When I first visited Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, there was no direct flight to either Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. So for budget travelers like me, direct flights to Siem Reap is really a dream come true.
If there was one thing that baffled me about this popular tourist destination, it’s the pronunciation. So I asked our tour guide, Reah and he said, it’s pronounced as “See-em Ree-ap” and is translated as ‘Siamese Defeated’. I’m not very familiar with their history but on a top level, it was on this land that Khmer (Cambodians) defeated the Siams (the Thais).
Allot at least 3-4 days to explore Siem Reap. So, to efficiently get around, it’s best to contact a trusty tour guide. Thanks to Liquiddruid for recommending Sam Tuktuk Tours. 🙂 For budget travelers, traveling in a group will really cut the cost. I’ll post the expenses towards the end of this series.
First stop is the Visitor’s Center where we shall purchase the Angkor Pass. It’s impossible to finish the various circuits in one visit so getting the US$40 for a 3-day visit is the best option. Remember to carry this with you at all times as there are staff who will check this at the entrance.
Be sure to fix yourself up before your turn because they will just snap away the moment you stand in front of the camera. 😉
As soon as we got our passes, we boarded the van once more and off we went to our first day of temple-hopping.
Prasat in Khmer means ‘temple’ and Bayon is the central temple in the ancient city of Angkor Thom.
We entered through the south gate; here you can opt to ride the elephant for a fee to tour the area. Riding an elephant never appealed to me. No, I’m not scared. I just feel a sense of pity for these symbols of royalty that were reduced to work for their food and care.
Also known as the Smiling Temple. This is said to be one of the finest example of Khmer architecture.
According to websites, there are 216 stone faces around Bayon Temple and it’s said to be a fusion of the images of Buddha and Jayavarman VII.
While having a tour guide gives a rather restrictive itinerary, they also provide efficiency in going around the temples. They even know the good spots for that touristy shot. 😉
Trick shot courtesy of our tour guide, Reah 🙂
The grounds of the Bayon Temple is littered with tourists so getting a decent shot can be very stressful so I had to take a shot and crop it.
The next temple is a few meters of walking under the intense midday sun.
Preah Ngok Pagoda
Along the way, we passed by a Buddhist shrine most often just looked over by tourists. The diminutive shrine is almost disproportionate to the enormous Buddha that it houses.
A few meters ahead is Baphuon, a temple built on a rectangular sandstone and five levels high.
Prasat Baphuon from afar.
After scaling the steep steps of Prasat Baphuon, you will come across this structure. I’m unsure of the name of this one so I’ll leave it alone for now.
Further along, you will see the Royal Pools of the King, Queen and even the children’s pool; what’s left of it now is a dry bed soil littered with weeds.
Still along are some ruins and reminders of the ancient city of Angkor Thom. We rode the van again and some short distance later we arrive at another landmark.
There are five entrances to Angkor Thom and this is the second most used gateway to the Royal Square.
The gateway is designed with the same face tower in Bayon and built very high as to accommodate the royal elephant carriage of the King.
We went down the van for a short climb and took the chance to snap some photos from the top.
Framed shot of face towers crowning the Victory Gate.
This temple was left unfinished for unknown reasons. It’s a very steep climb and because our stomachs are begging for some nourishment, we just climb some few steps and from this photo, you can see just how enormous this temple really is.
Finally, lunch! But so as not to crowd this post with food, I’ll make a separate one on the must-try food in this gorgeous province of Siem Reap.
With stomachs full, we braved the raging early afternoon sun, to head to the temple called the Jungle Temple or the Angelina Jolie temple because this is where Tomb Raider was shot.
As expected, the place is packed with tourists and with the intense heat, it’s a bit difficult to enjoy this fascinating temple. But as soon as you get used to it, you just wend your way and see for yourself just how beautiful this temple is in its state of ruins. With the enormous roots of the banyan trees growing atop structures or wedging itself between them.
Ta Prohm means ‘Old Brahma’, the Hindu god of Creation.
After the usual rounds of taking photos, we finally escaped the Jungle Temple and enjoyed the space outside. Some few meters, Reah took us to a place that is littered with monkeys. I was hesitant to come close given that they can be quite rabid but our tour guide assured us that they are the tamed kind. And so we moved closer.
And off to our final temple for the day…
This is the only temple built in the Angkor area that is facing west because it is said to have been built as a funerary temple. The sun sets on the west, making this direction a symbolism for death.
One just cannot help but be in awe upon seeing the magnificence of this world wonder that has been standing since 1125. This was built at a time when machinery that we have today were nonexistent and yet they built a structure that is perfect in its composition and proportion.
To build a temple, people must first build a moat that will be used to transport the rocks from the mountains and then elephants are used to carry these to dry land. The physical labor alone that went into this grandiose structure is enough to amaze me.
The sprawling Angkor Wat from the back.
A sight to behold. Breathtaking is an understatement.
The sheer magnitude and craftsmanship put into this magnificent monument will leave anyone gaping in amazement.
Just the perfect way to end the day.