Part two of our Southeast Asian trip. Svakom (welcome) to Cambodia!
We haven’t done a lot of traveling in Asia for one reason - we have never lived closed enough to visit often, plus the huge crowds usually puts a dampener on my spirits. Not this time though. Much like Bali, I was keen on getting the timing right for this Asian trip as well. While it was no where near as empty as Bali was, it was still a lot better than I had hoped.
Day wise itinerary:
Day 1: Phnom Penh
Day 2: Angkor Wat Sunset
Day 3: Angkor Wat Sunrise. Ta Prohm.
Day 4: Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, Phnom Bok.
These rules are constantly changing, be sure to double check the rules before traveling.
These were the rules when I traveled:
Vaccination Certificates with car code
E-visa. $30 per person. Received it on email within 72 hours.
Confirmed return or onwards flight.
Travel/Medical insurance with COVID coverage
Flights, Visa and Immigration
We flew to Siem Reap from Vietnam via Phnom Penh.
Immigration process was simple but they did check for all COVID documents before boarding.
Safety and hygiene
Guides wear masks inside temples. Everyone at the resort wore them too.
As with any place, practice due diligence and use common sense. You will be fine.
Best time to visit
Ideal to visit Cambodia is October-November or May-June.
Language and People
I was pleasantly surprised that Cambodians in general spoke more English in the major cities than in Vietnam. Maybe they are better equipped to deal with tourists. Had no issues in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel Insurance is highly recommended - we have our own, but if you are looking for one try World Nomad. Carry local currency for the tips and local purchases.
How to get around?
You would need transport to and from the temples and in Phnom Penh. Within the city you can walk or take tuk tuk, no driver needed. Just haggle a bit.
Do you need a guide for the temples?
Now in Siem Reap, If you plan to visit the temples on your own, this is absolutely doable. YOu don't need a guide. If you are looking to have a more immersive experience, I recommend booking private tours or small group tours with the guys at - https://www.journeycambodia.com/. Competitive rates and great experience.
How expensive is Cambodia? How long to spend in Cambodia?
Depending on whether you are traveling in off season or peak season, Cambodia flights and hotels rate fluctuate, as with anywhere in the world. On the whole, it is rather cheap, but depends on where you stay and what you do.
Khmer food isn't vegetarian friendly but we managed to get some local food at the resort we stayed in.
Where we stayed:
When visiting popular places, choosing the right place is very important to me. We try our best to pick the ones that are both classy and conveniently located to the main highlights. @templationsiemreap in Cambodia is all about sensuous tranquility with it’s savvy bamboo decor, contemporary Cambodian architecture, extravagant swimming pools, all framed elegantly by rich green of forest trees. We loved everything about our stay from the eco-credentials, amazing staff, to the Khmer massage. If you are planning a trip to Cambodia, I would highly recommend staying here. This one of a kind indulgence is just what you need after a long day out exploring the temples. You can read all about our amazing Templation experience here.
We landed in Phnom Penh from Hanoi via Ho Chi Minh City. Quickly cleared immigration and made our way to the resort to freshen up. The property was paradise and so at a great location to walk to all the main central locations in the capital.
Around mid day to we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a tragic reminder of the genocide of the communist Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot in the 1970s. We sought to see and understand this senseless reign of terror and at the end there was the meeting with one of only 7 survivors of the genoice, Mr. Bou Meng. In his book, he talks about how he was miraculously spared because of his paintbrush. Even though he could not save his wife or children, he was determined to bear witness and stand in a courtroom to tell the world of the horrors that unfolded behind these prison cells. Around 2 million Cambodians were killed between 1975 and 1979 by the Khmer Rouge. In this high school converted to a prison, around 18,000 were tortured and killed. Only 7 survived and Mr. Bou Meng was one of them. A story of courage, survival and truth.
On day two, we had our breakfast and took a short one hour flight and made it to Siem Reap by mid day. After refreshing, we went straight to catch the sunset at the Phnom Bakheng Temple.
There are many temples to catch the sunset in Angkor wat, including the main complex itself but we went here as it is was the closest for us after. It was such a gorgeous, albeit overcast, sky.
Rise and shine. Up before the sun for the main event. The Angkor Wat temple was the primary focus of our Asia trip in May. There is nothing more magical than watching the sky change to breathtaking shades of pink right before your eyes.
This is a very popular tourist spot, so if you are keen on making the most of your trip to Angkor Wat, here are few tips for you:
- get your tickets online a day before, it will be valid for the next day as well. Costs $37 per person
- for the sunrise, plan to get there at 5 a.m. You will need to find a good spot to set up tripods etc.
- don't forget to carry a bug repellent - trust me, you will need it!
- this reflection pool just opposite the entrance of the main temple is the best photography spot for the famous temple reflection.
- carry a lot of water and wear comfortable shoes.
It was iconic, surreal and worth waking up for.
As one of the largest religious monuments in the world, this is the one temple you need at least 4 hours to complete What I found fascinating was the architectural influence of the Chola and Pallavas in Angkor Wat.
With its huge pavilions, towering spires and larger-than-life sculptures, this temple has a plethora of similarities with the South Indian temples I visited with mom & dad as a kid.
Though the temple was built by the Khmer rulers between the 9th and 14th century, the unmistakable link between South India and Cambodia is evident in every pillar.
After a delicious breakfast break, it was time for our most favorite temple in Angkor Wat.
This one gained popularity after it was featured in Tomb Raider. Recognize the scenes where Angelina Jolie walks over to this very tree?
I am not big on architecture or history. This place won me over simply because it was a place that was losing it’s battle to nature. Once you start making your way through the maze of the temple complex, you will realize that the entire temple is being swallowed by the jungle. I believe this is how the world was meant to be. One with the natural world around in every way.
The gigantic monster twigs adds to the allure and mystery of this ancient temple. I also loved that we were the only ones there early in the morning.
Travel tip: try to make it there by 9 30 a.m.& you may just escape the tour buses!
One our last day, we spent the morning chilling in our Templation villa. Post a hearty lunch, we went to two more iconic temples in Angkor wat.
Starting with the iconic Bayon Temple part of Angkor Thom. It is a 12th-century temple, with 54 Gothic towers that are decorated with 216 smiling faces of Buddha. Unlike Angkor Wat, which looks impressive from first glance, Bayon looks like a pile of ruins from a distance. As you get closer to the temple, its magic becomes apparent.
Known as the 'face temple' thanks to its iconic structures, huge heads glared down at us, exuding power and a hint of all-knowing kindness in the smile!
Our last stop on the trip was my second favorite spot of the trip. One, because it is truly off beat and takes a good 45 minutes of driving + climbing over 600 steps to get here. Two, we were the only ones there. Three, it’s a combination of mountain, forest and history.
This place is truly a hidden gem that sits on top of a hill that overlooks all of Siem Reap. There is a sense of mystery surrounding these ruins, that was once a flourishing temple.
A visit to Phnom Bok is the best way to experience the Khmer region in all its (former) glory. You will get a sense of what once was.
Travel Tip: save this for the end, go for the sunset on your last day in Angkor Wat. You won’t regret it!
It is always about timing in Asia.
Much like Bali, this trip couldn't have come at a better time. The temple itself usually attract 2 million visitors, this was before Covid. Now, it is close to a few hundred thousand. The temples hardly had any visitors when we went, even the resort had just few families staying.
We thought four days was great and ample time to explore the temples. You will probably need three days for the temples, unless you plan to explore them all. We went with a plan and covered the most unique temples in the complex. Making sure each one was different in it's own way.
Whether it's the history, the architecture or just another place you want to tick off, the Angkor wat temples won't disappoint you. You can relax, soak up the culture and much more in just a few days.
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