November 1, 2015

A trip to Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I took some time off Elska and personal work to visit Siem Reap, Cambodia. Initially I wanted to visit Maldives or Bali but I will save that to travel with Jason next time. My dad has always been a huge fan of Angkor Wat so I accompanied him along this trip. He used to travel solo around the globe when he was in his 20s and has visited more than 50 countries to date. I envy him so much and wish I could travel the world without reservation one day.

Angkor Wat has been recognized as one of the seven wonders in the world and it means Capital/Holy City. The temples represent the ancient Khmer's architecture and civilization. They were built between 800AD to 1300AD and abandoned around the 15th Century due to drought and wars. It was a no man's land for many years and the temples started to fall apart due to the growth of tree roots and broken roofs which were weakened by moss and algae.

They were re-discovered by the French and they went on to restore the temples. More than 30 temples are now open to the public. Angkor Wat temple is the pride of the Cambodian people. Angkor itself has no accommodation and its nearest town is Siem Reap, the hotel where we've stayed in was Angkor Holiday Hotel. It's a pretty decent hotel with good amenities and service. It has a swimming pool and gym too. This hotel is conveniently located with easy access to restaurants, night markets and places of interest such as Cultural Village, Pub Street, Angkor National Museum, Central Park and shopping areas. It's about 15 minutes drive from Siem Reap International Airport and 10 minutes drive to Angkor Temples and 25 minutes to Floating Village.

To enter Angkor premises, you will be required to buy a pass to enter Angkor premises. It's 20 USD for a day pass or 40 USD for a 3 days pass with one week validity. It is open from 5am (if you're catching the sunrise) to 6pm for most places.

One important thing to take note, the rules at Angkor premises are changing and more places are prohibiting shorts and sleeveless tops as a form of respect to the temples so do make sure your shoulders and knees are covered, there are stores selling local clothes at 3-4 usd per piece so fret not if you're in shorts!

The temples we visited include Angkor ThomBayon TempleBaphuon TemplePhimeanakas TempleTa Prohm (location where Tomb Raider was filmed), Elephants Terrace & Leper King Terrace and Royal Palace. I highly recommend these places. These are the must-go temples out of many others. Of course, not missing the most famous temple, Angkor Wat - the world's largest religious monument.

We also went to Tonle Sap Lake - Floating village to experience the true Cambodian life and villages. There were floating church, police station and school for the folks. It is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia.

Other places in Siem Reap I would recommend are,

Les Artisan D'Angkor Wat (Art School)
Here you can watch local artisans at work, producing many pieces of arts and crafts, from stone carving, wood ornamental sculpture to the art of lacquer. They have a shop that sells these beautiful crafts. A good portion of the profits goes to promoting the local art and economic development.

Angkor Silk Farm
I love this place the most, I got to learn the different stages of the complex process of producing handmade silk. From growing of mulberry trees to silkworm breeding, silk dyeing to the ancient craft of weaving.

Koulen II Restaurant
International buffet dinner and Traditional Khmer Dancing shows: Aspara Dancing, The Peacock of of Pailin Dance. 12 USD per pax.

Smile of Angkor
A performance that recreates the Angkor Civilization and Khmer Empire cultures in all aspects, taking you through the time when the Temples of Angkor were built, from past to present. 30 - 40 USD per pax depending on category.

Lemongrass Garden Massage & Beauty Spa 
Having tried 3 different massage parlours at Siem Reap (I'm a sucker for massages and I love trying out the traditional massages at different countries, Khmer massage this time), I would say Lemongrass Garden is the best among the 3 we've visited. A head, neck, shoulders and back massage is 18 USD for 60 minutes. Lemongrass Garden has received a certificate of excellence from TripAdvisor which is no wonder that their service and massage therapy were excellent. I had a chat with the owner who's a British and he's very friendly and approachable. This is no doubt the best shoulder massage I had at just 18 USD which is really great value for money.

Some tips for getting around Siem Reap,
  • I got a 3G sim card upon arriving at the airport and the service provider I used was Smart. It's 5 USD for 5 Gb data. *There is no network coverage at Angkor premises and Floating Village.
  • Tipping isn't required in Cambodia but it is greatly appreciated and encourages the locals to put in more effort in the future when you tip them for their good service. Plus it's for a good cause as their average monthly salary in Cambodia is 50-100 USD. An average tip price would be 2-3 USD so it's good to have small change with you all the time (USD or Riel). 1 USD is 4000 Cambodian Riel appx. 
  • Cambodia is a pretty safe country with occasional reports of theft. Try not to hold your phones in public or wear expensive jewelry. Also hold your bags close to you. Angkor Holiday Hotel has a safe in the room so you can leave your valuables in there (laptops, etc). 
  • You can rent a bicycle or hop on tut-tuts to travel around (usually 2 usd per short trip). 
  • The best time to explore in Siem Reap is from December to February as it's the dry and mildly cold season but I would recommend mid November as it is super crowded during the peak season. The rain gets lesser by the end of October so November is relatively dry (but still hot). 
  • Avoid sandals/slippers and wear comfortable covered shoes as there will be a lot of walking and dirt/mud. It will be best to bring a hat, sunscreen and insect repellant. 
It has been a blessing to witness architectural sophistication and the bas-reliefs, this trip has been nothing short of inspirational. According to the locals, not many Singaporeans have visited Siem Reap so if you have a chance, don't miss this trip of a lifetime. x



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