Today’s guest post is by Sara, who runs the blog The Bag Under the Bed.
Among all Asian countries I have visited, Cambodia is one of my favorites.
It’s true, it’s not as popular as Thailand, or posh as Japan but this country holds a special place in my heart.
In October 2015, I flew there for a short time before heading to Vietnam.
Even if my husband and I didn’t have much time to spend in Cambodia, we knew, for sure, that we couldn’t miss a stop at the famous Angkor Wat complex.
According to the Unesco website “Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple that with its countless sculptural decorations, one of the most widely recognized temples in Siem Reap because of the giant stone faces. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging program to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.”
Really impressive, isn’t?
Angkor Wat is more or less 330 km (205 miles) far from the capital city, Phnom Penh.
To cover this distance was the main problem to solve since we were traveling on a tight schedule.
By doing some online search, I found out that there are several domestic flights between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, the closest city to the temple area.
The problem was that, even if the flight was only 50 minutes, we were worried about the time we had to spend at the airport. We calculated that we were going to waste, at least, half a day for a very short flight. As if this was not enough, the cost was around 200$ return per person.
We felt discouraged since we had no clue about how to make it to Angkor Wat but we didn’t want to give up on our goal! I don’t know how much time I had spent on the Internet before I stumbled upon the Giant Ibis website. This Asian bus company connects Phnom Pehn and Angkor Wat, daily.
But…surprise, surprise, they also have night buses (departure times 10.30 pm – 11.00 pm – 11.30 pm) This turned out to be the perfect solution for us.
The night buses are modified vehicles (they feature single sleepers with their own recharge stations). A blanket and bottle of water are included in the price ticket. On the bus, there is also a toilet.
All of this for 15$ (plus 1$ for the credit card processing fee).
We spent in total 32$ return for a 6 hours ride. The bust departed from the Central Market in Phnom Penh (immediately outside the Giant Ibis office).
We slept comfortably during the entire ride.
Very early in the morning, we were in Siem Reap.
We had made prior agreements with our tuk-tuk driver to come and pick us up at the bus terminal.
His name was Mr. Phally.
We had found his website on the Internet and decided to contact him while organizing our excursion to Angkor Wat. The several positive reviews about his services convinced us to hire him.
He offered to take us around the archeological site with his tuk-tuk and to provide also an English guide, for more or less 50$
After the meeting, we arrived at the Angkor Wat Ticket Center (it opens at 5.00 am and closes at 5.30 pm)
We paid the ticket to get a one day pass.
On the pass there was our picture too, that was taken directly at the counter. This because the passes are strictly personals.
Back then the ticket was 20$ per person (quite expensive if you consider that the monthly average salary in Cambodia is 80-100$).
UPDATE: The price has almost doubled, from February 2017.
The one day pass costs now 37$ (a quite substantial increase, I would say).
Passes are available for 1, 3, 7 days and both cash and credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, UnionPay, JCB, Discover and Diners Club) are accepted.
We knew very well that we were going to enter a religious place so we made sure to have our shoulders and knees covered.
Since when traveling, we feel like guests in a foreign country, we try our best in being respectful of the local religion, custom, and culture.
Our first stop was Angkor Thom, the grandest iconic temple, and then we continued to Bayon, one of the most widely recognized temples in Siem Reap because of its giant stone smiling faces. During the rest of the day we had the chance to visit the Victory Gate, Thommanon, Chau say Thevoda, Ta Keo temples, and the Elephant Terrace. Our English speaking guide was always with us, providing explanations about the architecture and the history of the Khmer Empire. After each stop, we were offered fresh water and towels from Mr. Phally that, in the meantime, was also guarding our backpacks. We had lunch in a local restaurant inside the complex and we could rest and relax for a while. Our visit continued to Ta Prohm (the Tomb Raider Temple), Banteay Kdei and Srah Srang temples.
It was incredible to see how the vegetation and the majestic trees had been able to become part of the architecture style in itself. We couldn’t help but sit down on a rocky bench, admiring in awe, the fairy scenario in front of us.
We appreciated very much not only the visit but also the time spent with our guide. He allowed us to ask several questions about life in Cambodia, about the challenges of living in a developing country and what do locals think of the hordes of tourists invading the Siem Reap area.
It was a truly enlighting excursion, very spiritual and carefree.
Yes, mere words can’t express how it feels to visit Angkor Wat.
We also met some of the “Angkor Wat children”. Every day, the kids living in the area, enter the complex and try to sell postcards or pens to tourists.
They are friendly, maybe a little bit pushy, but really sweet. You can’t help but be moved to compassion toward them. A little girl stopped us; she wanted to sell us something. We didn’t buy anything, instead, we gave her some small money and we asked her for a picture. Maybe, not everybody would agree with doing this but we felt that, at the end of the day, that money could just give a help to a struggling family.
Our day just flew away.
We left the complex after having enjoyed a magical sunset.
We spent the rest of the evening exploring Siem Reap and its vast local market. There were also stalls selling typical food: snakes, cockroaches, scorpions, and other various insects. They were all boiled or fried, ready to be eaten. Sorry to say but we couldn’t make it, we ended up having a burger at the Hard Rock Café.
At around 11.00 pm we took our night bus to come back to Phnom Penh.
We still cherish wonderful memories of this experience and we highly recommend it to everyone.
Just in case, if this post has made you want to visit Angkor Wat, here you find some practical tips:
-Plan your visit well in advance, according to the weather conditions (the wet season is from May to October).
-Rely on a local guide/driver to bring you around the complex: it is massively huge. It’s easy to get lost.
-Wear comfortable shoes. If you plan to visit during the dry season, especially, remember to have some water along with a hat and sunglasses.
-Check on the Tourism Cambodia website for updates about entrance fees, opening hours and other information.
-Even if at the Sales Ticket Counter they will take a picture of you, bring a couple of passport photos. (You never know)
-Unless you want to spend 7 days inside Angkor Wat, make some research to find out which are the places or temples you don’t want to miss.
-Don’t forget your camera.
Finally: relax and enjoy your unforgettable experience.