Once in a life time experience continues and this time the journey took us to a province where time has stood still.. The trip was an impromptu one striking off a destination that we had in our mind for a long time. Couple of days research and then booked our tickets on Air Asia.. An early morning flight from Kuala Lumpur and a quick two hours later we landed at the Siem Reap International airport.. Thankfully, Cambodia offers Visa on Arrival for Indians for 20 US Dollars. Make sure you carry new currency notes and preferably have some before you land in Cambodia. There is an ATM near the immigration desk but unsure of its uptime.
We booked the Motherhome Boutique hotel for our 4 nights stay. Got a discounted deal and the stay couldn’t have been better. The room in itself ensures you have a cozy and good nights sleep after all the tiring walk around exploring the temples and sights of Siem Reap. The only draw back was we were provided a room on the third level and there was no elevator. So with our weak legs, climbing up the stairs atleast 4-5 times a day.. definitely troublesome. The folks at the front desk guarantee warm smiles and wet towels every day 🙂 Definitely needed after all the trips. The restaurant has a decent spread. Though the variety was quite limited, the food was delicious.
Almost all of the shops, hotels, restaurants, travel guides accept only US Dollars. The only time Cambodian Riel is used is for small change. the conversion is pretty straight.. 1 USD equals 4 Riels. Even the ATMs issue $$… so make sure you are funded sufficiently and also ensure your ATM cards are activated for international withdrawals.. we had a hellish time since we were not aware this was required and happily landed in the new country.. but thanks to the online banking facility, we managed to turn around the lil set back.
The tour options around Siem Reap are plenty but mostly covering two prime circuits : The Small Circuit and The Grand Circuit. But be warned, after you finish the small circuit, one may feel like not attending the long circuit. The temples and the styles though different in style and each belonging to different era, may seem repetitive in nature. While i thoroughly enjoyed the experience, my better half decided to chill in her beloved tuk tuk.
Temples covered in the small circuit : Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of Elephants, Terrace of Leper King, Victory Gate, Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, Banteay Kdei – Sra Srang, Prasat Kravan, Thommanon and Chau Say Tevada
Temples covered in the grand circuit : Ta Som, East Mebon, Preah Rup, Preah Khan, Neak Pean
Additional places which are worth a visit are Banteay Srei, Beng Melea, Kbal Spean (we gave this a miss), Rolous Group, Tonle Sap and the floating village.
Underlined above are a set of my personal favourites. Towards the end, we did feel an overload of temples 😉 but then its a personal choice. I would personally recommend a 5 nights or more stay in Siem Reap to really soak in the culture & surroundings.
From a tour standpoint, Siem Reap is quite amazing and diverse.. While Angkor Wat steals the limelight, there are quite a few other sights in Siem Reap which provides for a breathtaking experience such as the bustling nightlife at the Pub Street.. our sweet lil haven for almost all of the nights we stayed there. Trying out the various creepy crawlies 😉 and boat ride in the Tonle Sap lake and visiting the amazing structures on 30-50 feet high stilts at the Floating village. We even managed to visit the national museum and also the war museum ( a little worn out ). The war museum explains the entire struggle during the Khmer Rouge era.. The tales told by the guides will leave you in disbelief and shock… The land where there still lies millions of active land mines and you get a chance to walk between a few of them (ofcourse at a distance).. While we are the lucky ones now, the stories and the pictures of the ones who were not so lucky would move even the stone hearted souls.
The national museum on the other hand is dedicated to the history and culture of Siem Reap.. Gives a detail story of the timeline of various different types of architectural styles and the few idols and statues which were destroyed during the Khmer rouge. The museum also houses an area with a thousand Buddha.. some dating back to almost a thousand years. For once we were thankful that they don’t allow cameras inside else everyone would have been on a selfie spree.
The highlight for us on day 2 was the Phare – Cambodian circus.. I will fall short of words if i have to explain the finesse with which the performance was delivered. Words fall short to describe the acrobatic stunts and the energy with which they enthralled the audience. No wonder this is listed as one of the must do activities in Siem Reap according to Trip Advisor.
Another thing i failed to mention is the really amazing Fish/Chicken Amok dish… DO NOT MISS the yumminess .. One of the best tasting food i have ever had. Fish/Chicken cooked in rich coconut based gravy served in a bowl made of plantain or a carved out coconut. Best served with rice. The very thought of it makes me drool. I had this for atleast one meal each day.
Also for the temples, dress modestly, keep yourself hydrated, avoid making noise.. though many are ruins, they are still places of worship.
With the kind of experiences that we have had in Cambodia, i am sure we will visit again pretty soon. This is one of those rare destinations which is still preserved in its raw beauty. Experience this before its too late.
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