About Siem Reap
Since arriving in Siem Reap, Cambodia last September I've been itching to get out and explore. I'm also keen to share what this beautiful country has to offer aside from the Angkor Temples and The Killing Fields. Whilst these are absolute musts, there's a whole lot more to Cambodia, much of it off the beaten track, away from the tourist hoards. With that in mind, this series was born. Andy and I will endeavour to visit and write about one off the beaten track place here every month. The aim being to encourage people to stay longer in Cambodia and see some of it's less touristy offerings. First up is a Kulen Mountain day trip, where a group of us went on a day trip from Siem Reap in January. Siem Reap is as being as flat as a pancake, but 40 km to the North East of Angkor Wat, in Svay Leu District is Phnom Kulen National Park. The small regular shaped plateau of the Phnom Kulen mountain range protrudes from the landscape, nestled amongst thick jungle. Locals consider Kulen Mountain or 'Mountain of Lychees' to b the most sacred mountain in Cambodia. It's frequently visited by Buddhists and Hindus's in pilgrimage. On top of the plateau is a sacred hilltop with about 30 ruined temples. Much of the land is yet to be de-mined, which means currently, the public can't visit many of the temples, and definitely not without an expert guide. What to See and Do
Best Time To Visit Siem Reap
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Cambodia has been made even more famous by Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, the Angelina Jolie movie which was shot mainly at the Ta Phrom temple (pictured above). Jolie adopted her first child Maddox from Cambodia, as well. The throng of visitors was particularly heavy at this temple with an orderly queue of people waiting to pose for pictures at this spot.
The people of Cambodia are called Khmer and so is their language. Their empire, obviously called Khmer Empire in the early 8th century adopted Hinduism and has the most magnificent and well preserved temples depicting key events in Hinduism and Buddhism. The main temple called the Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world built in the 12th century and is surrounded by the most fascinating monuments you will ever witness. Tomb Raider was famously shot in one of these temples. Long forgotten with no human contact, nature steadily worked its magic on these ruins. Plants and time claimed these structures with multitude of species calling it home and us, paid visitors. Situated in the province of Siam Reap, Angkor is a must on every travellers map. The sun rising above the Angor Wat is a sight many throng to see.
Today, post breakfast, we spend the day exploring the Angkor temples. Each display is individual and unique. Witness the splendor of these magnificent creations, with a surprise around every corner. We’ll end the day with dinner at a local restaurant accompanied by an Apsara dance show (traditional Khmer dance performance).
This was our favourite place to hang out and enjoy a nice cold beer! There are many pubs to choose from so enjoy picking one out. Through these streets you will also enjoy seeing the small push carts people have offering snakes, grasshoppers, spiders and scorpions to eat... I must say, I didn't like the look of any, let alone tasting them!
Tonle Sap Lake
A visit to the calm waters of Tonle Sap lake and its luring boat ride are a must to-do in the Siem Reap province. As exciting and exhuberating is the local experience around the lake, you can find much interest in exploring the shifting boundaries of this great central lake. You can even enjoy a visit across the floating villages, fish sanctuary, bird sanctuary and the swampy forests in the region.
Angkor Thom is the city of the Khmer. It has large garden, entry gates, walls and of course temples. The famous Bayon temples that has the faces in stone is situated here. Angkor thom was the biggest and the most populated city in the pre industrial era. It was a city built on the back of great engineering that enabled the population to have a constant source of water in spite of not having a river nearby.
If there is one example of stone faces looking as though they were animated, the Bayon is a perfect one. Built by the Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, the Bayon is another imposing structure at Angkor. The spellbinding carvings of the dancing apsaras (fairies) of Hindu mythology need to be seen in order to understand the capabilities of creative intelligence. A lot of walking is involved along with a tad bit of climbing while the sun can be harsh, therefore, water and sunglasses/hats are essential.
This is one of the most flocked temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park mainly because it was the location of the movie Tomb Raider. But beyond Ta Prohm's fame lies a state of beauty amid the ruins. The complex has been untouched by archaeologists except for the clearing of a path for visitors and some structural strengthening to avoid future deterioration.
Phsa Leu Thom Thmey
Built on a massive sandstone rock is the 16th Century Preah Ang Thom Monastery. This houses a huge gold reclining Buddha, again, carved out of sandstone. The monastery is reached via a flight of stone steps. The approach is lined with stalls selling offerings, such as flowers, fruit, fake 100 riel notes, and incense sticks. There is also a good selection of food and drink stalls, the smell of BBQ meat wafting past is enough to tempt anyone. Valley of A Thousand Lingas
While not run by an NGO, many of the sophisticated restaurants had projects with the community or donation boxes and flyers to help. Others, like the Butterflies Garden Café had a little shop selling items from disadvantaged communities as well as a portion of their profits going into literacy and schooling programs.
New Leaf Book Cafe
As a tourist, you spend a lot of money on food and entertainment, and in Siem Reap, it's very easy to spend that money in a way that helps make a difference to the greater community, whether it's buying a cup of coffee from Common Grounds or New Leaf Book Café, enjoying a fabulous modern Khmer meal or seeking out top class entertainment.
Temple Club Restaurant and Bar
For all those budget travellers out there, we really wanted to go see an Aspara dance and dinner show but couldn't afford some $40.00 pp price tag, so instead we found out Temple Club Restaurant and Bar offer free Aspara Shows in the evenings between 19:30 - 21:30 hrs as long as you ordered some food or drinks. We therefore, made this place our dinner location and if you do the same, please please order the Garlic Prawns for starter.... Out. Of. This. World.
With so many temples and places to visit, Siem Reap extends to the second day with a visit to the Ta Prohm, Phrah Khan and Neak Pean temples. After that we head to Artisans D’Angkor and the local market created in 1999 to provide jobs to the rural workers and artisans as well as revive certain Khmer arts and crafts. This is a great place to understand the local culture through its handicrafts as well as pick a souvenir or two to take back home (and support young Khmer artists). After completing the last day in Seam Reap we leave for the capital- Phnom Penh
Kbal Spean in Khmer means the “valley of thousand lingas”. Situated 10 KM from Banteay Srei, it is at the start of the Kulen mountain range and one has to trek up the hill to reach the site. This is not exactly a temple but a shrine of sorts carved on the mountain side itself with a waterfall flowing over it. The trek up the mountain is a good 45-60 min one and the sights along are as unusual as the site itself.
Pub Street is Siem Reap's party hub, so grab a drink (or a scoop of Siem Reap's best ice cream at Blue Pumpkin) and soak it all up. Start your evening at Red Piano, on the corner. The French cuisine is good, but it's best known as Angelina Jolie's haunt while filming "Tomb Raider."