Friday, 8 February 2013

Temple Town: Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia, and it bustles with the pace of local life.  Siem Reap on the other hand is the boomtown of tourism within the country, and it hustles with the pace of tourism. As the door to Angkor Wat, Siem Reap has developed quickly from sleepy village to destination hot spot. And they've done it right. While days are spent rambling around the ruins of Angkor (and beyond), evenings are spent milling along alley ways and market streets, eating in the restaurants that spill onto the walkways and sipping in the cafes and bars that can be found every few feet.

My photos of the city itself are severely lacking, but the photo above gives you a good idea of the general vibe. While in the area we stayed at the Kool Hotel, which is admittedly a bit out of town, but they do have an excellent pool, fresh coconuts, and a shuttle that will take you to and from the town centre each evening. The atmosphere is relaxing with a dab of luxury, and the price is exceptionally affordable (note: we were traveling with Other Half's dad, which meant accommodation was mostly budget to mid-range, not backpacker).

Food was similar in style to that found in Phnom Penh, but with a large variety of "western" places thrown in to meet the desires of the many travelers. The Alley (shown above) is definitely tops for atmosphere, but my favourite meal was at the Butterflies Garden restaurant across the river from the main cluster of markets and restaurants. I'm still having dreams about their vegetable sandwich.

Inside the main gates of Angkor Wat

The main reason you go to Siem Reap is for the temples. The many, many, temples.  Siem Reap is the door to Angkor Archeological Park (or as many know it: Angkor Wat), one of the worlds most famous, and certainly the largest, temple complexes.  Known most commonly as Angkor Wat, the area actually includes many famous temples including Bayon and Angkor Thom, and expands into the distance for many kilometers.

The most common transportation route for this complex is via the inner or outer ring roads on the back of a tuk tuk. These roads are actually about 15 and 18 Km from start to finish. The park entrance sells muliti-day passes, and trust me, you'll need them. You'll spend just the first day seeing Angkor Wat and a portion of Angkor Thom alone, not yet even touching Rolous, Ta Phrom (Tombraider, anyone?), and my personal favorite, Preah Kahn (and so many more!).

Over 250 faces in Bayon Temple


Angkor Wat itself is a massive and rather unique site.  Built in the 12th century, it is the only temple to face West, which is seem by most as bad luck because you watching the sun set instead of rise, which symbolizes death instead of life. But many believe it was originally built by the king for Vishnu the Hindu God who was best associated with the western orientation. Inside the complex you are allowed through the three layers of the temple, each being more Holy than the last.  Traditionally the first level was for the "common" people, the second level was for the nobles and the third and final level was for the King only. A look out from the highest level affords you a view of the vast Angkor Archeological Park with forest and temples as far as the eye can see.

They say some carpenters spent their entire careers inside one temple

Travelling around the ring roads allows you to truly understand the scale of this space. Temple after temple you begin to feel quite small (purely in a size kind of way - I'm sure you're all wonderful humans) and quite ... new. This place oozes with history and you can't help but get carried away in it. It is awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, and just plain wow-ing. Seriously, I can't even type eloquently about it the memory is so dumb-founding.

Angkor Wat

An absolute must-see on any trip to South East Asia. It may be a rather exhausting few days, at least at the end of it you can soak your aching legs in the hotel pool, head into the city for some great food and revel in the fact that it's also in this marvelous, friendly, colorful country known as Cambodia. LOVE.

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