When we arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia (on June 27th), we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. We knew about the amazing Angkor Wat temple complex, and even seeing photos of this wonder online ahead of time is enough to make any travel enthusiast giddy with excitement! But we soon found out that there were SO MANY OTHER incredible temples in the city to explore as well!
First, for a moment, let me backtrack slightly. We were last in Phnom Penh and had chosen one of the newer bus companies to take us the 5-6 hour ride to Siem Reap. We paid a couple dollars more ($11 total for each of us) for this “luxury” bus that actually has wifi on board! The bus was very nice inside and the beginning of the trip was just fine, although the wifi was inconsistent, which was pretty much expected. What WASN’T expected, however, was that we’d be broken down on the side of the road half way through our trip with a FLAT TIRE! Yep . . . 90-something degrees and humid outside, our bus pulled to the side of the road and we were held up for a couple hours while the driver and guide tried to figure out what to do. We were somewhat in the middle of nowhere, but there was a small village nearby and they were able to find some local man with the right tools to help remove and replace the gigantic bus tire. At one point, it was
interesting to watch our “properly dressed” bus driver and guide strip off their shirts in the blazing heat and get down underneath the bus to feverishly tug and pull out the spare tire. They were certainly working hard! The whole experience wasn’t really dramatic or scary, but the ordeal was pretty entertaining overall! [Click here to see a video in Cambodia with our broken down bus.]
Anyway, we eventually made it to Siem Reap just fine, checked in at our hotel, and rested up for the night. The hotel we were staying at actually had suggested sight-seeing routes listed, which made our planning in the city a LOT easier! There are actually HUNDREDS of temples in Siem Reap to explore, and it’s a bit daunting to try to figure out which places to go to, and when and how to tackle them all! Fortunately, prices are cheap in the city and we were able to hire a tuk tuk driver for only $12 for an entire day to drive us from location to location and wait outside each temple in
between. We kind of felt a bit “luxurious” having our own driver, but we soaked up the experience and just enjoyed. Which ended up being pretty easy since it was a blazing 95 degrees and humid, and we spent the entire time in Siem Reap soaked from head to toe in sweat as we explored the many temples around. So you can imagine that it was very refreshing to come out of a temple after 1-2 hours of climbing and exploring to a tuk tuk driver, waiting for us with a smile and a cooler full of cold water!
It’s funny, because originally we planned to rent bikes to explore the area, but with the incredible heat conditions we realized it probably wouldn’t be a very fun experience at all, and in the end we realized the tuk tuk driver was the best decision for us.
Anyway, so most people know Cambodia or Siem Reap ONLY for the amazing Angkor Wat, but what you may not realize is there are SO many more temples and areas surrounding this temple that are incredible as well. [See a map of all the main temples here.]
Here are a few places we visited on our trip to Siem Reap:
The Bayon is at the center of the square-shaped city Angkor Thom (literally ‘Great City’), which forms the heart of the Angkor complex as it is today. It is known for its 49 carved stone towers with big faces looking out to the four cardinal points and with an enigmatic smile. This was the first place we visited in all the temples, and it was one of our favorites! We really loved all the towers with stone faces on them, it was fascinating to wander around this complex and admire the work.
This was another favorite of ours, as it was incredible to see these huge, ancient banyan trees growing straight out and around the walls of the temple. It’s almost hard to describe the majesty of these massive, towering trees, unless you see them in person, but look at this photo to get an idea. It really makes you realize that mother nature truly controls the world; if the trees want to grow in, around, and over stone walls, they WILL! Before we visited Siem Reap, I had always thought the photos I saw of HUGE tree roots growing over walls was actually part of Angkor Wat itself, but soon found out that no—those photos were actually from this Ta Prohm temple. Ta Prohm was also where “Tomb Raider”—with Angelina Jolie—was filmed.
Well, yes, we visited Angkor Wat, of course! No trip to Siem Reap would be complete without seeing and exploring Angkor Wat. It is actually the largest religious monument in the whole world! What’s also interesting, is Angkor Wat was originally built in the early 12th century as a Hindu temple complex, then subsequently converted and further used as a Buddhist temple starting in the 13th century. Out of all the temples in the whole Angkor region, Angkor Wat is the best-preserved temple at the site, and has become THE symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag. We spent a great deal of time here one day in late afternoon, climbing and walking around, and then we also were able to make it at 5:30am the next morning to see the sun rise over the complex. Amazing!
We sure got a workout at this temple, as the stairways up to the summit are continuous and very steep. But the climb was worth it, and the sights were lovely. Ta Keo is a temple-mountain, possibly the first to be built entirely of sandstone by Khmers. This temple was built in the year 975 by King Jayavarman V as his personal state temple —but the interesting part was that the King was only SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD at the time! Can you imagine having your own massive temple built for you at such a young age?
There was a lot of restoration going on at this site… and at times we worried when walking through tunnels about things collapsing. But all was fine, and it was an interesting temple to explore. It’s a Buddhist temple that’s a mix of styles from Bayon and Ta Prohm; it is surmounted by carved stone towers with big smiling faces and lots of ancient trees with big roots create a very romantic scene. We also visited Sra Srang, a reservoir, that was right across the road from Banteay Kdei.
Built in the 11th century, situated inside the royal city of Angkor Thom, this is the largest temple-mountain and it is renowned for its bas-reliefs : everyday life or mythical scenes, touching in their small detail and naivety. We climbed the steep stairs to the top and had some fun taking silly photos of both of us peeking out behind columns [click here to see.] The temple adjoins the southern enclosure of the royal palace… we explored the whole region.
This earlier Temple from the 10th century is a laterite and sandstone pyramid where the king went to worship. We had read that the view from the top is nice…. but we skipped climbing this one, as we were already tired from the past few temples and were soaked with sweat! But I posed briefly for a photo in front of the moat surrounding the complex, which is interesting, as the photos looks like I’m actually standing on the stairs themselves!
This monastic-complex was built in the 12th century and originally served as a Buddhist city and a school. Preah Khan is also renowned for a beautiful Stupa erected in the central sanctuary, symbolizing Buddhism in all its forms. When we stumbled upon this Stupa, a guide told us about how the top of the stone lines up with the window in the wall behind it, to symbolize a candle or fire (see photo), cool!
Overall, we really enjoyed Siem Reap and its many incredible temples and landscapes. It was absolutely extraordinary to be there IN PERSON, wandering around these temples and complexes that have existed for THOUSANDS of years!
But I have to say, after several days of constant exploring in the hot, hot weather, we were definitely “templed out” and ready to move on. We climbed onto yet another bus, which whisked us out of Cambodia and on to our next country: Thailand.
Goobye, Cambodia! Although we only shared about one week together, you left us with a lovely and lasting impression!
Click here to see photos from Siem Reap.