I went to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat. I came away totally blown away with all the amazing ancient temples found close to Siem Reap. While Angkor Wat is the most famous and most popular temple to visit in Siem Reap Cambodia, there are more than 30 ancient temples scattered around the surrounds of the small town of Siem Reap. If you don’t have Siem Reap on your bucket list, get it added and bump it up to the top as this is one of my newest favourite towns in South East Asia.
My friends and I had arrived into Siem Reap late afternoon and it did not take long to find a pleasant, English speaking Tuk-tuk driver who offered to drive us around for the day to see the best temples around Siem Reap. His prices was only US$15 for the whole day. That was only US$5 each for the 3 of us.
We headed off at 10am and ended up getting back to our hotel at around 5pm, so a full 7 hours of temple exploring and we only got to see 5 temples.
Even if you are not interested in the religious elements of these ancient temples, there is so much detail and stone carvings all over the temples, not just depicting their religion, but also depicting life at the time. When you consider these temples were built from the 11th Century and were abandoned at some time after the 14th Century. With this many images and stone carvings, at this part of Human History, these pics were the equivalent of today’s Instagram or Youtube.
I had always thought Angkor Wat was an ancient Buddhist Temple. As I read more of the history of Cambodia, I learned that the temples were first built as Hindu Temples. Hundreds of years later the King of the Khmer Empire converted to Buddism and made massive changes to the temples to reflect the Buddhist Scriptures. Further down through the years, there was a short conversion back to Hindu but quickly got changed back to Buddhism until the demise of the Empire.
First stop is the Angkor Wat visitor centre where you need to buy a ticket which gains you access to all the temples. At each and every temple there are inspectors that check everyone has a ticket valid for the day. You can buy a 1 day pass for US$37. Or there is a 3 day pass at US$62. You can use Visa and Mastercard credit cards to purchase your temple passes. They take your photo and print out the ticket with your pic and the day/s your ticket is valid. The visitor centre was about a 20 minute ride on our trusty tuk-tuk outside of the Siem Reap town centre. There is no cost for children up to 18 years old. You need to show some identification to prove that your child is under 18 years old.
After buying our 1 day pass, we jumped back into the Tuk-tuk and it was another 10 minute drive from the Visitor Centre to Angkor Wat. This was the only temple that I knew about and it is very impressive indeed.
While Angkor Wat is impressive, as the day went on, each other temple we visited were as fascinating or more impressive.
My favourite temple was the 2nd temple we visited, Just 5 minutes drive from Angkor Wat, we arrived at Bayon Temple where we spent a full hour walk around.
After Bayon Temple, our Tuk-Tuk driver said he would take us to the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’. He started to proudly explain to us that it was named ‘Tomb Raider Temple’ after Angelina Jolie made a movie on the temple grounds. ‘Hang on buddy! What was the temple called before Angelina Jolie visited?’ There was after all 600 years of history for this temple before ‘Hollywood’ came to town! He told us the original name of the temple is ‘Ta Phrom Temple’.
After the first 3 temples it was around 2pm before we stopped for lunch. Our Tuk-tuk driver took us to his favourite restaurant which was close to the Tomb Raider Temple, probably because he got a kick back for taking tourists there! This was a pleasant open air restaurant decked out with bamboo and wooden floors and tables suspended over a pleasant fish pond. Here we feasted on Fresh Spring rolls, Fried spring rolls and some spicy Tom Yum Soup.
After our bellies were full, we piled back into the Tuk-Tuk and our driver said he would take us to 2 more temples, 1 small one and 1 big one, but not too big.
We first stopped at the Entrance gate into the huge Angkor Wat city grounds, which at the height of the Khmer Empire was bigger than Paris. We climbed up onto the wall which stretched right around the outer perimeter of the Angkor Wat City. You can walk around the top of the ground but you are unable to make the entire journey around the circumference of the grounds as many sections of the wall have collapse over time, pushed over by the encroaching jungle that enveloped the ancient city after the empire had fallen in the 14th century.
In the evenings, the best place to hang out in Siem Reap is Pub Street, right in the heart of the town. I was expecting Pub Street to be lined with sleazy girlie bars but that was not the case. The local government in Siem Reap have done an excellent job to keep Pub Street a family friendly entertainment district with high end restaurants and bars. While they are high-end, the food and beverages are still very cheap. During Happy Hour you can get a draft beef for US$1. Bargain!
After dinner in Siem Reap, head down to the Night Markets. Here there is an excellent massage centre where you lay back on comfortable deck chairs and get a 30 minute foot massage for only US$2. At this massage centre they have a big projector screen which shows an excellent documentary about the Khmer Empire and how the temples looked back in the day they were used. After visiting the temples during the day, it was mind blowing seeing the artists impression of the how the temples were decked out with gold trimmings, vibrant colours and the history of the construction of this huge network of temples.
It is easy to get to Siem Reap as many international airlines have direct flights. You can get direct flights to Siem Reap from Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam, Hong Kong as well as a few cities in China.
For the best hotel to stay in Siem Reap, check out the beautiful Park Hyatt Siem Reap Hotel. This luxury 5 star oasis is close to the centre of Siem Reap, just 10 minutes stroll down to Pub Street and the Night Markets.
As I said at the start of this article, if you don’t have Siem Reap on your travel bucket list, get it added and make plans to visit Siem Reap, you will love it!
Theories on the demise of the Khmer Empire
Angkor Wat was rediscovered in 1860, after almost 400 years of the Cambodian jungle enveloping the amazing temples.
There are lots of gaps of knowledge about the demise of the Khmer Empire but one of the strongest theories is that after several hundred years of strong growth, the Empire finally moved away from where they had built the temples. It is believed multiple years of sever flooding, brought the decision to move the city away from the low lying grounds around Siem Reap.
Not much is known what happened to the wealth and power that moved from this area. With this vast complex of temples, public spaces and a huge population, massive wealth must have prospered here to be able to support just a massive population compared to other cities of the era. With many of the temple stones covered in gold and precious stones.
The moving away from the sacred Angkor Wat must have taken many decades after the major flooding. Any precious metals and stones would have been removed as the power base departed.
One of the saddest things about visiting many of the temples around Siem Reap is that majority of the Buddha statues that are found everywhere, have been decapitated and limbs missing, with I am sure, Buddha Heads scattered around this Globe with many Tomb Raider Families.
This is in my opinion, one of the most amazing wonders of the World. If you haven’t visited Siem Reap and seen these amazing Temples, then Get There Now!