Angkor Wat is the largest temple in Angkor, built in early 12th century and dedicated to Lord Vishnu (all other Hindu temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva). The temple is grand and gorgeous - it is made of grey sandstone, has five towers, numerous courtyards and galleries. A guide is definitely required to understand the layout and its significance. Just north of Angkor is Bayon temple. It is a Buddhist temple built in late 12th century by a tolerant Hindu ruler . It is built in the centre of Angkor Thom city. The temple is famous for its four faced Buddhas - giant sculptures adorning its towers. Ta Phrom is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Parts of the temple have been overtaken by jungle which actually enhance its beauty and so the archeologists have left the temple alone in its state of ruin.We made brief stops at three more temples on the short circuit - Thommanom , Chau Say Tevoda and Ta Keo.After that I came to the hotel for lunch and to rest for some time. At 4:30 the guide picked me up to take me to Phnom Bakheng temple for sunset. Dedicated to Shiva, Phnom Bakheng was built in late 9th to early 10th century. It was located in Yasodharapura, an earlier capital city of Khmer Empire. Located on top of a small hill, it is a popular tourist spot for watching sunset. It took us about 20 minutes to climb up to reach the entrance of the temple. There was a very long queue to get in. The officials allow only a limited number of tourists to enter the temple. As and when tourists exit the temple, equal number of tourists are allowed to go in. As the timing of sunset approached the number of tourists coming out trickled down and it looked like I was going to miss the sunset. Luckily I made it just in time.My guide told me later that guards allow tourists to stay up in the temple only for 15 min at a time. So it is important to reach there at the the right time - one can't be too early either.My guide then dropped me to see an Apsara Dance show at 7pm. Entrance fee was USD 6, and food/drinks as per actuals. The dance show was ok, nothing great but good enough to fill an evening if you have time on hand.After the show I walked down 2km to the Pub Street (tuktuks are readily available if you want one), browsed the souvenir shops in Old Market for some time, had dinner at a nice Italian restaurant on Pub Street, and then back to the hotel.Day 15: Siem ReapThe guide picked me up at 5am to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. I had informed my hotel in advance and they had packed breakfast for me. There was a huge crowd at the temple to see the sunrise. While some tourists were going inside the temple, my guide informed me that best location to see sunrise is from outside across the moat. Many people were sitting there already. I comfortably sat facing the temple and waited for the sunrise. As the sun started coming up, the sky and its changing colors looked gorgeous. My guide told me that on Equinox days , the sun comes up directly behind the central tower of Angkor Wat. That must be some sight to behold.After watching the sunrise we headed to Banteay Srei temple, located 35km away. The temple was built in 10th century. It is much smaller than others, but considered one of the most beautiful with its extremely delicate carvings. It is made of pink sandstone and very well preserved.On the way back we made a short stop at Pre Rup temple built in 10th century.We returned to the main city, and then drove 15km South-East of Siem Reap town to see the oldest temples of Khmer Empire -Bakong and Preah Ko. The temples were built in city of Hariharalaya, the first capital city of Khmer Empire. Hariharalaya means city of 'Harihara' - God who is half Vishnu half Shiva. Bakongbuilt in 881 AD, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is made up of grey sandstone in the style of Angkor Wat temple. Few tourists visit Bakong , probably because its outside the main circuits. I found the temple absolutely beautiful and would highly recommend to include it in your tour of Angkor Temples. Preah Ko, built in 879 AD is the oldest Khmer Temple. Preah Ko means 'sacred bull'. There are three sandstone statues of Nandi, the bull in front of the temple.With this I finished the Angkor temples tour, and returned to my hotel for a late lunch. After resting for a couple of hours, I headed out to Angkor Night Market located not more than 200m from my hotel. Very similar to the other tourist markets in Cambodia/Vietnam.Day 16: Fly back to MumbaiThe hotel provided a complimentary drop to the Siem Reap International Airport by tuktuk. It took me about 20 min to reach the airport. Check in and immigration was very smooth. Airport is small with a few souvenir shops and some food kiosks, but no vegetarian option.Some Other Suggestions/Tips:1. Reduce a day in Hanoi and add it to Hoi An visit. You can probably skip visit to the West Lake in Hanoi or reduce shopping time. There is not much to do/see in Hoi An but we loved strolling around/cycling in its charming streets.2. If you are not too interested in Khmer Rouge history, then skip Phnom Penh and spend extra two days in Vietnam exploring town of Nha Trang. We didn't go there but as per my friends who have been there it is a beautiful sea-side town. There are many direct flights between Ho Chi Min and Siem Reap.3. If you have only one day for visiting Siem Reap temples then this is what I suggest - do sunrise at Angkor Wat, then visit Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm. Now based on the time in hand either visit Banteay Srei (35km away) or Bakong (15km) away. Have lunch and by 4:30pm head out to Phnom Bakheng to see the sunset (I went in off season, the queue maybe longer in peak season so check with your guide).4. Vietnam is the second biggest producer of coffee. We bought 'Trung Nguyen' coffee as per our guide's recommendation. You can also pick up a Vietnamese filter. A variety of coffee beans commonly available in tourist shops is 'Kopi Luwak' or 'Weasel Coffee' - before you buy it you should know that the coffee beans of Weasel coffee are picked out from droppings of a hamster. It is actually one of the most expensive coffee in the world.5. In typical Vietnamese cafes, coffee is served with 'condensed milk' which makes it very sweet. You may want to specify that you want normal milk and not condensed milk.When to visit Vietnam/Cambodia :Weather wise best time to visit Vietnam/Cambodia is from November to March when it is cool and dry. Of course most of the tourists visit during this period so hotel/tour prices will also be higher. Happy journey!This trip was originally published on Nidhi On Road.
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.
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.
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.
Golden Temple Villa
There are several hostels that offer cheap rates in Siem Reap, but I specifically chose Golden Temple Villa because apart from the usual room features and freebies, they have free bicycles exclusive for guests. The hotel has this quaint and charming vibe, and we were welcomed with refreshing drinks and a bowl of local peanuts. The complimentary breakfast was good and the staff willingly packed it for us so we can take it to our Angkor Wat tour.
Belmiro's Pizza and Subs
Located right in the centre of town, Belmiro's is a great little place for western cuisine. The host and waiters bring this place to life and you will be stuffed with any meal you decide to have from here! Truly worth a visit if you feel like having a slice of home away from home!
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."
Kompong Phluk Village
Kampong Phluk is a cluster of three villages of stilted houses built within the floodplain of the Tonle Sap about 16 km southeast of Siem Reap. The villages are primarily Khmer and have about 3,000 inhabitants between them. Flooded mangrove forest surrounds the area and is home to a variety of wildlife including crab-eating macaques.
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.
Karavansara Retreat and Residences
Tucked in a quiet lane just a few minutes from Pub Street in Siem Reap is the elegant Karavansara Retreat. With tastefully decorated apartments, cosy yet spacious rooms and the most amiable and helpful staff, this boutique hotel has something for every traveller. The Taberu Restaurant (located on the property itself) which offers Khmer fusion cuisine and a wonderful breakfast spread is a plus. Additionally, if in case you miss big names, a Hard Rock Cafe is located just down the street.
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.