Kingdom of Cambodia - Temples
We arrived in Siem Riep International Airport and were pleasantly surprised by the newly built yet culturally influenced airport.
We quickly passed customs and had pre-arranged our visas online through here. I believe you can also apply for a visa on arrival. Online the price was $36 USD, and in person, I believe it's $20 USD for tourist visas.
After passing customs, we were picked up by our Tuk-Tuk driver. I believe this is a typical arrangement for tourist staying at hotels so please check this out as an option for transport. Tuk-Tuks are a motorised rickshaw.
We made our way into the city and passed some night markets that were setting up. Later that night we explored and found these markets all across the town selling everything from little touristy trinkets, fresh foods, nuts and tons of different clothing ranging from silk scarfs to those touristy flowy pants. A lot of these markets are open every night, and you can find some of the best markets here.
We ultimately came to Siem Riep to see all of the fantastic ancient temples from the Khmer Empire. Located in Siem Reap is the Angkor Archaeological Park which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. Prices to get into the park are now $37 USD for one day, $62 USD for three days and $72 USD for the whole week.
To get this entry pass, you have to go to a place outside the park that any tuk-tuk driver can take you to. Bringing your passport and visa is essential. Cambodia accepts U.S. dollars as currency and even prefers it. I suggest bringing USD to pay for the tickets!
Once inside Angkor, there are many temples to see with the most famous being Angkor Wat.
Some of my favourite temples we explored were:
Angkor Wat: Angkor Wat is a temple complex and one of the most significant religious monuments in the world. The Khmer Empire ruled from its capital of Angkor, where the temple is located. Angkor Wat took 37 years to build. The city was created with a water reservoir allowing the water table to rise and fall which helped allow for these ancient temples to stay intact with the changing monsoon and dry seasons.
Angkor Wat Sunrise Tips: If you want to wake up and see the sunrise (which we ended up doing) make sure you check the weather as you definitely want a sunny morning. It is also really important to get there about an hour before sunrise. The temple itself opens at 5:00 am, and you will have to stand in line to get through to the temple if you arrive earlier. I suggest getting there about 4:30 AM. You need to arrange your Tuk-Tuk the evening before with your accommodation. Also, when inside the temple, go all the way to the moat area and if possible even set up your equipment in the water. People have been known to jump in front of others for optimal pictures. I recommend being to the left of the moat because you'll get the best reflection of Angkor Wat. Also, bring some breakfast with you. People will be walking around and taking orders for coffee and bring it directly to you.
Bayon temple in Angkor Thom: Bayon's most distinctive feature is the multitude of smiling stone faces. This temple was the last temple to be built at Angkor and the only temple dedicated to Buddha. There are approximately 50 stone towers each with four faces of Buddha, aligned with the directions of a compass.
Ta Prohm Temple: Ta Prohm is the famous temple seen in the original Tomb Raider Movie. The temple itself has been engulfed with huge trees and hanging vines. It's definitely quite a spectacle to behold. It is believed to have housed a population of over 70,000 people who all had distinct roles in society ranging from priests & monks to everyday working people.
Preah Khan Temple: I thought this was one of the most beautiful temples. Its actually has been left unreconstructed state, so there are numerous vines, trees and diverse vegetation engulfing the temple. The temple is decorated with carvings of garuda's which is a bird-like mythological being in Hindu mythology.
Prasat Bantaey Srei: This is a magnificent and intact temple and is known to have some of the most well-preserved relics in Siem Riep. The temples here are made from beautiful pink sandstone and have carvings of devatas (female deities) carrying lotus flowers.
Pre Rup Temple: This is a large temple complex with many stairs to the top! It is made from brick, laterite and sandstone. The name of the temple translates to "turn the body". It is thought that funerals were conducted here with ashes of the dead rotated throughout the funeral service progression.
Banteay Kdei: This is definitely more of an off the beaten path, temple. The name of it translates to "A citadel of chambers", and the temple itself is located outside the first and biggest temple complex Angkor Thom. The architecture of this temple is similar to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan temple.
Phimeanakas: This isn't much of a temple to explore, but it's a beautiful temple to glance at if you have a chance. According to legend, the king spent the first watch of every night with a woman there who was thought to represent a Naga (a serpent or snake). On the second watch, the king would return to his palace with the Queen.
Some tips for exploring the temples would be to arrange for a Tuk-Tuk to take you around for the day. This should cost about $20 or so for the day, if I remember correctly. Bring lots of sunscreen, snacks and water. If you end up falling short of some supplies there are always people being selling ice-cold waters, coconuts and lots of snacks!