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 Mumbai
The 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.