I originally visited Siem reap in November of 2014 with my sister and just had the chance to return with my fiance. We visited a lot of the same sights but discovered one new temple that I want to recommend to all my lovely readers and I added one more final thought about the temples vs the more recent history of Cambodia.
Despite having lived in Southeast Asia for almost three and a half years I only recently made it to Siem Reap, Cambodia. My sister recently came to visit so I had the perfect excuse to finally go see the truly wondrous Angkor Wat.
We bought the three-day pass for the Angor Wat agricultural park, which is absolutely worth the 40$ entrance fee. Angkor Wat is actually only one of the temples in the UNESCO World Heritage site. In total, the park encompasses some 400 square meters of land, and hosts a number of temples and ruins of the Khmer empire built from the 9th to 15th Century.
My favorite temple was Bayon, with its intricate and detailed sculptures, but we also went to the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed (Ta Prohm), the women’s temple (Banteay Srei) and, of course, Angkor Wat. There are tuk tuk taxis galore and, as nothing is very clearly marked and everything is a lot further apart then you’d imagine, they’re the best mode of transport in between temples. There are bicycles for rent, but it is so hot and humid in Siem Reap I am surprised they don’t melt. Or you can rent a motorbike or electrical bike to get around, but I prefer a tuk tuk driver as they know so much more about the are than I do.
The sunset viewpoint was highly recommended as you can watch the sun going down over Angkor Wat, so of course my sister and I decided to go. However, we felt this was highly overrated and I would recommend that you skip it if you do not have much time. There are hundred of people crammed on to the viewpoint, all with their cameras and iphones primed and ready as they wait for the sunset and you have to fight for a spot; in the end you cannot even see the temples for the most part as the park is also a dense jungle and the beauty of the scene loses some of its effect when you are sharing it with that many viewfinders.
On the other hand, sunrise, whilst equally populated with cameras and selfie-sticks, is definitely worth it. No amount of people can take away from the awe-inspiring beauty of watching the sun come up over the temple dome of Angkor Wat.
On my more recent trip to Angkor Wat, the owner of Tangram Garden Restaurant (check out this restaurant if you have the chance it's wonderful) recommended that we check out Wat Awea. It is included in the ticket price of Angkor Wat but is not actually in the park, it is near Ton Le Sap. As it is not in the park it not very well known and we when we visited we were the only people there! It was amazing to sit amongst the temple ruins and listen to the sounds of the countryside, children playing and city traffic in the background. It is definitely my new favourite!
Everyone comes to Siem Reap to see the Angkor Wat temples and ruins and they are truly amazing and well worth the visit, but I also think it is important to recognize and learn about Cambodia's more recent history. We took the time to visit the Warm Museum which is located on a former landmine field and run by former soldiers. It shares the history of the recent war and horrors of the Khmer Rouge. They have apparently been experiencing a decline in visitors in recent years and while it may not be as spectacular as the temples and in all honesty is quite sad I think as tourists it is important that we learn about the history of the places we visit. I would recommend taking some time out of your temple visiting to check out either the War Museum (located just outside the park) or the Landmine Museum (located inside the park on the way back from the Women's temple). You can check out my post about the Landmine Museum and non-profit here.