Siem Reap: Cambodia’s Most Glorious History

I know its been almost two months since I returned to the U.S. from the great continent of Asia, but I am still determined to finish posting about Zak and I’s trip. After we left Phnom Penh, we headed to Siem Reap, the capitol of tourism in Cambodia and the site of some of the most famous ruins in the entire world; Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples. Any person who says they visited this vast area in one day is insane. We took three full days to see the temples, and I felt like we merely scratched the surface of what there was to see.

Siem Reap is the wealthy province in Cambodia, due to high tourist traffic, but it is still noticeably poor. It is located in the northwestern part of the country, and the highway to get there from Phnom Penh is not paved for most of the journey. It is the country’s equivalent of I-95, I-70, or any other major U.S. interstate. The town itself is okay, there is a river running through it that gives it a peaceful atmosphere, but what I saw was mostly overpriced, under-quality restaurants, tourist gift shops and those spas where the fish eat your feet. I think it was my least favorite city  we visited, as I felt like most of the authenticity had been buried under all the tourist attractions. However, the temples we saw were absolutely worth staying here. There is such a variety and they are all amazing in their own way.

Although Angkor Wat is the most famous temple built by the kingdom at Angkor, it is not the only one, as there are many others in the surrounding area. The temples started being built in A.D. 900 or so, a fact that was not lost on me while visiting them. Places like this never cease to amaze me, because I can’t imagine how people built such large and magnificent structures so long ago. The first day of exploration, we paid a tuk-tuk driver to take us out to Banteay Srei, one of the furthest temples (about 37km) from Siem Reap. It is also known for its unique pinkish color and its detailed bas reliefs. Although small, it did not disappoint. Check out the pictures below for how incredible the carvings were. From there, we visited several other temples that were far away; we graced Banteay Samre, Ta Phrom, & Banteay Kdei with our presence. My favorite of the day was Ta Phrom, made famous in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie. They were working on restoring it, but not all of it was finished, lending itself to this really unique blend between the ruins and the fully built structure. My favorite part of this temple however, were the trees that seemed to just be sprouting from the roof of the building in many spots. It felt like nature and man had kind of become one in those spots and it was definitely a cool thing to see.

On the second day, we rented bikes for $1 per day and chose to see temples closer to the town and less spread apart. The bike ride was humid, but flat and shady for most of the way. I loved being able to stop and see the monkeys hanging out on the side of the road, and just be able to take in more of my surroundings traveling at a slower speed. We visited Neak Pean, a small temple built on the middle of an island inside of an enormous moat built solely for this temple. We walked down an incredibly skinny boardwalk to get there, and I loved the reflections of the trees in the water. Afterward, we ate some lunch at a family’s home before exploring the temples around Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom is the walled city where citizens of the Khmer Empire lived. We explored the Bayon temple, Terrace of the Leper King, Terrace of the Elephants, the kings palace and a few other temples. These places were actually some of my favorite, because we walked around around trails between them, and they weren’t crowded at all, giving us the feeling that we were discovering them on our own. We capped off the day by walking to the top of Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset, along with several hundred other tourists. We were very early for the sunset, and waiting around at the top of a temple with 200 new best friends wasn’t really our thing. So, after taking in the view, we headed back down and rode our bikes home.

The third day, we visited Angkor Wat, the crown jewel of the Khmer Empire. In person, Angkor is even more impressive than it is in photos. It lived up to every one of my expectations. The bas reliefs are incredibly detailed, the towers are mesmerizing and even the grounds around it are impressive. I was in awe for the duration of our time there. A word from the wise, though; if you ever visit Angkor Wat yourself, and you are a woman, make sure you wear long pants or a skirt or dress that comes down to at least below your knee. Otherwise, you will not be allowed to climb the very steep stairs up to the top terrace of Angkor Wat. You will also have to have your shoulders covered. This respectful dress is something that is emphasized throughout Asia, but I had never encountered a problem with it until this visit. I even tried very stylishly wrapping my rain jacket around me like a pencil skirt, but the ladies monitoring the gate would not allow it. Needless to say, I was very upset. I was definitely disappointed, as I had traveled a long way to see this world wonder, but I sure learned my lesson.

The next day, we got on a bus, crossed the border smoothly into Thailand and spent the night in Bangkok.

 

Much has happened since this trip and I’m now living and working in New York City. More to come on the latest adventures there soon. Stay tuned!

 

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