When planning a 7 day itinerary of Cambodia, there are two must see places. Angor Wat near Siem Reap, and The Killing Fields near Phnom Penh. These two destinations are not to be missed, but there is more to this amazing country. Angor Wat had always been at the top of Terry’s travel bucket list, and to finally be here in Siem Reap, was exciting.
How to get to Siem Reap
If you are coming from Bangkok
We chose to fly in on Bangkok Airways from Bangkok to Siem Reap. The flight taking just over an hour which included a meal and French wine – perfect.
The other option is overland. This can be quite a challenge, and as we didn’t travel this route, we have provided a link to thepoortraveler.net who has travelled this route three times Bangkok to Siem Reap by land.
If you are coming from Phnom Penh
Cambodia Angkor Air is the main airline for the 40 minute flight which costs as little as €40. We flew to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap on this airline and we enjoyed the flight and the service.
The other option is the bus. Our son and daughter-in-law chose Giant Ibis from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, it also does the return trip. The bus was modern with air-conditioning at a cost of USD11 per person. The roads however are third rate so the journey takes about six hours.
Tip: Booking direct with the airline website can save you money on taxes payable in your own country, if booking with a travel agent.
Where to Stay in Siem Reap
Booking accommodation can always be one of those pleasant surprises, or a slight disappointment, or a ‘no we are not staying here’ moment. Luckily for us we had organised our 7 day itinerary with the help of EXO Travel. They had booked us into La Niche d’Angkor Boutique Hotel.
Seeing the pool as we entered the complex was so inviting in the 35 Celsius heat. And the idea of enjoying a cocktail or beer by the pool was even better.
Arrival in Siem Reap
At Siem Reap we were greeted by Taoune our local EXO Travel guide who advised us he would be looking after us for our time in Siem Reap. We were also given a driver with a very comfortable SUV. This had been arranged by our excellent travel agent Jennifer Forret of Flight Centre NZ. Taoune provided us with an overview of Siem Reap which was so informative.
Where to Eat in Siem Reap
Our first option was to enjoy the meals at La Niche d’Angkor Boutique where the food served was so flavoursome. While the cost maybe slightly more than the popular Pub Street, the cost is still much less than eating out in New Zealand. Plus the staff were very proud of their creations.
The other option we chose occasionally for lunch was Love U Restaurant across the road from the hotel.
But if you are looking for cheap food and beer then Pub Street is the place to be. There are so many options of food to choose from, and the entertainment of people watching makes it the ideal spot. Especially if the beers are 50c.
An Afternoon Tour of Angkor Wat
Taoune and our driver Somning picked us up at 8.30am for the 15min drive to the entrance of the Angkor Archaeological Park to collect our tickets. When you here, be prepared to have your photo taken for your entrance pass – smile. And, if you are not visiting the park with a guide, then we suggest you check out this website for entrance fees and times – Siem Reap.
What we didn’t realise, was Taoune would be accompanying us to all the temples giving us insights and history – what a bonus. The air-conditioned vehicle was also a plus as the temperature was due to hit 40degC! Being supplied with plenty of water each time we returned to the vehicle was a bonus.
You may wonder why this park is a must-see for so many people. But as a UNESCO site dating back to the 5th century, the park covers 400 sqm with the ruins of the Khmer empire. The most famous temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple
We started our tour at the ancient city of Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Great Khmer Empire under the reign of Jayavarman VII. This city is surrounded by an 8 metre high wall, drawing a perfect square. We entered the city through the ancient South Gate, an impressive stone gate carved with Elephants and four giant faces. On each side of the entrance path a row of 54 Gods or Demons are holding the sacred Naga snake.
At the exact center of the city is the Bayon Temple. This 12th-century masterpiece is well-known for its 54 towers with faces representing the 54 provinces of the Great Khmer Empire. We also visited The Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King both known for their intricate bas-reliefs.
Ta Prohm the Tomb Raider Temple
We then took a short ride to Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is unique in that it has been left largely as it was found: overgrown by jungle trees and vines, with many parts of the temple crumbling to the ground. This makes the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’ one of the most picturesque and memorable of the Angkor temples. Restoration is in progress to ensure the temple is retained.
For lunch, we stayed inside the Angkor Archaeological Park at one of the available restaurants. Our guide gave us an extra half hour as the heat was almost too much even for our guide!
And then came the highlight: The magnificent Angkor Wat, built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century.
The temple was constructed on the model of Mount Meru, the temple mountain and the home of the gods.
The temple walls are covered with stone carvings and bas-reliefs depicting Hindu mythology and the wars fought during the reign of Suryavarman II.
Angkor Wat has more than 2,000 Apsara dancers decorating the temple. This amazing temple is said to have taken around 30 years of intensive labour. And today, Angkor Wat is the symbol shown on Cambodia’s national flag. The temple symbolizes the soul of the Khmer people.
Hell to Heaven via Earth
Taoune showed us to the entrance of the temple, advising us to think good thoughts and to take our time. He explained that the construction of the temple is a place of “natural” air conditioning!
We entered the temple at the lowest level known as hell. The next level up is earth. It’s here you will find many library buildings which hold the stone tablets.
As we wandered along, we found this level to be a great spot to take in the glorious views before ascending the steep narrow stairs to heaven.
April is the low season in Cambodia, due to the intense heat. Thankfully there weren’t significant crowds waiting, so we were able to scale the steps to ‘heaven’ with no wait at all.
The visit to Angkor Wat was an exceptional day, made especially so by having an EXO guide. With Taoune’s knowledge of the temples, and knowing the best spots to take photos from, he managed the day to ensure we survived the heat. Thanks, Taoune.
We would meet up again with Taoune in a couple of days later to visit Tonle Sap Lake.
Following Tonle Sap Lake, our next stop on our 7 day itinerary of Cambodia would be Phnom Penh.