Siem Reap

Type : Historical, Religious, Cultural
Best Date : Dec – Jan
Expense :  Medium
Things to do : Visit Temples, Bike tours, ATV tours,
Points of Interest: Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom, Banteay Srei, Preah Khan, Killing Fields, Night Market, Military Museum and many more

Brief

Siem Reap is a province north of Cambodia, the main hub for the world famous temple structures such as the Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm which was the set for the Tomb Raider movie. Siem Reap means “Siamese Defeated” which refers to the victory of the Khmer empire against the Thai Kingdom. Tourism is said to be the main form of income to the province and thus this is tightly controlled by the government.

I have been so excited to go to Siem Reap for a while now and with a consistency in top 5 must see places in various different websites and blogs and because of this I had high hopes for this place. Before this trip Machu Picchu was my top and favourite place to date and I wanted to see if this province and its attractions can knock it off my personal first place.

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The Place

My stay in Siem Reap was a total of 5 days which was advised a little too long for a visit. They have told me that apart from temples which could be completed in 2-3 days, there is not much else to see and do in the province. Taking opinions into account I researched and read more blogs and websites which various sources do indeed recommend a 2-3 days stay which made me panic a bit as I already confirmed my plans and have had various bookings made. However I did decide to proceed with my plans and see and judge the place to myself.

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My first day was kind of a surprise as it was the last day of the Cambodian new year. Hotels were packed and there was a lot of people many holding water guns (which got me quiet confused). We arrived early morning about 8am, me and my friend Russel (who was with me on this trip) decided to head to our hostel and see if they would let us check-in or to leave are bags. As the period was busy we weren’t able to check-in and we had to just leave are bags and explore the city. We didn’t have too much plans and we wanted to leave the temples for the next day for tactical reasons which I will explain further-on. So we decided to get a tuk-tuk driver to take us around the nearby points-of-interests which were the Wat Thmey Killing Fields and the Military Museum.

The Wat Thmey Killing Fields is the area mass killings took place during the 20th century by the ruling party the Khmer Rouge. This place is not one visits to enjoy themselves and take selfies but a place for respect, education and reflection. Today the area which is free of charge has a temple and a few educational features. There is also a pagoda which has placed all the remains of some of the victims of this awful tragedy. After our visit to the killing fields, it was rightful we learnt more about the conflict and headed to the Military Museum. This museum did have a small entrance fee but I’d say was worth it. The museum showcased many real vehicles and weapons of the wartime era and most educational for me was the landmine exhibition which was a big deal for Cambodia at the time.

Whilst on our way back to the hostel with our dedicated tuk-tuk driver we were suddenly squirted with water via a water gun by pedestrians which got me a little mad but our tuk-tuk driver was smiling and laughing and he explained it is the last day of new year and there will be a huge water fight around temple street at night. He explained that everyone is happy and no-one gets angry or mad at this water fight, locals and tourists are welcome. This was a huge bonus for my trip as I had no idea this was happening (what an experience). I set out to get a water gun and found that I was being charged much higher than the locals which I expected anyway, after a few hours of haggling I found my toy. That night was beautiful, it was truly a festival spectacle. Load music, firework displays, bright lights but the difference was everyone was wet. Throughout the road just by Temple street kids, adults, locals and tourists had water-guns and were playing without limits. The experience for me was brilliant it was unlike anything I have ever done.

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The second day we were now joined by my cousin. I collected her from the airport at around 8am and after a short rest we decided to start with visiting the Temples. In Siem Reap there are many different temples to visit and the tours and tickets are closely managed by the government. We opted for a 3 day pass hence we didn’t visit temples on our first day to conserve our pass days. I will be explaining this in depth on another blog (Siem Reap and its temples), which will include the temples themselves and the different tours which all follow the same pattern. On our first temple day (day two of Siem Reap) we decided to roam the morning in the city and took the ‘Sunset Tour’ which was the outer Circuit also known as the Grand Circuit. Included in this are popular temples such as Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som and Pre Rup the popular location for views of the sunset. It was a four hour tour using a tuk-tuk however the weather was not in our favour for the end as it rained heavily as we were stopping to our last temple and the most important one to see the sunset. I had mixed feeling for the Grand tour as there were some very amazing structures and others were nothing special. A more in depth post about the Grand Circuit can be found here.

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Day three  we decided to do the Small Circuit and a further temple called Bantaey Srei. The small circuit included temples such as Angkor Thom, Banteay Kdei, Srah Srang, the famous Ta Prohm temple which featured in the Tomb Raider film, the main temple of the country Angkor Wat and many more. Bantaey Srei was 40km away from the village so our tuk-tuk driver decided to take us there first and then return for the small circuit afterwards, the journey to this temple was long and about after halfway the excitement begins to die down. After visiting this we headed towards the small circuit which included all the more notable temples on offer in Siem Reap. Bayon was specifically my favourite ahead of Angkor Wat, it was enchanting and tested my view if Machu Picchu was better, however at the end Bayon still couldn’t knock the Peruvian mountain off my top spot.  A more in depth post about the Small Circuit can be found here.

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Angkor Wat

The next day and day four of Siem Reap my parent arrived for their visit and we moved from a hostel into a luxurious hotel. We used this day as a rest day as you could get bored with a temple overload, so we lounged at the pool and roamed the village further which there wasn’t much to it. In the evening we attended a traditional Khmer cultural show in Koulen Restaurant which was just behind our hotel. This show included quality buffet dinner which had so many choices. The performances were outstanding.

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After the cultural show we decided to head to town and to Temple road to do our shopping for the trip. The road was very lively, it was a diverse mixture of people from locals and tourists, old and young. Walking around we also passed through Market street and the Arts market. These places are really nice to hang around but I was surprised that unlike other markets across Asia, the markets here close very early at around 9pm or 10pm.

 

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Day five was a repeat of the Small circuit which me and my cousin have done but parents haven’t yet. The fact that I had a 3 day ticket meant I had 1 more day to use so we decided to redo the small circuit to learn more about the place rather than roam at our own account. However this time the tour was inclusive of a van rather than a tuk-tuk and an English speaking tour guide. I was able to distinguish the difference in having a luxurious tour and also doing things on a budget. I believe that using a nice air-conditioned van is much more comfortable, but it does take away the extra authentic feel of the places you are visiting. However the guide was a positive in that you gain more knowledge of the place, but as tours can be shared picture or roaming opportunities can be limited.

Conclusion

In conclusion Siem Reap has lived up to its reputation as a very enchanting place to visit, the people, its culture and history are just amazing apart from the terrible tragedy of its wartime era. Siem Reap was the majestic place I have imagined and all the positive travel reviews I have read were accurate. Furthermore I agree that Siem Reap is consistently a chart topping travel destination even with popular travel guide publishers ‘Lonely Planet‘. Sadly for me neither Angkor Wat or Bayon have beaten my favourite place in Machu Picchu, however they firmly take my second spot of places to visit.

Many people would advise you to visit for 2-3 days max as apart from the temples there is not much to do. However from my experience a 5 day stay is also practical as there is just so many temples to you may want to visit.

I thoroughly recommend a visit to Siem Reap and although travel to the province is somewhat difficult it is worth it.

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Please read more in-depth blogs on my experience in Siem Reap (please click to read):

  1. Tickets, Entry to the Temples
  2.  Small Circuit (Coming soon)
  3. Grand Circuit
  4. Further Temples (Coming soon)

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Reference:

https://www.tourismcambodia.com/travelguides/provinces/siem-reap/introduction.htm

 

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Still The Best Place I’ve Been

So ive been to a few more adventures since my mind blowing trip to Peru and to Machu Picchu. Firmly on top of all my places visited I have questioned if there is any place at all in the world that would knock Machu Picchu as the greatest place I can visit. I believed my Cambodian trip to Siem Reap would challenge Machu Picchu and although it came close, it just wasn’t enough to change my mind on Machu Picchu.
My current Top 5 Visited (click to see read blog or watch videos)

  1. Peru, Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu)
  2. Cambodia, Siem Reap (Bayon)
  3. Philippines, Cebu (Tison Falls)
  4. Finland, Rovaniemi(Lapland)
  5. Spain, Pamplona (San Fermin Festival)

“As mind blowing and spectacular as Bayon was, it just didn’t give me the chills that Machu Picchu gave me.”

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#2 Bayon

Please click below to see the post I wrote about the whole Machu Picchu.

https://sunandthreestars.blog/2018/04/09/aguas-calientes/

Is there any place that you think would beat Machu Picchu?

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#4 Finland, Rovaniemi

The Machu Picchu & Huayna Picchu Experience

Brief

Machu Picchu is the Incan citadel on top of the Andes mountains, located in Urubamba province within the Cusco region in Peru. The famous mountain attraction is 2nd in Lonely Planet’s must go to places in the world. Furthermore the Incan citadel is about 2,500 metres high, said to be made for the emperor Pachacuti but was later abandoned at the time of the Spanish conquest.

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The Experience

 Entering Machu Picchu you will require your paper ticket and your passport, in what is like an airport style entry.  At times there is a long line but when I was there it was just a walk through. Take note there is only one toilet at the entrance of the site so emptying your bladder before proceeding would be sensible. If you do go back out to go to the toilet you will need your ticket and passport again and may need to line up.

Entering Machu Pichu there will be some people presenting themselves as tour guides (for a price) I believe they are legitimate guides but I don’t really know how much they were as I didn’t take one which I do regret, as the site itself had no descriptions and without the guide you would just be walking around the Incan ruin without any explanations.

Machu Picchu has various different routes, I think 5 in total which all circuit to the exit. It is possible to take all the routes but it can be tiring and time consuming. Attendants are ever present on the site as they look after the ruins and protect people from dangerous areas, however the site itself was relatively safe and controlled with plenty of resting areas. All ages and abilities can visit the site as there is nothing too difficult, I even saw a woman on a wheelchair so I believe it has disabled access routes.

The ruins itself were amazing with the huge boulders and stone walls still fully standing. The most Iconic building for me was the Guardhouse Watch Tower which had the best views of the whole citadel. Everything about Machu Picchu was great with uncountable scenic areas and magnificent ancient structures. I did however miss out on seeing the Alpacas and Llamas, which would have been one of the highlight pictures of the visit, nonetheless the experience was one of kind. Visiting Machu Picchu also requires a lot of luck, some days you can have very clear skies whereas others may get rain and worst clouds where you cant see anything. However the walks were too easy and I was definitely looking forward to the higher more challenging mountain ahead with Huayna Picchu.

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If you have bought the ticket to Huayna Picchu, the entrance to the mountain is at the back of the site. you will see a little hut with the map of Huayna Picchu, it has two gates one for exit and the other for entrance. It is advisable that you arrive 15 minutes before your allotted time as there can be an instant rush when the gates open, but I believe you can enter at anytime within your allotted time. Again your passport is required for this as they carefully monitor whose gone in and whose gone out.

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Huayna Picchu itself has one huge circular route but a few detours to turn back. I can only say that the higher you go the more difficult the climb is as stairs get steeper and thinner with not much to hold onto and there are points (higher up) where if you proceed there is no return and you will need to follow the route ahead. In my experience all climbers help and encourage each other where possible and no one was selfish, if someone looked like they needed help nobody would just walk pass that person. There is plenty of resting points on the mountain many with great views, but some areas are so tight you couldn’t stop as people behind would like to keep moving. To climb Huayna Picchu you will need to be a little fit but I did see 8th graders and seniors so i don’t think you need to be highly a20180319_113358thletic. Best advice is to take your time, do your own pace and bring lots of water. If for any reason you cant handle the climb don’t be ashamed to turn back or ask for help. As you climb up there will be plenty of different panoramic views of the scenery around but the best place is the view of Machu Pichu itself (if its not cloudy). Furthermore at the top you may take a picture of the Huayna Pichu sign which many mountains have at their peak (this area is a good resting point). The experience at Huayna Picchu was one of a kind, there was fear, adrenaline and also excitement. I have to admit the site was somewhat dangerous as there were little to no barriers, marshals and places to hold onto, which for me was the beauty of it all.

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Conclusion

My Peru, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu experience has been extraordinary, it has been a trip full of education and challenges with every scenery as extravagant as you would see in magazines. Machu Picchu could prove to be very expensive but I can honestly say it is every penny well spent. It is one of those destination that even the best blogs cannot portray and you have to go and see it for yourself to be able to appreciate the scale of this mountain.

If you are yet to go, it is important to know that the Machu Picchu experience starts as you land in Peru, the journey to the site is as exciting as the mountain attraction itself so enjoy every bit of it.

Reference:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machu_Picchu

Where to go in the Philippines?

Brief

Philippines is a very popular destination for different kinds of tourists, whether you are a backpacker, solo traveller, couple, family, young or old there is something the Philippines can offer.  Moreover the country has its more luxurious properties and places to visit whilst there are others which don’t need plenty of funds to enjoy.

Philippines has approximately 1,700 islands and islets, full of beautiful scenery and wildlife. There are also places built up like any modern metropolis around the world.

Below is a few ideas of where to go, depending on what type of a holiday or travel you are looking for. Click on the links (if available for galleries or blogs). This page will be updated regularly.

Where should I go?

Beaches: Cebu, Davao, Palawan, Boracay, Puerto Galera, Pangasinan, Bohol, Pagudpud, Baler, Siargao, Panglao Island, Camiguin

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Cultural: Vigan, Cebu, Baguio, Bacolod City, Sagada, Dumaguete, Iloilo City, Quezon City, Manila

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Religious: Manaoag, Antipolo, Novaliches, Quiapo , Cebu, Sagada, Iloilo City

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Party Goer/ Nightlife: Boracay, Makati, Taguig, Subic Bay, Angeles, Quezon Avenue, Cebu (Mango Avenue),

pub crawl (8)

Bargain/ Shopping: Makati, Manila, Quiapo, Cebu

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Adventurist/ Adrenaline Seeker: Cebu, Zamboanga, Laoag, Tagaytay, Baler, Cagayan De Oro, Pagudpud

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Couples retreat/ Honeymooners: Busuanga (Palawan), El Nido (Palawan), Coron (Palawan), Davao, Siargao, Panglao Island

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Families: Subic Bay, Cebu, Manila, Tagaytay, Baguio,

Subic (85)

Backpacker: Banaue, Cebu, Bohol, Palawan

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Luxurious: Davao, Palawan, Fort Bonifacio, Busuanga,

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Divers: Davao, Palawan, Cebu, Panglao Island

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Trekkers/ Hiker: Banaue, Camiguin, Cebu,

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Food: Tagaytay (for Bulalo), Cebu (for Lechon), Pampanga (For Sisig, Longanisa, Tocino), Dagupan (Milkfish),

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