After this trip, I felt in love with Siem Reap and would definitely go to this lovely country again anytime. The people were wonderful and friendly. The Angkor Wat is the most majestic thing I had ever seen and one can't help but wonder, how on earth do those Khmer people built these temples from a thousand years back...
Our trip began with the earliest 2 hour AirAsia flight from KL to Siem Reap. This filght was booked half a year in advance for only RM105 (return flight KL-Siem Reap, Phnom Penh-KL)....cheap... We arrived at Siem Reap International Airport around 8am (Siem Reap local time and will be referring to local time in this blog). The airport was beautiful and it looked like a holiday resort if not for the aeroplanes outside this lovely building.
Our tuk tuk drivers, Mr Sen and Mr Salim, from Palm Garden Lodge was waiting for us at the arrival gate. They were friendly and we felt at ease as one could speak in Malay and one could speak in Mandarin. Riding in a tuk tuk was quite an experience due to the not so good condition of the roads.
It was quite a bumpy ride but we enjoyed it nonetheless. The roads were dusty, so we had to wear sunglasses and mask to protect our eyes and face.
We finally reached our guesthouse after around 20 minutes. The first impression of this guesthouse was that it is quite cosy and tranquil.
What surprised us was that they served us welcome drinks and cool towels. Never expected these services before in a budget accommodation. They let us checked into our room even though it's way before the check in time.
Felt at home right away. Mr Kam Po or issit Mr Mao..., explained to us the itinerary for the following 4 days that we were there. After agreeing on the fees and itinerary plan, we set off to our first destination...The Tonle Sap Lake.
We arrived at the jetty and paid USD15 for a tour around the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. There was a voluntary guide following us on this tour of the lake, explaining the sights and history of the lake. We appreciated his efforts although we had a hard time understanding his English. He brought us around the village on Tonle Sap. There's even a basketball court on the lake...cool...
vendor on Tonle Sap lake
villagers collecting their fishes
Tonle Sap village
basketball court on Tonle Sap
After the tour, we headed back by tuk tuk to the old market to fill our stomach. Our first taste of Khmer food at Khmer Kitchen Restaurant.
Khmer Food at Khmer Kitchen Restaurant
We tried the Amok with chicken and other local dishes. Finished our meal and off we went to the old market nearby to check out their local products. One can test their bargaining skills there. Never ever agreed to pay on the first price that they offered. Try to bargain abit and you can get some good products for a cheap price.
old market at Siem Reap
Around 4.30pm, our tuk tuk drivers picked us up from the old market and proceeded to Angkor area to purchase our passes to the temples. A 3 day ticket pass costs USD40, which you can visit any temples within the Angkor grounds free of charge for 3 days. After purchasing the pass, we went to the Angkor Wat temple to catch the sunset. The lights of the sun shining on the majestic Angkor Wat is definitely not to be missed.
serene moat surrounding Angkor Wat
the majestic Angkor Wat
For dinner, we went to the Angkor Mondial Restaurant for our buffet dinner with a traditional dance performance by the locals. Such enchanting traditional moves in each of their dances.
We called it a night after that.
The next morning, we again proceeded to the Angkor Wat temple to explore further. All over the temple, there were bas-reliefs and sunken reliefs that never failed to capture the attention of the many tourists flocking to the temple. The carvings were of such detail that some even depicted their history and daily life on the walls of the temples. We explored in awe all of these wonderful historical sites. Most of the Buddha statues had missing heads and hands. This according to some books and guides, was because of some people stealing their heads to sell due to their historical value and worth. Some of the structures were damaged by the Khmer Rouge people. By now, the Angkor Wat temple is strictly guarded to ensure it retain its historical value.
carvings on the ceiling of the temple
Angkor Wat temple
Sanskrit on the wall of Angkor temple
carvings on the wall
missing Buddha heads
steep staircase leading to the highest point at Angkor Wat
the missing lion guard
missing tails of the guard lions
Next stop, Bayon, famous for its many Bayon faces on the temples. Before we reached the Bayon, we stop by the entrance walkway leading to the gate of Angkor Thom.
gate of Angkor Thom
There were many stone guards lining the walkway leading up to the Angkor Thom gate with the Naga (water serpent) leading the line up on each side. Angkor Thom which means 'Great City' is a Buddhist monument built during the time of Jayavarman VII (AD1181-1219). At the Bayon, you could see a lot of faces on the temple. Some said that the faces resembles the Buddha and some said that they resemble the face of Jayavarman VII himself.
smilling Bayon looking down upon us
Inside Bayon, there was only one steep staircase leading to the higher towers of the Bayon.
steep staircase at Bayon
One can't help but wonder on the marvellous artwork of the temples.
These Khmer people are really amazing.
Thoughout your trip to the Angkor temples, you will be approached by kids selling all kinds of things, from books, handicrafts, scarfs, shirts to drinks and food. Be sure not to buy all of your stuff from one kid as once you buy from one kid, all the other will come chasing after you. To be fair, the products that they sell sometimes are even cheaper than those that you buy at the market. However, their approach of selling during your visit to the temples are abit annoying. I brought along a packet of sweets to be distributed to the kids though. If you do not buy from them, they will instead request sweets from you. Some will even request your country's currency note, for their collection, as they informed. Oh..and remember NEVER to promise the kids that you will come back 'later' to buy because they will remember you and you will have a hard time going out from the temples 'LATER'...just say 'NO' whenever you are approached, if you do not intend to buy from them.
Phimeanakas, built in the second half of the 10th century, is accessible by four axial staircases. Durnig the Khmer Empire times, each night at the top of the tower, the King has to sleep with a representation in the form of a woman of the nine-headed serpent who was master of the land of the Kingdom. Failing which meant the end of the King's life.
At Prasat Suor Prat, there are twelve identical towers which are used to settle legal disputes. The contenders are placed in one of the towers for a few days, and the one to emerge in ill health is considered loser, guilty by divine decree.
12 identical towers at Prasat Suor Prat
It is located just opposite of the Terrace of Elephants.
Terraces of elephants
Later, we climbed up the hill leading to Phnom Bakheng to catch the sunset. An alternative up the hill was to take the elephant ride up there. The place was a bit crowded with all the people waiting to see the sunset.
sunset at Phnom Bakheng
Watching the sun setting slowly was definitely something not to be missed during your trip here. After the sun had set, we climbed down in the dark with the help of a torchlight. After we freshen up at our guesthouse, we ride on the tuk tuk to the Pub Street for our dinner.
Pub Street at Siem Reap
There were a lot of food available there, from western to the local food. There was one food that I saw but haven't dared to try, maybe you would want to try it when you are there...the barbeque frog...
Angkor night market
lights of the water boats at Siem Reap
Early the next day, we departed from our guesthouse at 5am to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. By the time we reached there, the sky was slowly brightening up.
ancient building at Angkor temple
We had our breakfast at some food stalls near Srah Srang (a reservoir).
Then, we visited the Ta Prohm, the temples famous for sights of trees roots growing over the temple. Magnificent sight and great work of the restoration group of people. Nature is taking a stand on the the temple of Ta Prohm.
children walking to school..some without shoes on
Kbal Spean - famous for its detail carvings on the rock of the waterfall and river.
the detail carvings on the rock at Kbal Spean
waterfall at Kbal Spean
our tuk tuk shadow against the countryside
Recommendation from one of the staff of our guesthouse, we ate at a local restaurant, Phsa Chas Restaurant at the old market. The food is cheap compared to the other restaurants that we ate earlier. The taste is nice too...
Khmer Food at Phsa Chas Restaurant
The fourth day of our trip, we visited the Rolous Group of temples, Lolei, Bakong and Preah Ko.
Rolous Group - Lolei
Angkor children enjoying ice cream
Rolous Group - Bakong
plank leading to Neak Pean
drawing of local artist
library ruins at Preah Khan
library ruins at Preah Khan
Traffic at Siem Reap
We had our last dinner in Siem Reap at Happy Herb Pizza Restaurant near the Central Market. They had normal pizza, happy pizza, medium happy pizza or very happy pizza. On why they segregrate their pizza these ways, take a wild guess... :p
The next morning, we bid farewell to the wonderful staff at our guesthouse and boarded a bus (USD6 per person) heading to Phnom Penh at 7.30am. The USD6 bus fare also included one mineral water and cool wipes on the bus. There was a toilet in the bus as well, convenient since it's a long journey to Phonm Penh. We stopped once along the way at a food court. After a few more hours of travelling, we reached Phnom Penh around 1pm. As the road to the downtown bus station was blocked due to their water festival, we were dropped off at a point abit further out of town. A lot of drivers were crowding our bus door waiting for us.
drivers crowding our bus door at Phnom Penh
It was quite an unpleasant experience as they took the opportunity to charge exorbitant fees just to get you to town. However, we managed to get to our guesthouse in Phnom Penh safely, despite the blocked road, heavy traffic of vehicles and PEOPLE, and the hot weather near the river.
room at Fancy Guesthouse
Fancy Guesthouse at Phnom Penh
After freshening up at our guesthouse, we took a walk down to the riverside and watched their boat racing competition. Many vendors are selling all kinds of things along the road by the river.
market near the river
boat racing competition during the water festival at Phnom Penh
lady selling a kind of coconut filling delicacies
For our dinner, we found a secluded place 'Home away from Home' along the road to alot of backpackers hostel at St.93. The daughter of the owner there was friendly and helpful as we asked about some travel info around Phnom Penh. She was of mixed parentage, Chinese and Cambodian. The food was delicious, so we decided to come for dinner again the second night.
Home Away from Home
Home Away From Home at St 93
Our second day began at the 'Cheung Ek Killing Fields'.
Choeung Ek Killing Field
This was the spot where a lot of Cambodians were executed during the Khmer Rouge. A 'Stupa' was built to store the skulls and clothes of those sacrified.
Stupa that stored all the skulls of those executed during the Khmer Rouge
skulls and clothes of those executed
There was a musuem at the grounds of the killing field where images of the brutal killings of the people were shown.
We saw the tree where babies were once smashed against, the pitholes where naked women and children were buried, and the massive burial sites where some were buried alive. We were standing on the grounds where once there were a lot of suffering and execution. The remaining of those died were exhumed and buried together, now with a plank showing detail of those sites. Until today, there are still a lot of burial sites that they haven't exhumed. There were 1.5 million people sacrified during the Khmer Rouge-Pol Pot Regime, about half the population of Cambodia.
Not far from Cheung Ek Killing Fields was the Tuol Sleng Museum, where the prisoners were kept and tortured here. There was a 1 hour movie showing the times during the Khmer Rouge-Pol Pot Regime. After the movie, we walked around the area.
Tuol Sleng Museum
prisons at Tuol Sleng
gloomy atmosphere at Tuol Sleng Museum
view of the prison from the window
prisons at Tuol Sleng Museum
The corridors of the prisons at Tuol Sleng Museum
Tuol Sleng Museum
Torture room at Tuol Sleng Museum
graveyard at Tuol Sleng Museum
Shackles to chain the legs of prisoners
Russian Market at Phnom Penh
the crowd at Wat Nom
At night after dinner at 'Home away from home', we rode on a tuk tuk to the Independant Monument and the NagaWorld Casino despite some warnings from the daughter of the owner at 'Home away from home' that the road and place will be incredibly packed with people. After we reached there, indeed it was packed to the brim. The roads leading to the two places are filled with tuk tuks, motors, cars, and very very full of people. All of the above was stuck in the traffic jam on the streets. Imagine people being part of the traffic jam with the other vehicles on the road. Damn unpleasant and dangerous too. We gave up heading to the Independant Monument and went to Naga World Casino instead. Another jam packed place too but we managed to get into the casino where they only allowed foreigners or members inside, which was a great relieve to be away from the crowd. They only allowed the locals to go through one pathway, for them to have a look inside the casino. The decoration inside the Naga World Casino was quite grand and they had the ceiling painted similar to a sky, kind of like the one in Macau casino, although abit smaller but grand nonetheless. A pity they don't allowed photograph to be taken inside the casino.
fountain in front of Nagaworld Casino
the lights of the Royal Palace at Phnom Penh
After our breakfast at some local stalls,
Cambodia breakfast - bread with ham and some vege
Cambodia breakfast - noodle soup pork
we visited the National Musuem (Ent Fee USD3),
National Musuem at Phnom Penh
Central Market and Sorya Shopping Mall. Sorya Shopping Mall is considered a modern shopping complex in Phnom Penh with air-conditioning and escalators. We had lunch at 'Lucky Burger', trying the Shrimp burger and pork burger which is not available in Malaysia. yummylicious....
Shrimp burger at 'Lucky Burger'
coconut pie at 'Lucky Burger'
The next day, we paid USD6.25 and entered the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. The Royal Palace grounds are vast but they only allowed the visitors to enter certain parts of the palace. They blocked entry for some of the places inside. It's our last day here in Phnom Penh and we took our time exploring the palace grounds until it was time to get back to our guesthouse and depart to Phnom Penh International airport.
Napolean III Pavillion at Royal Palace
detail carvings on the gate
drawing on the walls of Royal Palace
The one thing I noticed was that I seldom saw the children in Siem Reap beg for money. Yes, they will chased after you to sell their items but they seldom beg for money. Whereas in Phnom Penh, the children and adults are everywhere begging for money. Roads in Siem Reap are cleaner although both are dusty. Tourists going out at nights should be wary of their surrounding and alert at all times, especially females.
It was a wonderful and enjoyable experience travelling in Cambodia, albeit a few unpleasant setbacks and I'll definitely be going back again to Siem Reap in the future. Really enjoyed the sights, the food, and the hospitality of the people especially from our guesthouse at Palm Garden Lodge. Recommended guesthouse at Siem Reap...Thumbs Up and keep up the good work.