justified in photos.
Another thing to do in Bagan is to visit the temples but I will write a full in-depth blog about the temples and pagodas separately (link here coming soon).
Keeping temples and Pagodas aside, old Bagan is particularly rich in other beautiful structures and architecture from its colonial era. I’m not 100% sure what these building were, but it is easy to distinguish the difference to the normal old Burmese buildings.
There are markets such as the Mani Sithu Market which you can visit, but although tourist do flock to see these, they are the local wet markets for local shoppers unlike the markets in Thailand, Hong Kong and others which are made for tourist appeal.
Other than these, all there is to do in Bagan is eat, relax and potentially meet people which is easy in Bagan. Swim if you have a pool in your hotel, hence strong advice to avail with a pool.
However a popular thing to do in Bagan is to take an excursion and one that I did do is to Mt Popa which is popular for its temple which is built on top of an extinct volcano. Before you arrive at the mountain attraction itself your driver would usually take you to a alcohol and sweet making place, aswell as a fruit market which is very interesting. They don’t force you into buying any products although they aren’t too expensive either way.
Mt Popa was beautiful, picturesque and panoramic especially from a distance. However be very careful of the monkeys as I was a victim of a monkey grabbing and stealing my glasses which I thought stories were exaggerated and it would never happen to me. However it does happen as it happened to me, although I did get my glasses back as locals do feed the monkey to try and lure the monkey back, after getting it they do ask for money but to my surprise was a very low amount. Climbing Mt Popa is easy you have to do this bare footed with the obstacles of very aggressive monkeys. At the top are beautiful views but in my opinion the temples themselves are less impressive compared to others around the region.
Overall Bagan was magnificent, I was right in my prediction that the province would rival Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat. It is a place which has surpassed my expectations and has challenged my personal list of best places visited. I love the region so much due to its beautiful landscape, friendly people, majestic temples and pagodas, strong culture but most importantly the freedom to roam. The fact you can grab an Ebike and ride around and stop at your leisure then walk around the temples with no queues, tickets or heavy security and restrictions are something of a dream. This is one point Bagan can boast that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
I believe Bagan is an up and coming powerhouse for mass tourism and I’m glad I have come at a time when it has not yet peaked. In my opinion Bagan and Myanmar overall deserves the attention of mass tourism, but I believe with the influx of crowds comes the deterioration of the experience I enjoyed. With heavier crowds the need for larger infrastructure and aspects like heavier ticketing posts, security, restrictions and others alike would takeaway the freedom to roam which was the defining factor for me which made it one of the best places I have ever visited.
Please read more in-depth blogs on temples and pagodas in Bagan (please click to read):
Type : Rural, Provincial Best Date : Nov – Jan Expense: Cheap Things to do : Roam Points of Interest: Snake temple, fishing village, The Good: Beautiful uninfluenced way of life The Bad: Huge for scamming gangs, no police to help, little transport mediums, little hotels and lodges, small in tourism infrastructure
The Dala Township is an area just across the river on the Southbank of Yangon in Myanmar. Its only route is by ferry although a bridge is currently being built. The area is still largely undeveloped and it is still a rural provincial setting. Tourist sometimes go here to witness the simple basic undeveloped lifestyle.
There are only a few places in which attract tourists here in Dala Township.
One of the attraction in Dala is the fishing village. It is a place where you would observe the lifestyle and living of the fisherman and their families. There is not much to see but their houses which is built riverside. If your not on a tour all you could do is just roam the village and take pictures there is no restaurants or shops.
Another place to visit is the Shwe Sayan Pagoda which houses a gold covered mummified monk which miraculously opened his eyes 15 days after the full moon of Tawthalin 13/10/2004 at around 1500. Today the body is encased in a glass box and is visited by pilgrims and tourists alike.
Other than that Dala Township has only its terrain, community and lifestyle to show off to tourists.
However One of the main purpose of a visit (or pass-by) to Dala is the “Hmwe Paya” Snake Temple which is actually in Dala’s neighbouring town Twante. The temple is situated in the middle of a lake which you are able to buy fish or bread to feed the larger fishes. Upon entering the temple you will see pythons of all sizes in every corner and many in the middle where a tree and buddha display is.
Near the snake temple is also an area where you can see 1000 Buddha statues. This place was pretty cool and a great photo opportunity.
Dala Township is a nice place to visit if you are the type of traveller who loves to observe rural and a provincial way of living. The beauty of this area is seen through its atmosphere, characteristics and people as there is no heavy infrastructure, little in points of interests and is not much to lure the usual tourists.
Dala for me was clouded by scammers which made my experience a little negative (you can read more about the scam here). However I will not deter any traveller from visiting this place.
Overall the Dala Township was a mere ok place to visit. It wouldn’t be a huge loss to your Myanmar experience should you miss this place out. However If you do decide to go I could only say to enjoy its beauty but be mindful of the scammers which with no police presence enjoy their activities to many victims.
“Immerse yourself in a city which follows its own rules.”
Type : City break, Weekend break Best Date : May-Aug Expense: Fair Things to do : Museums, Cycle, Nightlife Points of Interest: Anne Frank House, Van Gough Museum, Rijksmuseum, Dam square, Vondelpark, Jordaan, Royal Palace, Oude Church, Bloemenmarkt, ect The Good: Countless attractions and point of interest, City is Walkable The Bad: Very busy, smell of smoke nearly in many places.
Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands situated in the province North Holland. Although everyone has always seen Amsterdam as the capital city, it was only officialised in 1983. Its name was formed due to its past of being a fishing village behind a dam protecting them from the river Amstel. Today it is unofficially dubbed as “Venice of the North” because of its numerous beautiful canals of which are also registered a UNESCO world heritage site.
I have always been eager to visit this city as there have been many different perceptions and angles to this city. So I wanted to experience the city for myself and give my own view of what its like to visit this city.
Amsterdam is a small city but with a haven full of attractions and points of interest. Although in my opinion a busy 3 day – 2 night stay is enough to roam the capital a longer stay wouldn’t result into boredom as with some places I have visited. I believe the city is best experienced walking as the inner city itself and its attractions are (if able) walkable, that said the trams are another method to observe the city whilst travelling and conserving energy. There are so many places to visit in the capital and I didn’t have the chance to see everything, so here are the places I visited and my perception of the city.
Firstly I believe the main places to go whilst in the capital are its art museums. Most notable of them are the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum which are both situated in Museumplein or Museum square. The Van Gogh museum is an exhibition dedicated to the famous Dutch painter’s work, most famous are the Sunflower 1889, the potato eaters 1885, his self portraits and so much more. Whilst the Rijksmuseum is dedicated to both Dutch art and history. Pieces of art include that from artists such as Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer and many more. Most of the museums in Amsterdam require tickets which can be bought on the day or online.
Another Highlight and Iconic place to visit is the Anne Frank house, which is the home of the German born Dutch Jewish diarist famous of her documentation of her experience of the German occupation of the Netherlands from 1942 to 1942. The house which has been protected and converted to a museum. The museum itself exhibits the diary and drawing and pictures, is small with tight corridors and steep steps, a true experience of what it was like in their time. However note, you can only visit here with a pre booked ticket with a time slot and there is no way to buy a ticket on the day. I did see many disappointed tourists hoping to enter the house trying to buy a ticket on the day, so don’t get caught out.
Now it is no secret that one of the largest magnetism for the capital is its Red LightDistrict and the Coffee Shops which are world famous for getting legal highs. Although this area should be for adults, there is no barriers or signs and I have seen families with children roam around these areas. I visited this area both at day time and night (just a walk around) and I can say although the area operates 24hours it is much more busier and rowdier at night. For those who just want to walk around and learn about the place then there are walking tours which will be highly informative about its history. Museums have been erected to support these cultures, including the Red-light Secrets museum, Sex Museum, Weed and Kemp Museum, and others.
Quite surreal, right in the middle of the Red light district is the Oude Church which is a monumental place as it is the oldest building and monastery in the city. However today it is a place for contemporary art. The huge talk of this church is its location residing next to windows with sex workers, Coffee shops and a school.
Dam Square is another popular area tourist go. This is the location for the Royal Palace, the National Monument, Madame Tussauds and an arcade of shops. The town square which is also popular for the city’s events is usually the meeting place for many free walking tours so keep an eye out if you are looking to join. In my opinion this place is a good place to chill, unwind and rest or if you are travelling in a huge group a good meeting point.
Vondel Park is Amsterdam’s largest park popular with residents and tourists, many jog, cycle, dog-walk or on a sunny day lay and chill. Attractions within the park include the statue of Dutch poet Joost Van Den Vondel, music dome, Groot Melkhuis and many others.
Another place I happen to pass-by which I believe is an outstanding place to visit is the Bloemenmarkt which is the worlds first and one of few floating flower markets in the world. Trading from Monday to Saturday this colourful flower market sells different flowers and souvenirs. A popular place for tourists and locals.
After all the above the highlight and main beauty of the city for me is the canals, dubbed the Venice of the north Amsterdam has some of the worlds most charming canals where plenty relaxing bars, restaurants and a myriad of boat tour operate. I advise to take one of these boat tours which will take you through the scenic areas, you can either take a basic, private or party tour, there are so many different operators to choose from.
There are many other attractions within the city that I haven’t mentioned including Jordaan, Heineken Experience, Body World, Rembrandt house, Nemo Science Museum, A’DAM Lookout being just a few of them. I didn’t visit these as I didn’t have the time to do so, however these are highly rated and recommended areas to visit whilst in the city.
Overall I think Amsterdam is a powerful, attractive city which is misinterpreted as being a place for adults and parties only. Ok, its nightlife, red light district and marijuana coffee shops are huge attraction for interested tourists however the city shouldn’t only be defined for these. The canals really did take the main stage for me and defined the city more than any other aspects of the city. It has a huge number of museums and attractions and I can honestly say a short weekend trip is not enough to fully experience what the city has to offer.
A huge thumbs up for Amsterdam, and I fully recommend that this is a place to visit. I suggest a busy 2-3 days or a calmer 3-4 day stay will be needed.
“The most innovative city full of artistic architecture. ”
Type : City weekend break Best Date : June-Aug Expense: Fair Things to do : Bike ,Chilled nightlife, Sightseeing Points of Interest: Euromast, Cube house, Erasmusburg, Mini World, Boijmans Van Beuningen museum, Maritime museum, Markthal, Stadhuis, ect The Good: Modern, Architecturally amazing The Bad: Maybe too quiet for some
Rotterdam is a port city situated in the province of South Holland, it is just a 40 minute train ride from the Dutch capital Amsterdam. Its name dates back around 1260 where a dam was built on the river Rotte. It is the largest port city in Europe and until 2004 it was the largest in the world overtaken by cities like Singapore and Shanghai.
Today it is a city rapidly growing in stature financially, gathering interest in tourism, due to its constant innovation and architectural culture. There is a lot of articles from reputable news outlets and guides which praises the city as an up and coming destination, even comparing it with its neighbour Amsterdam.
So what did I think of the city?
My Rotterdam trip was a 1 night 2 day excursion from Amsterdam. A trip I wanted to take due to its increasing popularity a chance for me to take a look at the city before Rotterdam cements itself as a powerhouse for tourism and huge crowds appear. In particular I was attracted to this city for its architectural promise and its laid back nightlife.
Firstly I want to point out the Central Station which was my entry point into the city and I believe an attraction itself. Opened in the year 2014 the station was upgraded from the old station in order to accommodate the increasing number of passengers and also to cope with new high speed trains which travel from the capital to cities such as Brussels and Paris. In my opinion the Central Station is a sight to see because of its clever perspective designed roof. The station is also very spacious with a futuristic styled projection for advertisements. There is not too many shops inside the station but it is a magnificent station, and an area to see whilst in Rotterdam.
One of the main attraction to see in the city is Markthal which just like its name is a market hall but combined with luxury apartments in a remarkable innovative architectural design. Its various food stalls, food shops and restaurants have some of the freshest most quality food in the city.
Near the Markthal is the cube houses and for me it was very impressive in terms of design and the engineering behind it, however although I understand it is a functioning house and not a monument its location within a normal neighbourhood has taken down its impact for a touristic experience. In my opinion seeing the cube house was just like seeing brilliantly designed houses and nothing more.
Rotterdam is also known for its chilled out nightlife and Witte de Withestraat is in my opinion the best street for it. Here you can find some of the best bars and restaurants in the city and there are also attractions like museums and also an escape rooms.
For those who want to see a birds eye view of the city the Euromast is the place to visit. At 185m tall the tower which is a purpose built observation tower hosts tours, restaurants, hotels and for the thrill seekers it is also possible to abseil or do ziplining.
Finally I think the highlight of Rotterdam for me is Erasmusburg or Erasmus Bridge. The bridge designed by Ben van Berkel and named after the Dutch Philosopher Desiderius Erasmus also known as Erasmus of the north or simply Erasmus connects the north side of the city to the south. It is both a bascule and cable type bridge and accommodates pedestrians, trams and normal vehicles. I went to this bridge both at daytime and also night and the scenery for both times was just spectacular. I fully recommend visitor to see this bridge.
There are many other places that you can visit which I opted to miss due to it being for a group or for children, I honestly wasn’t interested or that I didn’t have time. These are the very popular Rotterdam Zoo, Mini World, Boijmans Van Beuningen museum, Maritime museum and many others.
All in all, there was so much to see and do in Rotterdam, some of which I purposely missed out, but I was satisfied into what I saw and did within my two day timeframe. My first impressions of the city is that it was very artistic and innovative in architecture. As I entered the city I felt the mixture of a business or a college/ university type area due to the amount of young people and business suited people around. It was also much quieter than Amsterdam but this in my opinion was a positive.
Rotterdam get a thumbs up for me and I highly advise to venture to the city when in Amsterdam or enroute to Brussels. The buildings are truly amazing and it is a miles away from the hectic crowds of Amsterdam so its a nice place to take it easy and unwind. I believe Rotterdam is still growing and will attract mass tourism in the short future so I believe for those who like the more quieter trip, visit now until its too late.
In this post I wanted to cover as much of Siem Reap’s temple as much as possible and have decided that writing everything in one blog may be overwhelming thus deciding to write this in 3 or 4 different sections.
The Chapters I will write about are (please click to read):
Siem Reap and the Angkor Archaeological Park has plenty of both ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples which are all fascinating in its architectures and stories. Most famous and notable temples such as the Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Phrom are located in the Small Circuit. Furthermore the Grand Circuit also proves to be popular and worth a visit. However there is a collection of ancient temples just outside of Siem Reap that are also fascinating and have such important significance. The only outlying temple I visited was Banteay Srei which was 40km away from Siem Reap just to see for myself if it is worth the visit.
Below is my experience visiting Banteay Srei and information on the other temples outside of Siem Reap I have gained on my visit.
Banteay Srei is the only temple I visited outside of the Angkor Archaeological park. This is included in the temple pass (maybe even the furthest included in the pass), so no other ticket is required and you would only need to get there. Banteay Srei also known as the ‘lady temple’ or ‘pink temple’ is a temple complex built in the 10th century and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Quiet uniquely this temple wasn’t built by a King (King Rajendravaman II) but two counsellors.
This temple built using pink sandstone (as it is easier to carve) proved to be one of the best preserved, renovated and protected. Unlike other temples Banteay Srei is more or less complete as there is very little rubble still waiting to be restored. The complex itself has excessive barriers and cordons protecting the artwork and structures, more than any other temple I have visited. There are reasons for its extensive protections as this temple has one of the most detailed artwork, Its fine carvings has given Banteay Shrine the reputation of being the ‘Jewel of Khmer Art’.
At 40km out of Siem Reap and the Archaeology Park, using a tuk-tuk proved to be excessive. As this temple was the first we visited on the day the excitement was high at the start but then it started to die down the longer the journey took. The tuk-tk was hot, bumpy and dusty but you do feel their interesting culture and ways of life something which you wouldn’t in a car. The weather on the day was not on our side as it was over 40 degrees which was highly uncomfortable. However the temple itself was magnificent, its colour and highly detailed artwork was unlike any other and the reason to visit this complex is due to its carvings and unique architecture.
The temples below are other temples that have longer distance from Siem Reap and the Angkor Archaeology park. I didn’t visit the temples below as I either didn’t have time or I purposely missed these as I deem them unnecessary to visit. Remember you do get a sense of temple overload and it could be a bad experience to see too much of temples during your visit. However here what I know about these temples.
Beng Mealea – Unofficially known as the ‘jungle temple’ due to the ruins which still lack restoration resulting in the jungle growing over the rubble and the overall complex. This temple is one of the furthest from the Archaeological park at around 70km away from Siem Reap and due to its distance this is one of the least visited. An excellent temple for those who want to visit a peaceful temple with a brilliant jungle setting.
Koh Ker – 120km from Siem Reap and the Archaeology Park this is the furthest temple to get to. Koh Ker the seven levelled square pyramid temple made of sandstones which is situated a jungle. This temple is not included in the temple pass and will require a separate ticket fee. As this temple is the furthest away it is also said to be the least visited, meaning it would be one of the most peaceful.
Prasat Phnom Krom – This is one of the temples I do regret not visiting. Reason being is that this temple lies on top of a hill (named Phnom Krom) just outside Siem Reap. There are three square shrines dedicated to the Hindu gods Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva all beautifully decorated. It is said to have marvellous views of Siem Reap and a good place to see the sunset. This place is not heavily visited by tourists so it is both scenic and a quiet peaceful atmosphere.
In conclusion I was happy that I visited Banteay Srei but regret not taking time to visit Prasat Phnom Krom for its apparent marvellous views. Banteay Srei was incredible but its journey was a little much for it (in my opinion), which makes me think that Koh Ker and Beng Melea would’ve been excessive to see a single temple. Which means this could be a big downer if these temples prove to be very similar to those of the Small and Grand Circuit. Remember that I took the tuk-tuk so maybe the further you go it may be a good idea to think about taking a much more comfortable car instead.
Plenty say the further you go the quieter it gets, however in my experience this can sometimes be false as huge tour buses do venture out resulting into mass visitors making these temples as crowded as the ones in the small and grands tours.
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The Small Circuit is a collection of temples in the inner road of Angkor’s archaeological park. It has the most famed temples to visit including Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Phrom which was the set for the movie Tomb Raider. I visited the Small circuit on my third and fifth days in Siem Reap (leaving a day of rest in between) which was the second and third day of my three day temple pass.
On the first visit around the small circuit (third day in Siem Reap) we customised a tour which included the small circuit and a outer temple Banteay Srei (on a separate post) which was 40km outside the Angkor region. This tour was again carried out using a Tuk-tuk which I still feel is the best way to roam the province. Our tuk-tuk driver decided to take us 40km out to Banteay Srei first and then return to Angkor to complete the small tour in which we only visited the three main temples.
On the second visit around the small circuit, our fifth day in Siem Reap I revisited the three main temples again however this time with an English speaking guide using a more comfortable airconditioned Van. The difference was there to experience and I do have the pros and cons of the two touring methods in Siem Reap.
Ta Phrom is the first temple we visited in the small circuit after our short detour to Banteay Srei which was 40km further. Ta Phrom originally called Rajavihara meaning the ‘monastery of the kings’ was another built by King Jayavarman VII. It was said to be built to honour his family and was thought to be a place for religious education.
Ta Phrom is one of the big three temple that is highly advised to visit in Angkor’s archaeology park with Bayon and Angkor Wat being the other two. Ta Phrom is particularly famous for being the setting for the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider which was released in 2001 staring Angelina Jolie. Furthermore this place is especially popular not only for its architecture but also its setting with tall trees growing effortlessly on the buildings which make for enchanting and majestic scenery, perfect for photo opportunities. Its artwork and carvings are also a pleasure, there are portrayal of a number of dancers, animals, religious figures and many more, my personal favourite is the face peeking through a tree trunk smiling (shown on picture below). However quiet mysteriously there is said to be a carving of a stegosaurus which is fascinating and also baffling many experts.
Ta Phrom’s impressive structure and its encounter with nature is just one of the reasons you must go to this temple. For me the experience became stale after already seeing plenty of similar temples the day before. I was starting to get the temple overload feeling. The only addition for me here was the trees growing on the buildings, apart from that it was just another temple but with the added reputation of being in a Hollywood movie. Nonetheless this temple is a real beauty and very picturesque but because of this the crowd levels are very high and it is very difficult to capture the best photos without unwanted people appearing. This was probably the most congestion temple I visited.
Angkor Thom (Bayon)
Bayon which is situated inside Angkor Thom was the second temple I visited inside the small circuit. A later Buddhist temple built by King Jayavarman VII dedicated to Buddha. This was said to be the centrepiece of all the kings building programs. However after the king passed the temple was changed into a Hindu temple and then later reverted back.
I have to be honest that at this point of my travels after two full days of temple visits, I was starting to get all templed-out somewhat bored of seeing temple after temple. However seeing Bayon from a far distance I knew I was in for something totally different, something very special. The architecture of this temple was unique, it is famous for being the monument with over two hundred faces smiling from thirty seven different towers. There are three different levels and all could be visited, nearly every step inside the complex is a goose-bump moment and every angle is majestic and charming, a photographers haven. There were not as many people here than I thought there would be which added to the positive experience I had here.
All in all Bayon or Angkor Thom is one of the most mind-blowing incredible thing I have seen in my travels. I came to Siem Reap anticipating if I could find the place that could take my current favourite (Machu Picchu) off my top spot. In my opinion Bayon is unbelievable even after you’ve seen it, truly a spectacle to see in any angle. Bayon definitely came knocking for my personal top spot, but unfortunately I still believe Machu Picchu still edged better and Bayon fell short. Nonetheless Bayon was magnificent and I would advise any traveller to go to Siem Reap and visit this special temple.
Angkor Wat was the very last temple I visited on both my small circuit touring days (days 3 and 5). Somewhat the finale of my Siem Reap and Angkor visit. This temple is the most famous temple of them all, so important for the country that it is even featured on the Cambodian flag. It is a Hindu temple built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century. This Hindu temple converted to Buddism and reverted back a few times along the ages due to war and handover of Kings. This temple is still an active religious place and pilgrimages do happen here.
My first observation of Angkor Wat was its enormity and the beautiful setting the temple was built on. Before entering the temple walls there is a scenic lake you would need to cross. A temporary float bridge was placed when I was visiting as the bridge was under refurbishment, however this didn’t affect the experience in anyway. After getting inside the temple walls you will walk (5-10minutes) an incredible path heading to the central five tower building, along the way you will see beautiful two beautiful lake/ pond on each side and small buildings which are known to be libraries. It is said that this walkway was only used for the king himself and nobody else was allowed to walk here. Once inside the temple you will see many monks, artwork, stairs and headless statues (as thieves would steel the heads to sell on the black market). There was a line to go up the central monument however due to the heat I opted to miss this out on both my visits. There are many brilliantly preserved carvings on the walls which portray many of both the Hindu and Buddhism beliefs.
Overall Angkor Wat was special and I see the reason why this is the most popular out of all the temples. Like many of the temples it is picturesque and has huge historic significance. Although spectacular, Bayon was still my favourite temple overall due to the architectural style. Angkor Wat is huge and maybe an hour to three hours would be needed depending on the detail you want to visit. This temple in my opinion has the most visitors but due to the huge space and different passages it is not as congested as Ta Phrom. In my opinion Angkor Wat is the cover attraction of Cambodia, so missing this out on a Siem Reap visit would be a disaster.
The temples below are temples within the small circuit but I didn’t visit these due to the tours we did. However here is a little insight to the collection of these temples.
Thommanon- This temple is a small Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva. Its Architectural style is the same as that of Angkor Wat and this temple has excellent conditioned artwork.
Banteay Kdei– A Bayon styled temple said to be one of the most peaceful within the small circuit. Although very near two highly visited temples in Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom it seems this is missed out by tourists. Built by King Jayavarman II dedicated to Avalokitesvara, this temple has complex structures and its peaceful scenery may be a reason for you to visit.
Srah Srang – Srah Srang is the Royal Bath. This reservoir or pond was built in the 10th century and then modified by King Jayavarman II. Setting in-between the small and grand circuit this location is a very popular location to watch the sunset.
Prasat Kravan- Another place in between the small and grand circuit. This is a temple not built by a king but high ranking hindu priests. Special features of this temple is its five brick towers, it is said the best time to visit this is in the morning.
All in all the Angkor small circuit is definitely the main collection of temples to visit. Especially if you have limited time, as they include the big three temples Ta Phrom, Bayon and Angkor Wat. However if you have loads of time to visit both the Small and Grand circuits I advise you to start with the grand circuit as visiting the small circuit first may give the grand circuit an anti-climax feeling.
I visited the small circuit using two different methods, one a cheaper un-guided tour using a tuk-tuk and the other a more expensive guided tour using an airconditioned luxury van. In my opinion no matter how much money you have I would always try and use the cheaper method using a tuk-tuk. Although unguided you can roam these temples at your own pace and leisure. Albeit the guide on any tour would be more informative if you want to learn more about the place but having a travel book or internet in-hand would just be as good (in my opinion). However probably the biggest reason for the cheaper option is that the tuk-tuk is a unique experience and no matter how hot, dusty or wet it is you wont gain this feeling back home, an airconditioned van takes all the character out of the tour.
My overall experience with this collection of temples were positive, they were impressive and extraordinary to say the least. Something that you thought you would only see on movies. The experience of these temples especially the big three are dampened with the sheer congestion of crowds (much more than the grand circuit), not only for the perfect picture opportunities but also with the noisy lively atmosphere. Nonetheless all temples in the circuit are unique and comfortably sit in my top 2 of my favourite places I have visited with Machu Picchu still the best I have experienced.
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The Grand Circuit also known as the Grand tour is a collection of temples on the outer road of the Angkor archaeological park. All tuk-tuk, taxi and tour drivers would know which collection of temples to take you. I did the Grand tour on my second day in Siem Reap but it was my first day visiting the temples itself. We booked a Sunset evening tour which followed the Grand circuit route and spanned around 4 hours. This tour was carried out using a Tuk-tuk which in my opinion is the best way to experience the Archaeological sights.
Preah Khan which means ‘Royal Sword’ is a temple complex built around 1191, it was a gift by King Jayavarman VII to his father. The temple was built upon victory of a battle against the Chams.
This is the very first temple we visited on our visit to Siem Reap. Hearing all the great things about all the temples in Angkor, I was particularly excited to see for myself and witness what all the fuss was about. Our first impressions of our first temple Preah Khan was amazing, enchanting and very much perfect and picturesque. We didn’t even enter the temple walls and we already spent half an hour taking photographs. The entrance had a nice old bridge crossing a beautiful calm stream, it was a perfect sight but somewhat ruined by some scaffolding as some structures were still being refurbished or repaired. The place was very quiet which was the exact opposite of what I was expecting. The temple complex was huge and you can easily spend an hour or even more here. There are still a lot of rubble in different areas which is awaiting to be rebuilt or repaired.
A great start to my temple experience and knowing it can only get better made me eager to see the rest. Best part for me here was the entrance where the bridge is situated with the calm relaxing stream.
This was our next stop after Preah Khan, this was a much simpler temple. Firstly from the drop off point you would have to walk around 10-15 minutes on a very beautifully scenic elevated platform towards the temple. The walk is a pleasure however when arriving to the actual temple it is (in my opinion) not bad but somewhat of an anti-climax compared to our first temple. However the complex is beautiful and has huge significance to the area at its time.
Neak Pean was also built by King Jayavaraman VII on the second half of the 12th century, he dedicating this to the Buddhists. the complex is small and consists of an island temple surrounded by four smaller ponds representing wind, fire, water and earth. It is said that this was built to be a place of healing whereas bathing on the ponds would heal disease or wounds.
My impressions for this temple was ok. If you are a photography type tourist it wouldn’t be much of a loss to miss this place, however if you like learning about the place then there is much information to be had here. Best part for me here is the walk to get to this complex.
Ta Som Temple
Ta Som is one of the Smaller temples in the Archaeological area. This temple is another built by King Jayavaraman VII but its purpose is still a mystery, some say it was built dedicated to his father whilst others say it was for his teacher.
This temple is one of the most completely restored and you can visit almost everywhere possible. Like a few other temples in Angkor there are trees growing on this temple which make for good photo opportunities. The ancient artwork is also well preserved in this temple. Best part for me on this complex was its surroundings of tall trees, it was magical and enchanting to say the least.
We somewhat rushed through this as it was similar to the first temple we visited (Preah Khan). You start to get the impression that all temples are similar and visits to others would be boring unless the architecture or styles change drastically.
East Mebon was one of the earlier temples in the Angkor Archaeological park built in the 10th century. King Rajendravarman II built this mountain temple complex dedicating to the Hindu god Shiva.
Visiting East Mebon was a pleasure, it had different architectural style than that of the other temples. The complex consisted of step terraces shaping as a pyramid. It had huge sculptures of elephants on each corner. This place was clean and I didn’t see any loose stones awaiting to be repaired.
For me, East Mebon was interesting for the difference it had to the other temples we visited. The complex was not too big and you could spend 30 minutes to roam. This temple did however have steep narrow steps so a bit of care is required when visiting this place. It was very picturesque but was ruined by dark clouds which brought rain as we were leaving this complex.
Pre Rup is another temple built by King Rajendravarman II around the year 961, said to be the state Hindu temple of the King. It is also thought that this was popular in burial ceremonies and some say the complex is one huge crematorium. It has similar architectural style as that of East Mebon as a mountain temple complex with a pyramid step styled terraces.
This was suppose to be the grand finale of our tour (Sunset tour), as it is meant to be a spectacular sunset. However the experience was ruined by the showering monsoon style rain. We didn’t have any jackets or umbrellas and even if we did the rain would’ve been too strong. We stayed in our tuk-tuk waiting for a possible stop, but this unfortunately didn’t happen and we ended up going back to the hostel, seeing the sunset on our journey back.
However reading about this specific temple it was not one to miss out on even though this is the quiet compared to other notable temples in the Angkor region.
The temples in the Grand Circuit are astonishing to say the least, I saw two different styles of ancient architecture and saw lots of unique art. The difference in architecture style did make the tour more fascinating and boredom didn’t occur on this circuit. I was surprised that there weren’t huge crowds in any of these temples, I don’t know if we were lucky or we just chose a good time. My experience was somewhat ruined by the rain, but then that’s no fault of this fantastic place, actually apart from the heavy shower on the last temple (Pre Rup) the light droplets on other temples did give the place character and cooled the place for us as it was the peak of summer.
In my overall opinion the Grand Circuit which could be completed in a single day is perfect to start off with. The reason being is that because the more notable temples are on the small circuit it would be a better progress the experience rather than to have an anti-climax. As in my opinion although the collection of temples in this circuit are astonishing the temples in the small circuit are a little better.
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