Visiting Siem Reap has been on my list quite some times. I tried several times to go there and cancelled airline tickets once before I actually went there last week. I would love to explore the whole Cambodia including Phnom Penh, but having only several days, I focused my trip on exploring the only thing that has been on my mind, Angkor Temples.
Although Angkor Temples in Siem Reap were popularized by Tomb Raider movie, I was first caught its glimpse on the game in my old Nokia cellphone several years ago. I don’t even remember what’s the name of the game, but in order to win the game, I need to collect diamonds in many places and one of them is Angkor Wat. But of course, it wasn’t until I saw the giant tree and its root coming out from old temple ruins that I was mesmerized and open the calendar to plan the trip.
Given only 3 days include travelling time, I needed to optimize my time in Siem Reap. I knew that I wanted to explore Angkor temples, and there are so many of them. But at the same time, I also wanted to experience Cambodian culture and explore the city and other attractions. To add the dilemma, the Angkor Temple Pass only have one-days, three-day, and a one-week pass. I certainly would not buy the three-day pass since I only have 2,5 days (I had to go back to Kuala Lumpur for transit, before going back to Indonesia in the afternoon of my 3rd day in Siem Reap) to explore Siem Reap. So, I chose to buy the one-day pass, and spend the other 1,5 days exploring Siem Reap and its neighboring Area. Although buying one-day pass for two days in a row also came to mind, after searching about attractions in Siem Reap, I admit I was tempted to explore other attractions as well.
So here’s my itinerary on Siem Reap for 2,5 days;
Day 1 : Arriving in Siem Reap International Airport, Explore Kompong Phluk in Tonle Sap Lake, Explore Siem Reap Night Market, Sunset Quad Bike (cancelled)
Day 2 : Explore the Angkor Temples (Sunrise in Angkor Wat, Sunset in Phnom Bhakeng)
Day 3 : Angkor National Museum, Wat Preah Prom Rath, and Wat Bo Temple
I arrived at Siem Reap International Airport at 7:50 am, and since Indonesian passport does not require visa to enter Cambodia, me and my friend were actually in the second line of immigration before we were free to enter Siem Reap. A tuk-tuk driver as a courtesy from our Airbnb host had already been there to pick us up. His name is Chai. We were then transported from Siem Reap International Airport to our Airbnb stay.
There were lots and lots of Airbnb options, as well as Hotel in Siem Reap. Although you can bargain your way with Tuk-tuk in the Airport, it wouldn’t hurt to pick a hotel/stay with a pick-up included in it. The drive from the airport to the city took about 20 minutes. It was my first experience with Tuk-tuk and I really enjoyed it. Although it was a bit dusty, the ride was pretty smooth, and I could not help but noticing that it felt like home. The houses, roads and the arrangement along the way from the airport to the city somehow reminded me of suburb area of my hometown, Semarang.
Right when I reached our Airbnb, our pick-up for the Tara Boat tour in Kompong Phluk village had been waiting and ready to take us to Tonle Sap Lake, where the village is. We went straight to the tonle sap and it took about 1 hour. We made a stop to a ticket counter where our tour guide paid for the fee (a quick search in the internet informed me the entrance fee is about US$ 20). Then we were bought to the wharf where the traditional boats were parked.
It was a very traditional boat with a machine and fits 8 people on board. From the wharf, we were taken to the village in about 20 minutes ride. Although I have seen similar village of floating houses in Indonesia, I enjoy the colorful house and the distinct design and ornament of the houses.
We also stopped by a Buddhist temple in the area. Although the temple was under constructions, it showcased its color perfectly. The indoor and outdoor walls were filled with colorful mural of Buddhist stories and symbols.
But that wasn’t the best part. The best part of the whole tour was kayak through the floating forest. Yes, a floating forest! The area (include the forest) was actually submerged. Another smaller boat (only for two people) waited for us in one of the floating house, and a lady that was the driver of the boat drove us through the forest. The kayak was one of my best experience ever when travelling. The forest was so serene, away from the screeching sound of the bigger boat’s machine and tourists. The sounds of the kayak paddle pushing the water, the birds, and the winds that moved the tress were so vivid. And we were protected by the forest from the vibrant afternoon sun, allowed us to only get peeking lights from the sparse flock of leaves above us. It was so amazing I couldn’t help but feel that I was somehow on a mystical forest. The kayak was about 30 minutes and some. It felt just about right.
During the ride, we also stopped by a mock-market attended by a lady who lives in the village and sold drinks, snacks, souvenir and school supplies. Yes, School Supplies! The lady was extra polite, asked us where were we coming from and whether we enjoyed the ride. Then she started offering to buy drinks and snacks, which we politely refused (because we hadn’t exchanged our money; we carried few hundreds and we also did not realize that almost EVERY transaction in Cambodia were in dollars; poor us). Then she offered to buy souvenirs and school supplies like books and pen for the children living in the villages. We also said sorry and politely said no, although at that time, I really wanted to buy something for the lady. At the last attempt, she offered us to buy drinks for our kayak paddler which we also said no. I felt helpless by then. Anyway, we then had a break on a restaurant by the lake and they served us a banana, oranges and pineapple. We arrived back to our Airbnb by 1 pm in the afternoon.
We had a lunch on a nearby neighborhood then. A place named Try Me! It was a quite nice place with good food. Everything was perfect before the sky suddenly turned dark and VERY heavy rain came. Later that day, we would have a quad tour outskirt of Siem Reap to enjoy sunset. But due to heavy rain, we cancelled it. We went to the night market instead.
Angkor night market was situated near the old market, in the front of the pub street. It was in the heart of Siem Reap and on a dry season you can navigate your way walking. But it was rain hard, and minutes of raining in Siem Reap means flooding. The area was so easily inundated when raining. Prepare yourself submerged to an ankle-level or even knee-level. But of course, you can always ride a tuk-tuk if you want to stay dry.
The market itself was situated on a high elevated level so even after several hours of rain, it still dry and we can still enjoy the market. Decorating lights were everywhere and it was crowded and hip. There were many stalls, mostly souvenirs and traditional Cambodians goods. The sellers would always tried to invite you in, and once you show attraction to their merchandise, they would definitely persuaded you to buy. It is best not to bargain or ask a price if you only try to look around. But this is place where you can get your souvenirs. If you really want to buy something, try to ask for a price in a several stall so you can compare prices.
And just like that, it was easily become my perfect first day in Siem Reap. The ride to the floating village, kayak through the floating forest, get drenched from the Heavy Rain!, and last but not least, getting lost in the night market.
This is the day I dedicated entirely to explore Angkor Temples. I only knew little about Angkor Temple(s) before I planned to go to Siem Reap. There were many facts that I did not know about Angkor Temples and that it kind of reminded me how I love travelling, because I keep learning about new places I visited. I bought Lonely Planet Cambodia and did my research on the internet as well about how many temples were there and which one I wanted to visit.
I did not even know that the Giant tree that grows on the temple is from a different temple from Angkor Wat. I also did not know that there were so many temples out there. My research proved me that I knew nothing about Angkor Temples and I was so happy that I learned so many facts about the history. The mysteries about Angkor Temples probably also play part of why I wanted to read more about it. I also learned that the Hinduism and Buddhism in Cambodia had a tight connection with what we have here in Indonesia.
Temple to Visit
The four-biggest (or most popular) among tourist are Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and Bayon. But there are temples that just as eautiful and worth visiting. There were terms such as Small Circuit (17 km route) and Big Circuit (26 km route). As you can see in below picture, there are several temples included in small circuit:
Since we have only one day, we picked Angkor Wat, Banteay Kdei, Ta Phrom, Bayon, Phnom Bakhend, and Preah Khan. It’s a mix between small and big circuit.
One day before my plan to Angkor Temples, I tried to negotiate to Tuk-tuk driver the price for one day exploring Angkor Wat. The price depends on how many people will be on a Tuk-tuk and which circuit we want to explore. At that time, we were quoted US $ 18 from 4:30 am to 6 pm to the temples of our selections. If we want to go back to the city center for lunch and then go back again to the temple complex, another US $ applies.
That morning we started at 4:30 am. Our tuk-tuk driver named Chai brought us first to the ticket counter which already flooded by hundreds of tourists tried catching the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Luckily there were many ticket counters we only had to wait less than 5 minutes to buy our tickets.
The ticket to enter Angkor Wat is US $ 37 for one-day pass, US $ 62 for three-days pass and US $72 for a week pass. The ticket price has been raised since 2016. The ticket will have your photo on it which was taken on the ticket counter. As we enter and leave each temple, the ticket will be checked upon, so keep the ticket with you all the time. There are guards in every entrance and exit gate even inside of the temples. Those in the entrance and/or exit gate will check your ticket.
I arrived at Angkor Wat around 5:15 am. It was still dark I could barely see anything. Angkor wat and two other temples were opened at 5 am and they are believed to have the most beautiful view at sunrise, thus they are opened early. I believe thousands of tourists had already been there to pick the best spot for sunrise photo. It was quite cloudy that morning, so the sun was very shy, although we got to see its peeking from the clouds.
My favorite spots to take photograph of Angkor Wat are in the front of its main gate, where there was a small pond both on its left and right sides. I like how the water reflected Angkor Wat. Please be careful as you may be slipped into the water. With hundreds wanted to take decent pictures, it is very imperative for everyone to be very patient and respect each other. I waited patiently until 6:30 am after the crowds dispersed to get a decent shot.
Angkor wat (City of Temples) was built by Suryavarman II and oriented to the West, which was believed the direction of Death. It is different with other temples which facing East. As such, Angkor Wat is believed to be constructed as a tomb. Angkor Wat has four gates, and we entered through its West Gate. The walls surrounding temple are decorated with bas-reliefs which can be read anticlockwise. Angkor wat construction involved 300,000 workers and 6000 elephants, and it was not fully completed. With such vast complex, allow 2-3 hours to fully explore the temple.
The weather in September was generally wet. When it was not raining, it was quite hot. Although wearing sleeveless shirt will help with the weather, it was prohibited to wear sleeveless, short skirt or pants. I read about article where someone was not allowed to buy ticket with inappropriate clothes. Since Angkor Wat was the first temple we visited, we were awed and stayed for about 2,5 hours before we went to our next temple.