Just thought to re-share my time in Siem Reap one of the places I most enjoyed. Although its terrible past, it is one of the places that is getting right back on their feet and boasting to the world what they can offer. A majestic place, some of the happiest and friendliest people. Click the link below to read my full blog about my visit.
Whilst planning a trip to Myanmar’s ancient city of Bagan I thought to myself the similarities that it would have with the ancient province of Cambodia, Siem Reap. During my visit to Bagan I saw some similarities and also some differences but I think both regions are comparable as travel destinations. Here I will write my perceptions between the two provinces and what visitors would expect and which I believe is better in certain aspects.
I first start by saying my comparison of Bagan and Siem Reap is my own opinion. I respect that the two are largely religious pilgrimages but am only comparing its beauty as a tourists point of view.
Siem Reap Siem Reap had the more spectacular temples in terms of appearance. Its age, artwork and variety of design were something of a goose bump moment. Siem Reap’s temples were also much larger and the fact that their temples were built in more ancient times the appeal was greater. Furthermore many of Siem Reaps temples had roots growing around them giving their overall appearance a majestic movie feel.
Bagan Bagan’s temples although amazing were much simpler, smaller and newer in architecture. Furthermore, most of the temples/ pagodas I visited had similar design which mean it was easier to get bored seeing Bagan temple after temple.
Which is better? For me hands down Siem Reap gets my vote on the appearance for its temples and Pagodas, its architecture and decorations were just superior in appearance.
Siem Reap In terms of the setting Siem Reap’s temples were predominantly set in a jungles. Whereas some have been situated near lakes, I have been told many of them are manmade and not natural. Having its temples set in the middle of the jungle means that nature is constantly taking its cause and tree roots grow take over the temples structure.
Bagan Bagan’s Pagoda’s and temples were situated in dusty, sandy grass fields, there are trees but far less than Siem Reap. There are a few pagodas situated lakeside, but the majority are set in isolation. However this is a positive as from various viewing points if high enough you are able to see all or a bunch of temples and pagodas together, a sight to see especially upon sunrise or sunset.
Which is better? For me I love both settings but edge towards Bagan for the settings due to its capabilities to see the collection of temples in a very beautiful landscape. Seeing the sunrise and sunset here is probably the best in the world.
Environment and Atmosphere
Siem Reap One thing I have acknowledged between the two is that Siem Reap and its temples are fully secured with security, no go zones and ticket inspections which is a must for the community and its structures but can dampen the experience.
Secondly the huge negative for Siem Reap are its crowds. Although not entirely on all its attractions and not on every single time of the day, I do believe it is no exaggeration if you sometimes hear the atmosphere being described as a zoo of people. There are so many nice photo opportunities and from many different angles however you’d be lucky to find a spot without crowds in the background.
Bagan One of the things I love about Bagan and have been very vocal about is its freedom. The fact that I can rent an Ebike and ride around as if I was a local was a huge difference to the experience. There was also far less crowds in Bagan which is always a positive in areas like this. Furthermore there are far less security and ticket officers around Bagan this is a good thing for the freedom of exploration however I do acknowledge that this is something that may have to change in the future as an increase in tourism is possible.
Which is better? The environment and atmosphere between the two region were very different from each other. One was very busy whilst the other was quiet. In my opinion I easily and passionately say Bagan tops this one. The sheer freedom to walk wherever, whenever and enjoy the setting without huge crowds is just perfect to enjoy.
Siem Reap I didn’t experience large differences in price but do acknowledge Siem Reap as being much more advanced in infrastructure. There are Malls, Reputable Restaurants/ hotels, Banks and much more. That being said food, accommodation and or souvenirs were a little more expensive.
Bagan Bagan was cheap, even for the areas pleasing tourism (albeit a little more expensive for locals). Food outlets looked like family businesses rather than chains. Due to this prices vary but still very cheap.
Which is better? I didn’t feel a huge difference with prices but I do feel Bagan was a little bit cheaper than again Siem Reap had the more reputable outlets.
I could see that tourism is very important for Siem Reap and they have built a lot of facilities to accommodate its influx. A theatre for cultural dance, dedicated night markets and also a strip for nightlife were positive extras for the region.
Transport wise there was countless tuk-tuks on offer when needed.
Bagan was a little bit quieter than Siem Reap, there was no malls for shopping or a strip for nightlife. Groceries were also scarce so snack would be bought from restaurants, hotels or independent vendors.
The Ebikes made Bagan the extravagant experience it was, due to the freedom to explore where you want when you want for a fixed price. There was very little in any other transport, I did see horse carriages and a few tuk-tuks.
Which is better?
The Ebikes made my experience unlike any other I have experienced around the world and if only Siem Reap incorporated the same that would be amazing but I don’t expect it would be possible there because of the amount of tourists at any one time.
Overall this one is hard because Bagan had the Ebikes but then it was very quiet and little to do after seeing the attractions. Whilst Siem Reap was huge to facilitate tourism and tourists requirements.
I’d go for a draw on this one I cant chose between the two.
For me this was very close and although I maintain the structures of Siem Reaps temples were incredibly majestic and in my opinion better than that of Bagan’s. There is also more to see and do in Seam Reap, if you get bored of temples there are other amusements for any sort of visitor.
However there is something about Bagan which made my time visiting one of the best I have ever experience. I have concluded that the Ebikes, the freedom of movement and the aspects of the sunrise and sunsets made the overall experience special and different.
Although I edge Bagan being better than Siem Reap as an overall experience I believe both provinces are spectacular and top the list of places I have ever visited.
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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All the temples in Siem Reap require a ticket, the temples in both the Grand Circuit and Small Circuit only require a single all inclusive ticket for all . However some of the temples a bit further out of the centre have got their own independent ticket.
As the tourism industry is so important for the province and country the control of tickets is tightly managed. So controlled that you can only obtain tickets from the only official ticket office that exists. I believe the tight management in ticket sales are in order to deter any counterfeit tickets and maybe as the income is so great to also minimise the chances of corruption. Be aware that tickets are not sold elsewhere so purchases made from hotels, online and other 3rd party vendors will not be valid.
The tickets are varied in different categories. There is a 1 day, 3 days and 7 days tickets, whereas for the multi day tickets you wouldn’t need to use the tickets all in consecutive days and could spread these out for a total of 10 days for the 3 day pass and 1 month for the 7 day pass.
1 day pass = USD $37 3 day pass = USD $62 7 day pass = USD $72
(as of April 19)
I believe it is cheaper for Cambodian nationals.
The prices do contribute a little to a local children hospital fund.
To get the tickets you would need to go to the only ticket outlet available, usually your tour operator or tuk-tuk driver would ask you if you already have a ticket or would need to go and purchase one. The ticket office is a nice new huge traditional building complete with shops, an ATM and many other amenities. There are different lines and booths for the different categories. At the time I visited there weren’t many people there and no lines at all.
I decided to buy a 3 day pass as it was most convenient for my trip. You can pay your ticket by cash and even card and the tickets will require a photograph which is taken on the spot (I believe to prevent sharing of tickets or theft of ticket). In minutes you will receive your nice looking paper ticket which in my opinion looks really nice worthy of keeping as a souvenir.
The tickets (if multiday) are validated upon entry at the entry points bordering the temple areas, at the beginning of each day the attendant would hole punch the current day as to know you have used up one of the day if you have obtained a multi day pass. Your ticket will be checked again at the entrance of each temple and the picture of your ticket will be closely monitored in order to make sure the owner is correct.
Dates at the back hole punched to validate the days entered
For other further temples such as Beng Melea, Koh Ker and even the Phnom Khulen National Park a separate ticket is purchased (im not to sure of the reasons for this). On my 5 day stay at Siem Reap I decided not to go to these long distant temples so Im not too sure about the tickets and the system of purchase.
“Majestic and truly outstanding, a place that must not be missed”
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 The Good: Temples are outstanding, Cheap The Bad: Very busy and crowded at some temple locations
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.
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.
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.
Wat Thmey Killing Fields
Wat Thmey Killing Fields
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.
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 theGrand 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.
Day three we decided to do theSmall 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Please read more in-depth blogs on my experience in Siem Reap (please click to read):
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)