Travelling to Cambodia was literally a decision that was made after looking at an assortment of Google images. We combined the trip with our whole summer tour to South East Asia, including Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia for a grand period of two weeks. Now, with the said number of countries on the itinerary, the whole tour was what I like to call a ‘flash tour’. For the first five days of the tour we spent exactly one night each in the cities of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay(which was a cruise), Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap(in Cambodia) before settling in Singapore for four nights. So on the first leg, we were on a flight every morning and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Siem Reap in Cambodia was our last city on the ‘one-night flash cities’ and to spice things up, this was a city where we had no expectations as to how things would turn out. All we knew was the Angkor Wat and now, I can say that it’s a great adventure to land in cities and let the culture lead you into its depths.
In an earlier post, I spoke a lot of the Angkor Wat and you can find it here.
But in this post, I’m going to talk about the historical city and the other monuments besides the Angkor Wat that bring Siem Reap to life.
So, without further ado, let’s begin!
This is the Siem Reap International Airport. Like I said, Cambodia was the special addition on the tour so the landing was rather dramatic and stepping off the plane could have well be accompanied by a drum roll. However, when we finally stepped off, the airport itself made a fantastic impression. In all my travels, I haven’t seen such a unique airport building and it’s a great change from the usual corporate looking buildings. Siem Reap is a city flowing with history and is an archaeological delight and this fact was reinforced the moment we entered the airport.
This was one of the sculptures in the airport, telling of Cambodia’s culture and it gave me quite a jolt as I was walking towards the baggage collection, completely groggy after the air sickness and suddenly I look to my right and this sculpture’s smiling at me. It took me like five tries to get a picture with the bustling passengers but finally I got one with one person photobombing!
These are from our hotel in Siem Reap. We were put up at a lovely place called Hotel Somadevi Resort and Spa. I wish we had more time on the trip as the hotel itself was a grand affair and had quite a few sculptures and interesting works of art. It would be a fun place to play hide-and-seek. The first picture is a peculiar tree in the hotel gardens. The branches or roots give it a very mystical appearance. The second picture is a statue of the Hindu God Vishnu in the lobby of the hotel. Cambodia has a strong background in Hinduism and a lot of statues here depict Hindu mythology and the Gods and Goddesses. The Angkor Wat itself was ruled by a Hindu ruler before the successors turned to Buddhism and this contrast of faiths can be seen through the architecture incorporating elements of both faiths.
This is a vehicle known as the ‘Tuk tuk’ outside the hotel. So after we settled in, we decided to explore the Angkor night markets which were a five minute ride away and have dinner at a local restaurant there. A tuk tuk is basically a cart with a shed pulled by either a bicycle or a scooter as is the case here. These kinds of vehicles have various variants all over Asia. In India, a similar vehicle is called a rickshaw and it’s a mode of daily commute.
The night market is a brilliant place! There’s countless shops selling so many pretty things, right from beaded jewellery to Angkor souvenirs to scarves and the list goes on. The salesmen here are literally the best and they are so kind and enthusiastic. Most stalls are run by families and often you can see these really cute babies who simply smile at you while their mums, dads and siblings sell their stuff.
This place also has some really nice restaurants serving local Cambodian meals with a lovely ambience and great service. Cambodian food is a mix of all south and south-east asian cuisines. We had a chicken curry with fried rice and it was probably the best curry I’ve ever had. Another thing that is a must try here is fried ice cream rolls. They are made on the spot with a whole varieties of flavour and skill.
The next morning of our arrival, we were off before sunrise to welcome daybreak at the Angkor Wat.
While I won’t speak at length of the monument here, there are a few views that are really unique.
This is a view of the city from one of the higher floors inside the Angkor Wat. In Siem Reap, there’s a culture where no building is constructed higher than the Angkor Wat. This is done as a sign of respect to the monument and I think it’s a really beautiful gesture. Notice the white balloon in the distance. That’s an ad balloon that keeps swaying in the backdrop of the monument. Even the balloon isn’t let up above the Angkor Wat so you can imagine how much respect the monument has.
At this point, I think even birds fly lower than the Angkor Wat. Hehe. No, birds are above everybody.
Pun not intended but here we are:)
The reason I put in the first picture here is to show how steep the steps are in order to get inside the Angkor Wat. As tourists, we do it like once but imagine the time when the monument was in use by the kings. They had to go up and down this flight every day and so far, not one Khmer ruler has exactly complained of a broken neck. We seriously need to appreciate our ancestors’ mastery over cardio and rock climbing. Hehe.
Jokes apart, that climb is scary. You need to take one step at a time and at dawn, the steps do get a bit slippery. The picture beside it is a wall carving in the Angkor Wat. This one is rather popular among guides due to the ‘black and white’ contrast of the sculpture. These sculptures are of Apsaras who are mystical nymphs in Hindu mythology.
Moving on from the Angkor Wat, this is a library used by the Khmer rulers. Whenever I look at an ancient library, I always picture Agatha Christie books written on parchment instead of a bound book. However, I assume that he ancients read more about battle strategy and the art of ruling a kingdom than about a Belgian detective but a girl can dream.
The second temple we went to was called the ‘Bayon Temple’. The entrance to this temple was rather unique.
You see the sculpted figures in a line on the edge of the bridge? This sculpture represents an event in Hindu Mythology known as the ‘Churning of the Ocean.’ The story goes in a way that the Hindu Gods and the demons had a feud to attain immortality and in order to get the Elixir known as ‘Amrit’, they had to churn an ocean of milk using a divine snake with about 1000 heads coiled around a rock. The snake can be seen at the head of the sculpture and the figures here represent the Gods.
This is the first time I’ve seen this episode depicted in a sculpture and it is rather daunting how it’s very life size and looks so real.
This is the Bayon Temple. If you look closely, you can see that the pillars are actually sculpted with four faces throughout the structure. The faces are of the Buddha and all of them have a carved expression which suggests that they know something about you. I must say that it is quite an experience to see a whole temple complex carved with faces and no matter where you go, there’s a face smiling at you which adds to the mysterious environment of the place.
This was one of my top favourites in the city and it’s a great place to simply sit among the sculptures and cool off for a bit while taking in the culture and history as there are passageways in the temple that you can stroll through.
One of the pillars in close-up.
After visiting the Bayon, our guide took us on a historical nature walk. It was a long walk through a forested area of the Angkor Archaeological park and there were surprise clearings where you could find an ancient temple peeking at you. It was like a large scale treasure hunt!
The first hidden temple on our trail was the Baphuon Temple. This is a Khmer era Hindu Temple dedicated to the Hindu God, Shiva. The structure is very well preserved and the small pool really enhances the historical presence. It’s almost like looking into a mirror and being transported a thousand years into the past.
This is the Hindu temple called Phimeanakas, another finding on out nature walk. It’s built like a three storied pyramid. This one is rather popular with the guides as the ‘Pyramid Temple.’
A lot of times, during the walk, you could see archaeologists from different parts of the world researching on some of the temples. This area still has a lot of mystery to uncover and it’s quite a hotspot for researchers and historians.
Our last stop on this walk was the ‘Elephant Terrace’.
It’s so named because of the three headed elephant in the centre. It isn’t permitted to climb the terrace but the whole structure gives a rather royal feel.
Our last stop in the trip to Siem Reap was the Ta Prohm temple. It is very popular as it was a shooting spot for the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie.
This temple also has these invasive trees that engulf the structures with its branches and roots.
The branches remind me of some aliens descending upon Planet Earth.
After the fall of the Khmer empire, the Angkor Complex was abandoned to nature until a Frenchman discovered it. It’s very common to see the dominant side of nature and the locals say that there are tigers as well, owing to the dense foliage. It’s amazing how a powerful empire gave way to nature and is now one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
History is one big mystery, eh?
And that is a wrap!
Until Next Time!