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.
I was surprised to see Shiva in Cambodia during my visit to the Angkor Wat temples. Huge statues of Shiva reside in the galleries of the Angkor Wat temple. A soothsayer sat me down and read my future from old Pali scriptures written on barks and leaves. The ancient culture resides in the city of Siem Reap in Cambodia and Shiva was a part of it. Ever smiling and pleasing, he stands tall and benevolent.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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!