2019 has been a huge year for me travelling. I didn’t go to many places but I did tick off some of my targets on my bucket list. 2019 is the year I finally saw the Northern lights which is a huge tick on my list. It is also a year I have visited 7 new countries and a handful of their regions. I also scuba dived again after a few year absent from the activity. However most importantly 2019 will always be remembered as the year I met many travellers which I could say are friends and travel partners for many years to come.
Short Circuit, Asean Trip I
Kuala Lumpur, Apr 19 – First trip of the year and it was a late one. I went for a mini Asian circuit trip and Malaysia was our first stop. To start things off we got straight to hostels, roamed the city on our own and also availed an elephant sanctuary tour. Siem Reap, Apr 19 –This was probably the main focus of this trip, inspired by lonely planet I wanted to see the majestic ancient temples myself. Surprisingly and unplanned I somehow ended up getting to Siem Reap in the middle of a huge celebration(their new year) which we ended up joining in a huge water gun battle with local villagers. Langkawi, Apr 19 –We then went to Langkawi a huge Malaysian island where we went jet skiing and visited a few of their attractions. This time round we were in a hotel to get a little bit of rest. Koh Lipe, Apr 19 – We then excursed to a smaller Thai island to do some scuba diving. The best experience here was the more than unusual immigration system as you line up on the sand where you will see just a desk under a hut. Kuala Lumpur, Apr 19 – Finally we end up in Kuala Lumpur again where we relax and do our final shopping.
Oslo, May 19 – A long weekend trip with friends which correct to reputation proved to be expensive. It was a lovely city with plenty of attractions.
Amsterdam, Sep 19 –Its unusual to travel to Amsterdam with your family with its reputation of being a place for adults. However the city wasn’t only for adults and there was plenty to do as a family. Rotterdam, Sep 19 –After the Amsterdam trip I excursed to Rotterdam by myself which was my first and only solo trip of the year. Rotterdam was small but is proving to be progressing to be a hit for tourism in the future.
Short Circuit, Asean Trip II
Bagan, Oct 19 –One of the best places ive been due to its openness and freedom this is also the place I met some of the greatest travellers there is. Yangon, Nov 19 –Just like Bagan Yangon was a beautiful place I have met some great people. The city sprung a few surprises. It was more modern than I thought it would be and it also had some of the friendliest people in any place I have travelled. Bangkok, Nov 19 –Long overdue visit to the Thai capital. It was meant to be a restful end to my holiday but it proved to be the opposite. The adventures were too great and I ended up visiting many attractions.
Reykjavik and southern coast, Dec 19 –A 5 day trip to one of the most exciting place I have visited. I finally got tosee the northern lights which is a big tick on my bucket list. Furthermore the country’s mountains, waterfalls and other natural landscapes were just out of this world.
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.
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.
“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.
So its been a short while since my short trip to Cambodia’s Siem Reap, Malaysia’s Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur and the quick touch of Thailand in Koh Lipe.
So where next?
Well I have a quick weekend trip to Amsterdam this September. However I have also decided to pursue a trip to Myanmar also known as Burma this October. Reason being is that I have been persuaded by a friend who is from the country and the fact that Bagan has just been made a UNESCO world heritage site. I am a little sad I wont be able to visit Mandalay and the country’s new capital Naypyitaw but I guess this could be done on another trip.
I want to visit as much of the country as possible but unfortunately with only a week to venture (due to work) it looks like I will only have time to visit two main regions, Bagan and Yangon. Bagan being highly advised and a must not miss during a stay in Myanmar, whilst Yangon is a huge city which is my entry and exit point, so I decided to have a look around aswell. I have decided to stay in hostels for the simple reason that I meet more people there, then to end the trip I have decided to stay in a more luxurious hotel in order to rest-up and relax.
So what do I expect from this trip?
I expect similarities between Myanmar and Cambodia. I expect Myanmar to have the more modern temples whilst Cambodia the older more ancient temples, however the lifestyle I envisage (but could be wrong) to be the same. I expect to use unusual modes of transport but food similar to that of Cambodian, Thai and Malaysian cuisines. Visiting here hasn’t really been on my bucket list but just recently after visiting Cambodia it was high up on my list.
Time to plan for Winter 2019, and with 2018’s winter trip to Finland’s capital Helsinki and Rovaniemi proving very successful, I’m just wondering where I should go to this year.
My winter trips are usually festive so, me what with a Christmas spirit. Furthermore my desired trip should preferably be with snow but its not necessary and hopefully with something new and different.
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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