Angkor is the area of Cambodia that hosted the Khmer Empire (Khmer), which dominated Southeast Asia from the ninth to the fifteenth century (then went into recession and moved its capital to the current site, Phnom Penh).
The territory of Angkor brings together 97 ruins of cities and temples, currently controlled by UNESCO. Most were rediscovered in the 19th century by French settlers after about four centuries hidden in the jungle. The only temple that remained in use throughout that period was the Angkor Wat, maintained by Buddhist monks. With its five towers in the shape of a lotus flower bud, it is best known worldwide for photographs.
Other of the most famous constructions of the archaeological complex of Angkor are the Bayon Temple, recognizable for offering more than two hundred faces of Buddha carved in stone, and Ta Prohm, temple diffused in the Angelina Jolie movie “Tomb Raider” (2001) It is characterized by the presence of gigantic trees and roots that were born from its ruins, because when it was found it was decided to keep it as it was, as shown.
Located about eight kilometers from the temple complex of Angkor, the small dormitory town of Siem Reap is the closest place to spend the night. There we stayed for three nights with my travel companion, the journalist Gilda Selis, creator of the blog "My Travel Log". In this post I offer you my travel diary.
Day 1 (Tuesday, September 11) From Hanoi to Siem Reap
Our VietJet plane flew from Hanoi (capital of Vietnam) to Siem Reap (1 hour 45 minutes, $ 107), landing at the Cambodian airport at 6.40 p.m.
There I took the tourist visa “on arrival” (the one that is taken personally at the airport) that is worth 30 dollars. It can only be paid in cash, but fortunately there is an ATM in place to extract the money in cash. It is valid for a single entry and allows you to be in Cambodia for 30 days. You have to take a passport-sized printed photo, but in my case (I had not found a printer to print the photo) everything was solved by paying 2 extra dollars for them to take it out of me (in fact, they just scanned the photograph of my passport) . Another option is the e-Visa that you previously request online on the website evisa.gov.kh and they give it to you in three business days. It is worth 30 dollars plus 6 dollars for the digital procedure (total 36 dollars), but they only accept it in some airports (those of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville) and at the crossings of Cham Yeam, Pio Pet, Bavet and Tropaeng Kreal Border Post. If you are going to enter Cambodia for a different destination, you must process the visa on arrival. I take this opportunity to tell you that the Bangkok-Siem Reap bus route is very frequent among those who travel through the Southeast and on that route there is a very common scam attempt: the vehicle guides lower you at a border site that claims to be the office to get the visas, when in fact it is a tourist agency that takes its "kite" to carry out the process. Those who are warned of the scam, continue walking one or two blocks until they reach the true border crossing point.
At the airport, Yon, our tuk-tuk driver, was waiting for us, transport courtesy of the hotel where we are going to stay. Obviously his intention was to become our guide for Angkor temples and other walks, but we were already in contact with another guide, Vannak, who had recommended us traveling friends because he speaks Spanish. And when it comes to understanding the complex explanations regarding each temples, there is no way to listen to them in our language.
The night of Siem Reap received us warm, humid and rainy, which was not an obstacle to go for a walk around, first by a nearby night market – in the city there are two – and then in Pub Street, which as its Name indicates, it is the most tourist street in the city because it concentrates bars and restaurants.
Day 2 (Wednesday, September 12) Enjoying Siem Reap
Probably the logical thing would have been to go to know the Angkor temples today – the main reason for the visit – but they had recommended us to do it with Vannak as a guide and he was busy, so we left him for tomorrow and we took the day calmly.
We have breakfast at our hotel – The Villa Sok San Square – and although this posting is not promoted (we pay between the two a total of $ 53 for the shared room for 3 nights) I totally recommend it, especially for its location (one block away from a night market, one block from the main street that leads to the temples and two blocks from Pub Street, where they probably dine and have a drink at the end of each day). It also has a good pool, important to cool off in the overwhelming heat of this part of the map.
We walk three blocks to the Siem Reap River, until we reach the Old Market, a gigantic building full of stalls, ideal for haggling and buying clothes and souvenirs for a bargain. While there are things trout and trusses, others are original brand -excedents factory- and silks and other divine fabrics. In fact there I found a divine golden palazo pants for a wedding that I have on the way back, for a price that in Uruguay does not even cover the dry cleaners (I was 15 dollars and I regatured it until I reached 7).
At that point the river can be crossed by a beautiful wooden bridge, the Old Market Bridge. On the other side are several rows of fair-type techites, because at night the main Night Market of Siem Reap is held (which is not the same as we were the first night: this one is much bigger)
In the trips they usually attract the attention of the posters of the public thoroughfare, and wandering around this small city of less than 150 thousand inhabitants (according to the 2018 census) I stopped to photograph some, which gave me curiosity about the peculiarity of the writing Cambodian / Khmer. Did you know that it even has its own alphabet, and what is the longest in the world?
If we talk about posters, in the Kingdom of Cambodia those who are even in the soup are those related to the kings of the country: the current one since 2004 Norodom Sihamoní, and his father Norodom Sihanouk, who died in 2012, which is known as “ Father of the Fatherland ”for having directed in 1954 the independence of Cambodia against France. Sometimes there is also the “queen mother”, Norodom Monineath (Paule-Monique Izzi as a single woman), widow of Sihanouk and mother of Sihamoní. I clarify by the doubts: Norodom is the surname of the royal family, but in Cambodia, as it happens in Vietnam, the surname is written before the personal name.
During the walk we also found faces like these:
We could have gone to see the temples Wat Preah Prom Roth and Wat Damnak, which are within the city, but we assumed that with all the amount of pagodas we will see tomorrow, it would be an overdose. Instead we opted for some mateitos in the hotel pool, hoping to bathe, which was suspended as it started to rain as soon as we went down to the garden. Among those who stay several days in Siem Reap, frequent walks are navigating the Tonle Sap lake to know some of its floating villages, visit the Angkor National Museum (which is on the outskirts of the city, almost reaching Angkor) and the park Cambodian Cultural Village theme, which recreates the splendor of the Khmer empire.
As in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries, the cuisine is based on rice. And, to the relief of the palates of the Southern Cone, it is much less spicy than Thai. This poster includes some of the most typical dishes of Cambodia, such as Amok (chicken, fish or squid base with vegetables and coconut milk), Lok Lak (meat in pieces, just cooked, served with lettuce, onion and potato), Tom Yum (spicy soup originally from Thailand that carries seafood, although there are also versions with red meat, chicken or pork), salads with banana flowers and spring rolls both fresh and fried; They are less crunchy than the Chinese rolls we know in Uruguay because they are made with rice flour.
That night we went to a dinner-show at the Koulen restaurant, located on Av. Sivutha (one that leads from the city center to the temples). It was not far from our hotel but we moved in tuc-tuc because it rained (4 dollars total) and from 6.30 PM we enjoyed a very varied buffet. About 7.30 PM the show began, a sample of Apsara, an ancient Cambodian dance that supposedly attracts good fortune. It is very particular, so slow and delicate that it gives the impression that its dancers were like floating in the water. This impression I felt has its explanation (I discovered it later, when looking for material to complete this note): the dance takes its name from the apsaras, aquatic nymphs of Hindu mythology. The cost is $ 12 and the experience, despite being focused on tourism, is completely recommended. In fact, seeing this dance would make me understand the next day to better understand the body postures (flexed knees and crossed feet, for example) of several of the figures carved in the different friezes of the temples.
Day 3 (Thursday September 13) Knowing the temples of Angkor
We wanted to see the sunrise from the Angkor Wat temple – the most famous of all the Angkor Archaeological Park, recognizable by its five towers in the shape of a lotus flower – inspired by photos like these:
Instead, the morning received us so rainy as to discover that the famous lake in which the sun is supposedly reflected is actually a miserable brown puddle. The colors, however, were given by the umbrellas of the hundreds of visitors who accompanied us that morning.
The temple was built on behalf of King Khmer Suryavarman II at the beginning of the 12th century in honor of the god Vishnu – which forms, together with Brahama and Shiva, the basic trimurti or trilogy of Hinduism – and at the end of the 13th century, under the religious revolution initiated by King Jayavarman VII, it became a Buddhist temple, a use he maintained until the present.
(to enter) «a bridge is crossed over the immense lake that surrounds the lavish Angkor Wat, a temple that alone would deserve the visit. This bridge is flanked by 54 Devas (protective gods) on the left bank and as many Asuras (demons) on the right bank, all pulling, in different directions, a snake with several heads, to maintain the balance of good and evil present in human nature (…) Angkor Wat is not only the most lavish of all Angkor temples, it is the largest sacred building in the world. Everything in it is colossal: the pit that surrounds it completely has a width of 200 meters; the main tower (there are four more, all shaped like a lotus flower bud) is as tall as Notre Dame de Paris and its wall measures more than three kilometers »
Julio Castro, from the blog «Another Friday without Robinson«
But I'm getting ahead. Let's go to the beginning of the day, which started very early. Vannak picked us up in his tuk-tuk at about 4.30 in the morning and with him we walked about eight kilometers to reach the temple area, located on the outskirts of the Siem Reap. The first stop was at the office where the access tickets are taken: it was not until five in the morning that we were first in line to get the entrances to the temples. We take out the 1-day ticket, which is worth 37 dollars (cash and cards accepted). You can also get a subscription for three days ($ 62) and for one week ($ 72). The ticket office hours are from 5 AM to 5.30 PM and you have to go to the entrance personally because they take your picture digitally for your pass, and in the access to each temple there are usually guards who control that your identity matches the identity Photo.
At the cost of the tickets we were added 30 dollars, which we half-paid with Gilda, to have Vannak and his tuk-tuk throughout the day (this is his fare as a driver: if we want him to enter the interior of each temple with us and act as a guide, amounts to $ 80). In case it was not clear, I stress that transport is not only important to reach the area, but to move from temple to temple, since the archaeological park of Angkor covers an area of approximately 400 square kilometers.
There are those who choose to rent bicycles – from Siem Reap, or already within the temple area – but I do not recommend it because each temple has so many stairs with steps that the mere fact of ascending them under the overwhelming heat of Cambodia is enough for the athlete more trained.
A question that assaulted us when planning this trip was whether to make the one-day or three-day visit. The advice of other travelers was divided, and fortunately we opted for one (keep in mind that extending our stay in Siem Reap was going to involve shortening the stay somewhere else). We are right. In my opinion, unless the reader is an architect, anthropologist, historian or similar, touring the temples for a day is more sufficient, and in fact the time will come when he will lose the capacity to be amazed just as he does when visiting the 100th church of Italy.
After we saw the sunrise, Vannak took us to TA PROHM, a temple that became famous thanks to the movie “Tomb Raider” by Angelina Jolie. Its construction was commissioned in 1186 by King Jayavarman VII, dedicating it to his mother; The main image of the temple is the deity Prajnaparamita, mother of all Buddhas and personification of wisdom. At the door, in addition, the temple has an image of the king himself. This construction was a monastery, university and hospital, reaching 12 thousand people, including high priests and hundreds of dancers. One of its main characteristics, which makes it a favorite for visitors, is that when in the 19th century the French discovered the ruins complex that had remained semi-abandoned for four centuries, they decided that TA PROHM kept its original aspect of hidden by the jungle, preserving even the gigantic trees that had grown above the buildings.
Then our guide took us to know three other temples: TA KEO, CHAU SAY TEVODA and THOMMANON. The first of them, a pyramid 45 meters high, is also known as Preah Keo and is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It began to be built in the 10th century but it was never finished because its creator, King Jayavarman V, died before the works were finished. At the time of our visit, conservation work was being carried out there, financed by the government of China. The other two are small, almost twin temples, built during the twelfth century in honor of the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnú, facing each other.
Later we went to ANGKOR THOM, ruin of a city founded in the twelfth century whose wall was 12 kilometers long by 8 meters high. Angkor is an ancient word of the Sanskrit language that means city, while wat and thomb are from the current Khmer / Cambodian language and mean "pagoda" and "big", respectively. Therefore ANGKOR WAT is "the city of the temple" and ANGKOR THOM "the great city".
We entered ANGKOR THOM through one of its five access gates: the PUERTA DE LA VICTORIA, located in the east direction, which led directly to the royal palace; when leaving, instead, we use the south gate, which communicates directly with ANGKOR WAT.
Well in the center of ANGKOR THOM is the BAYON TEMPLE, one of the most original for its 54 towers decorated with a total of 216 faces of smiling Buddhas carved in stone.
From ANGKOR THOM we also visit the BAPHOUN TEMPLE, dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva, and the two terraces (that of THE ELEPHANTS and that of the KING LEPER), each 300 meters long The one of the elephants is adorned with sculptures of these animals , of a horse with five heads and scenes of warriors and dancers, while that of King Leper is full of bas-reliefs of demons and other mythological creatures. It included a statue of this monarch but what there is now is a replica: the original was transferred to the National Museum of Phnom Penh.
I remind you that the Archaeological Park is immense – for some there are passes of up to 7 days – so obviously we have dozens of temples left without visiting. Anyway, the only one that really made me sad to lose myself is BANTEAY SREI, the citadel of women, unique for the reddish color of its stones and for being dedicated to the female sex. But it is about 25 kilometers from the main area, so it did not give us time.
That night we returned to Pub Street, and in one of its restaurants we ate one of the typical dishes, the Lok Lak beef, toasting for the end of this adventure, since tomorrow we would separate and each one would continue the trip on their own. The menu offer was quite exotic, as you can see in the photo (and the price, "luxury for tourists", if we compare it with that of the restaurants frequented by the local population).
Day 4 (Friday September 14) From Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
Very early (I think it was less than eight in the morning) we were raised by a tuk-tuk (we had already coordinated yesterday) to take us to the bus stations from where we would depart to our next destinations. They were two different companies, so we finally said goodbye with Gil after two weeks of travel (before arriving in Cambodia we were touring Vietnam together) and upon arriving at my terminal the impression was desolation, something like a vacant shed without even banks to sit and wait, and the need to stand in line because the bus seats were not numbered. However, once inside the vehicle everything was perfect (unfortunately I do not remember which company was like to recommend it) and what a friend had warned did not happen to me – she had suggested avoiding local public transport because she had to travel in one as full as a sardine canned and full of chickens and bad smells. In my case, besides being clean, I reclined so well that I slept for three or four hours that the journey to Phnom Penh lasted.
To give an approximate idea of prices – they can vary a few dollars depending on the bus company and the place where they buy them – from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh (214 km) can cost between 10 and 15 dollars, to Bangkok between 25 and 30, and to Ho Chi Minh City between $ 25 and $ 35. Some of the bus companies that carry out these tours are Mekong Express, Giant Ibis and Virak Buntham.
I say goodbye to you. The next post will arrive from Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, and will be the last diary of my 2018 trip to Southeast Asia. Fortunately, in October of this year I will return, and I will be the coordinator of a group for Spanish-speaking women, together with the travel agency Locas por el Mundo, with which we will visit Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Do you want to join? You have + Info in this link.