Siem Reap

Our flight departed on time at 5pm and with less than a 2-hour flight duration, we were in Siem Reap Airport getting our Visa on Arrival sorted out by 7pm. It was a simple process with you filling out a short form, handing over $30 along with a passport photo, and about 15 minutes later you get your name shouted out.
But with a mass of other tourists all waiting as well, it turned into a bit of a bun-fight near the front desk with some poor Immigration Officer trying to shout out people’s names to collect their freshly stamped passport, no-one can hear him so it’s just a case of holding the passport up to try collect it before it puts it back down again. We also decide not to get SIM cards sorted here after the last time we nearly got ripped off at an airport, and would get them in Siem Reap itself.

Anyway with our 30-day stamp, we head outside to meet our hotels driver which I had pre-arranged, who was waiting for us with a placard with my name and the hotel name, and after introducing himself as Rob, he told us to wait there and he would go and get the taxi.
A few minutes later, he pulled round to us in a motorbike with a trailer attached to the back just behind the drivers seat, similar to a carriage with 2 thin wheels and with a wooden frame and roof. I’ve since read that the official name for these vehicles are ‘Remorks’, however the drivers just refer to them as Tuk-Tuks, but nothing like the ones we were used to.


After a short journey of around 15 minutes, we pull into our hotels street called Funky Lane, and our accommodation for the next 5 nights was Sleeping Angkor, which was located just a few minutes’ walk from the night market and appropriately named Pub Street! Rob advised us he could do tours and if we wanted to do one tomorrow, the hotel could get hold of him. He quoted $15 for a small day tour, which sounded ok and we said we would let him know.

We paid £83 for 5 nights here including breakfast, the property was around a year old and our room was massive. We had TV, Fridge, Aircon, 2 balconies (1 private), Separate toilet/shower and a bath in the corner of the bedroom! The place was spotless (apart from the pool sadly) and our breakfast was also decent, so we got a right bargain on this place as we have paid more than that for some places and not got anywhere near a nice a place.


Dumping our stuff, we went straight out for food and took a walk along Pub Street, where the going rate for a mug of beer was $0.50 (40p). This was a busy street with wall to wall pubs and restaurants with flashy neon signs.
After a few we found a lovely place called Khmer Kitchen. I sampled one of the local speciality dishes, Beef Amok which is a curry-based dish with thick coconut cream which is steamed in banana leaves and it was delicious, and Sadie had some weird oven baked potato & chicken dish, which was also lovely. After that, we headed back to the hotel for an earlyish night, asking them to contact Rob and we would go on a tour the following morning at 8am.


After breakfast, Rob turned up and we set off on our tour. There are basically 2 options that are offered by all the tour operators and local Tuk Tuk drivers here. There is the small circuit ($15)and the grand circuit ($18), both take place around the Angkor Archaeological Park, which is a huge temple complex that is on a site spread over 402 acres and includes Angkor Wat which is the most famous of them all.
They are both nearly full days out, with water supplied but you need to pay for your entrance ticket for the park. And both have different itineraries, taking you round the internal roads in the park to visit various temples, and would give you a good insight into the most popular and historical amongst them all.

As we had a few days here in Siem Reap, we opted for the 3 days pass, and whilst expensive at $62 each, it would allow us more freedom and time to explore the area. We planned to do both tours, and a day out at a temple further away from town, of which there are a few to choose from.
Today we were doing the grand circuit, so we went to the ticket office first on the outskirts of town, where you get your photo taken and then the ticket is printed with it on, most likely to stop touting.
Then we headed into the park area, which has ticket check points on every road, plus at all the popular temples there will is a check point too, making it very difficult to visit without a ticket.
First up we headed into the Angkor Thom site, which is huge with multiple temples to visit, including the massive Bayon Temple, positioned in the centre of this ancient city.


Now I am not going to go into detail with each and every temple we visited today, or indeed over the following couple of days, and as much as they are all spectacular in their own rights, at the end of the day they are all part of the huge Angkor ‘City’ and I’d suggest you would get a better idea of the history, style, structure and culture from a bit of research online about this place.
What I will say is they are all stunning in their own style, some are restored better than others, some have just a few parts remaining, others have full walls still standing, some stand on hilltops, others remain hidden in the jungle with trees growing from the walls giving them a very ‘Indiana Jones’ feeling.


We spent a good 4-5 hours going around the following sites on our first day, the link to the photos below will show you a good selection of them -

Bayon Temple
Phimeanakas Royal Palace
Elephant Terrace
Preah Khan
Neak Pean
Ta Som
Eastern Mebon
Pre Rup
Srah Srang
Banteay Kdei
Prasat Kravan


Around 2pm it was the end of the tour, thankfully as I was feeling a bit ‘temple’d out’ and it was a hot day. Before we headed back to the hotel, we stopped off at one of the local telco providers, to pick up our SIM cards for Cambodia. After around 30 minutes, we both got sorted with one which comes with a massive 80GB of data for $8 a month, again putting the UK to shame on their pricing.
We were both hungry so a quick stop for food and a beer, then back to hide in the air-con for a few hours to catch up on the blog and admin.

Our evenings in Siem Reap were all very similar, we tended to head out about 6-7pm and grab a few beers on Pub St, and then find somewhere for food before heading back to the hotel. This evening I fancied Pizza, so we got sorted for that, however Sadie fancied something a bit different, and ordered a crocodile curry! I tried a bit and it was just like beef, but tasty in the curry it came with.

The next day we had arranged for Rob to collect us at 8am again, however instead of going back into the main Angkor Park, we were going to Prasat Beng Mealea which is another huge temple approx 65km east of Siem Reap, but still classed as part of Angkor Park.
Due to the roads not being in great condition, along with our Tuk Tuk not being the best way to travel those distances, it took us 2 hours each way to get there, however this one was well worth the time involved.


This 12th Century temple is largely un-restored; walls and corridors have mostly collapsed and only some of the buildings can be recognised in their original form. However, large wooden walkways have been built around the temple and these give an excellent view into how it would have looked as you are able to elevate above ground level and see more. What also makes this one as one of my favourites was the colours, we visited in wet season, so all the limestone blocks used for building these once magnificent structures are all covered in a lovely green moss. Combine that with overgrown trees, roots that come out of walls and branches that cut back in on themselves and go through a doorway etc, and it makes for some amazing scenes. Another bonus about coming to visit the outer lying temples from the main Angkor park is the lack of tourists that come here, as most of the tours are based in the main complex. This gave us good opportunity to take some photos without hordes of Chinese tourists and those bloody selfie sticks!


After an hour or so exploring this temple, it was time for the long journey back to the hotel, and yet another day of catching up on this blog/admin. Sometimes it feels as if we are spending too long on it plus sorting out all the photos, in fact as I type this in Phnom Penh a week after visiting that temple, it’s hard to remember small details, perhaps I will try do a daily blog to myself and then it should be easier to compile each week or so. Am sure it will all be worth it though when we look back on the blog and photos in years to come, and hopefully some of you guys are enjoying it too!


That evening we wanted some grilled meat, so headed to a well recommended BBQ Grill restaurant called Khmer Grill, where we had an amazing selection of BBQ Pork Ribs, Beef Skewers, Chicken & Cashew and Fries which were washed down with a few beers.
Then it was back onto Pub St, where we visited the famous ‘Angkor What?’ bar which despite it meant to be renowned for its ‘rock music’, was playing some chart shit. So, we then went along to another bar called ‘Cheers’ which had a good offer of $0.50 beers and some decent dance music playing. We stopped there for a couple, fatal mistake as they were also doing buckets of Gin & Tonic for $5, so ordered one. It wasn’t long before that was gone, and another one was ordered. Next, we went inside for a bit and the 3rd bucket was ordered. By this point, we were both drunk and staggered home around 1am, pretty stupid really as we had already arranged for a tour again tomorrow at 8am!

 

The next morning the hangover kicked in, and we both managed to get some breakfast in us before being picked up. Sadly, Rob couldn’t make it with us for the 3rd day as he had to take his son to the hospital, but he got a friend of his to come instead and sent his apologies.
Today we had decided to go on the small tour, which includes Angkor Wat and a few of the smaller temples east of that, this was $15 and would take around 6 hours. Both of us couldn’t really be bothered to be honest, but we really wanted to see the star attraction here so off we went.
Luckily first up was Angkor Wat, and as our driver got closer to it, the sheer scale of this place was staggering. It’s the largest religious monument found in the whole world and quite a sight to see. We spent a while wandering around, before heading back to the Tuk Tuk to go to the next stop, Phnom Bakheng.


This one is even older than Angkor Wat, built around the 10th century, sits at the top of a hill and is popular now for people climbing (or getting on an elephant!) to view sunset over the park.
As you can guess, the hill didn’t go down too well with us today, and we didn’t spend long up the top as we were both verging on the edge of calling the day off after this one. Luckily the next two stops were ones we had already visited with Rob, so we skipped them and missed out the 2 we should have done instead and went straight to the last stop of the day, Ta Prohm Temple. This one was made famous for being used as a film location for when they shot Tomb Raider and is also well known for the trees growing from the ruins, even more impressive than the ones we seen yesterday.


We spent a fair bit of time in this one, and by the time we were finished, it was gone 12pm and with the heat and hangover taking its toll, we got dropped off early and just hid again from the sun.

On our last day in Siem Reap, we decided we didn’t want another full day at Angkor park, and instead picked a few things in town that we wanted to see. First up was a couple of local modern temples, and then we headed something I had noticed on Google Maps, called Angkor Miniature Replicas. We weren’t sure what to expect, but paid our $1.50 each to go in to the lady outside and went in. This old man greeted us in front of his works of art, and as we discovered, he has spent most of his life building actual scale models of Angkor Wat, and some other temples too. He was 75 years old bless him, but more than happy to show us round and pose for a photo and tell his story.


Our last stop of the day was at a place I had read about before even starting this adventure, and was an NGO called APOPO – Humanitarian Demining. The basis for them is that they import, and train African Giant Pouched rats from Tanzania, and then they are used to clear minefields in the surrounding areas of Cambodia. These HeroRATS are huge, Sadie thinks they are cute but am not a fan of them. But the work they do is fantastic, we got a talk about what APOPO do, how they are trained etc and then we even got to see a practical demonstration of one of their rats at work.
They can clear an area the size of a tennis court in a couple of hours, where as to do that by metal detector can take days. Two staff stand either side in a pre-cleared area and the rat works its way along the path using a guide rope attached at each end to the staff member. Once they have worked along the first part, the staff will make one step out and then same happens again. The rats work by being able to sniff out the explosive (TNT), and will scratch the ground fiercely once they detect any. It’s all very impressive and is helping save so many lives, and after a video presentation, we make our way back the hotel.


With an early start the following day and a 3-4-hour bus journey from Siem Reap to Battambang to look forward too, we had a quiet night and just went for some dinner then back to the hotel.


Link To Siem Reap Photos

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