Going to Cambodia has always been on my bucket list for some time now. I’ve always wanted to visit the Angkor temples and check out the Killing Fields. The fact that they’re located in separate cities did not help as well. So I told myself, what the hell, if I wanted to be there, might as well check them all out. Ever since Cebu Pacific started offering direct flights to Siem Reap from Manila, I was always on the look out for the seat sale to come in. I am usually lucky in booking really cheap flights but for this one, the only way I can get a cheap round trip ticket was to book for a flight scheduled within eleven days. So that’s when the idea to visit Laos came in. I’ve always been intrigued by the so-called charm Laos has to offer so I decided to book those tickets to fly to Siem Rep and squeeze in Laos as well.
Trying to accomplish a fool-proof itinerary to visit two cities in two countries in eleven days was my goal and yeah, I guess I survived. Now, since I don’t travel solo and I needed someone to be my cameraman, I invited my brother to tag along. And plus, it was also my birthday gift to him. Though I really needed someone to take my pictures. LOL!
I booked us to stay at the Bou Savvy Guesthouse, based on recommendations from other bloggers and the really good feedbacks I have read about them online. We arrived around 9PM in Siem Reap and had them pick us up in definitely one of my most favorite tuk-tuks in Asia. It was one of my favorite tuktuks, cushioned with pillows to match. Cambodia sure beats Thailand and the other Asian countries in terms of this. Our driver that time, named Sookie, also ended up as our driver/tour guide for the rest of our stay in Siem Reap. Once we arrived at the cozy guesthouse, about twenty minutes from the airport, we checked in and planned our itinerary for the next few days. Sookie handed us the Siem Reap Visitor’s Guide book complete with maps of temples and the must-see places in Siem Reap, which made it easy for me to plan out our itinerary then and there. Though I had planned our itinerary a week before, having that handy guidebook made it easy for me to squeeze in some more temples and make some adjustments. After finalizing our plans for the next three days, my brother and I went into our room to get some rest and get ready for the next day ahead.
We had breakfast the next day in our guesthouse before leaving for the Angkor temples. Sookie was waiting for us at exactly 8AM and he brought us to buy some temple tickets, which was a requirement for every tourist who plans to visit the temples scattered all over Siem Reap. We took the three-day temple pass which was priced for $40. We even had our pictures taken for the ticket to ensure that it’s being used exclusively and will not be shared with anyone else.
After buying our tickets, we made our way to the southern gate of Angkor Thom. Every entrance has a checkpoint, so presenting our tickets with our pictures on it was necessary before entering the Angkor gates. The last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire, Angkor Thom covers an area of 9 km², within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by King Jayavarman VII and his successors. Angkor Thom is in the Bayon style. This manifests itself in the large scale of the construction, in the widespread use of laterite, in the face-towers at each of the entrances to the city and in the naga-carrying giant figures which accompany each of the towers. Some of the scenes from the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was shot here as well. From the south gate of Angkor Thom, Sookie drove us all the way through the forest to the majestic Bayon. He then dropped us off at the main approach, from the east, and instructed us that he will just around to the north and wait for us there in the Terrace of the Leper King area. Angkor is huuuuuuuuge. We spent around 3 hours alone in the Bayon area and I have never seen a place where every step would just lead into a photo opportunity. Though I’ve seen temples all my life, nothing beats the beauty of the Angkor temples.
One of the must-see temples in Cambodia, aside from the very popular Angkor Wat, the Bayon is a richly decorated Khmer temple, with giant stone faces that has become one of the most recognizable images connected to classic Khmer art and architecture. This place alone is really huge. There are 37 standing towers, featuring the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak.
The best of Bayon are the bas-reliefs on the exterior walls of the lower level and on the upper level where the stone faces reside. The bas-reliefs on the southern wall contains real-life scenes from the historical sea battle between the Khmer and the Cham. Even more interesting are extensive carvings of unique and revealing scenes of everyday life that are interspersed among the battle scenes, including market scenes, chess games and childbirth. Some of the carvings on the walls were said to be unfinished, likely indicating the death of Jayavarman VII and the subsequent end of his building campaign.
We continued our walk to the rest of the temples in the Angkor Archaeological area, passing and stopping by Baphuon for some additional photo-ops as well. Recently reopened after an extensie and troubled restoration, Baphuon is a large temple-mountain in Angkor Thom, located just a few steps northwest from the Bayon. Built in the mid-11th century, it is a three-tiered temple mountain built as the state temple of Udayadityavarman II dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Along the way we passed also passed by the Terrace of the Elephants, a fabulous bas-relief frieze of near-life sized elephants stretching some 300m. The elephants are shown in profile, mostly hunting, though some are depicted fighting with tigers.
Adjoining the Terrace of the Elephants, the Terrace of the Leper King is a double terrace wall with deeply carved nagas, demons and other mythological beings. The terrace was named for the statue of the Leper King that sits on top. Sookie was waiting for us there to bring us to our next stop, which was the Ta Phrom. We decided to have lunch first along the way, and one negative thing about it was that, it takes them soooooooo long to prepare a meal! We waited for almost an hour inside that restaurant before they served us our orders, and it was the same thing as well with the next few days we have in Siem Reap. We should’ve just brought our own food if we had known it would take them that long to prepare it.
After lunch, we were on our way to Ta Phrom. One of my favorite temples, mainly because it has been very much featured in the Tomb Raider movie, the Ta Phrom, built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara, it is located approximately one kilometre east of Angkor Thom and on the southern edge of the East Baray, it was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. Enormous kapok trees grow from the terraces and walls at Ta Phrom, their massive roots clinging to the walls, framing doorways and forcing open giant stones apart. Ta Phrom was one of the bigger temples in the area and we were there for about a couple of hours, I think. I wasn’t able to resist posing against those trees which crawl over the north side of the second enclosure. The background of those trees mixed with the temple walls is just amazing.
Our last and final stop for that afternoon was the visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking Angkor Wat. Known to be the largest Hindu complex and the largest religious monument in the world, the Angkor Wat is a massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five lotus-like towers. It is the centerpiece of any visit to the temples of Angkor. Constructed in the form of a massive temple-mountain dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, it served as Suryavarman II’s state temple. Other than the topmost level of the complex, the most important thing to see at Angkor Wat is the gallery of remarkably detailed bas- reliefs carved into the third enclosing wall, relating tales from Hindu mythology and a military procession led by Suryavarman II.
As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation – first Hindu, dedicated to the god Vishnu, then Buddhist. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia,appearing on its national flag, and it is the country’s prime attraction for visitors.
We were there in the Angkor Wat for a couple and a half hours and it was literally photo clicks every step of the way. There were so many photo-ops inside the temple that I didn’t want to leave. Sookie, our driver, was waiting for us so we had to go, but we were able to circle around much of the temple before we left. We arrived back at the guesthouse around 6PM and we contracted Sookie to pick us up later around 8PM to bring us to the popular Pub Street, Siem Reap’s popular hang out spot lined with restaurants and bars. We had dinner in one of those Happy Pizza restaurants, known for putting a special ingredient on their pizzas, which was the marijuana. Pub Street was not that big, so after shopping for some souvenirs, we met up with Sookie to bring us back to our guesthouse to get some sleep and prepare for the next day ahead.Follow @iamthegarysia