Monday, September 1, 2014


It's the time of the year again for another vacation. This time around my wife and I decided that we pay a visit to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I still recall some fuzzy memory of my last visit here at about 7 years ago and it was a pleasant experience and not forgetting the extremely hot weather during the peak season. We really got lucky as the month of June and July of the year are typically low peak season and supposedly rainy and it barely rained except for some minor drizzling. 

DAY 1 - 30/6/2014 Monday

We arrived at Siem Reap airport at around 1420hrs Cambodia time. Siem Reap has not changed much but tourism development has sprouted numerous 4 to 5 stars luxurious hotels which are very affordable. We manage to book Royal Crown Hotel & Spa which was located only a short walking distance from the Old Market and Pub Street. Hence, getting around the town having meals, buying souvenirs and visiting some of the local attractions are hassle free.

Since it was pretty late in the afternoon, we wasted no time but headed to old market and have our lunch at The Soup Dragon. We are delighted that the curry fish, seafood salad and the beer were fantastic. Generally, the food in Siem Reap are reasonable priced in the range of USD2 to USD5 per dish. The type of food available comes in huge varieties as the menu of almost each restaurant we had visited are rather impressive. The Cambodian beer is about USD0.50 which was nice too.  

After our lunch, we went over to Siem Reap Art Center and there are various kind of crafts, bedsheets, t-shirts, jewelleries, hats and the list goes on.  After a short while, we walked over to Wat Damnak which was originally King Sisowath royal palace which eventually becomes a Buddhist monastery. Wat Damnak is now an independent institution on Khmer cultural studies and has one of the largest public academic library in Cambodia outside of Phnom Penh. It is not surprising that we do see students within Wat Damnak having some leisure time, studying and playing around with friends. It was also getting late and we decided to call it a day and return to our hotel.
DAY 2 - 1/7/2014 Tuesday

As usual, we had confirmed our 3 days tour via online with a guy called San Park several months earlier after much research on how to go about our trip. Our 1st day tour was an impressive one as the places that we are covering are staggering. Our morning started off with the purchase of the 3 days pass which cost USD40/person and our tuk tuk driver, Mr.Paul was a very courteous, polite and always a smiling guy. Since I knew that Angkor Wat temples are located less than 9km from Siem Reap, it was a right decision to just take a tuk tuk which cost us about USD60 for 3 days and for both of us which was a great deal.

Our journey started with the visit to the South Gate which was in itself a splendor of what to come. Later, we also have the opportunity to visit Angkor Thom also known as the 'Great City' in Khmer which consists of Bayon, Baphuon, Terraces of Elephants & Leper King which was established during the 12th century ruling of Jayavarman VII. We were left to explore the temples ourselves without our tour guide to rush us which was a bonus. Each of these attractions has its own uniqueness and a story behind it on itself. Bayon was the most distinctive with its huge 4 sided stone faces on most of the towers which some expert refer it to the faces of Jayavarman himself portraying as the God King. Others may refer the faces as the Hindu gods and even Buddha at the later centuries. Nevertheless, the remaining ruins are magnificent and still constantly in restoration at present day. 

After much eye opener in just the 1st day morning of our tour, we settled for a simple lunch at a restaurant within the Angkor Wat vicinity as recommended by Mr.Paul. The choices are good but the price are rather high as the restaurant is situated within the temple attractions. We only ordered a sweet and sour pork at about USD8 with rice and plain drinking water and we are quite surprise as the dish in itself is quite a large portion which we barely manage to finish. 

After our lunch and much rest, we were on our trip to Banteay Srey which was one of the furthest temple of the archaeological sites and about 26km from our location in Angkor Thom which took us almost an hour to reach via tuk tuk. I still recalled my 1st visit to Banteay Srey in the early hours of the morning and the red sandstone really brings out the temple glory during the sun rise. It's best to visit it during sunrise but our trip this time around was planned in the afternoon and the huge difference is very obvious. Nevertheless, it was not crowded as it's already late afternoon and our visit during a low peak season does give us the opportunity to take more photos without having too much obstructions. Banteay Srey was dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva and built at around 10th century and the main attractions are the intricate decorative carvings which are still visible at present day. 
On our way back, we had our chance to visit Banteay Samre, a 12th century hindu temple built by Suryavarman II and Yasovarman II. There's also a legend that tells a Banteay Samre king which was a cucumber farmer but I won't delve into the details. Since I'm at it,... it was told that the original king likes the farmer's cucumber so much that he will kill anyone who tries to eat them. One day the king went to the farm wanting to taste the cucumber late night but was killed by the cucumber farmer thinking the king was a thief. As the king do not have any replacement, it was decided that the royal elephant chose the king by letting it roam the lands and eventually bow to the cucumber farmer and he was bestowed as the new king! However, the royal servants disrespect the new king and the farmer left the palace and hid in Banteay Samre. Sometimes I felt that little stories or legend are told for a reason with a hidden message behind it. Usually there are told among the villagers or the peasant and low ranking hierarchy in society expressing the dissatisfaction in life. Similarly, some are told in novel and art form at present day by artist like Ai Wei Wei, etc.

By the end of the day, Mr.Paul brought us to our requested side tour to the Landmine Museum during our visit in Banteay Srey. Luckily enough we manage to visit the rather small museum (I rather call it an exhibit) and it took us 10 minutes to finish looking around the exhibit but it does give us some history of war and landmines in Cambodia. The entrance fee was recently raised from USD1 to USD3 per person and part of the entrance fee will be used for help care of children who live there and support for the relief center.

Well, our day ended with much anticipation for the 2nd day tour highlights on Angkor Wat.

DAY 3 - 2/7/2014 Wednesday 

Our 2nd day tour was really testing our physicality to the limits considering the temples that we are about to visit. Our 1st temple is a visit to Angkor Wat also know as 'City of Temples' which is one of the largest religious monument in the world built by Suryavarman II. The temple is surrounded by a moat with an outer wall of 3.6km and we have to walk across the stone bridge which was about 235m in length. I watched a documentary on Angkor Wat on my flight to Siem Reap and it was told that Suryavarman ambushed and killed his uncle, Dharanindravarman I to take over his throne during the king's excursion in the jungle. It was during his reign of power that he expanded his borders into Siam, Laos and Peninsular Malaysia. It was also his desire to bring heaven down to earth in which Angkor Wat was built with 5 towers representation of Mount Meru with the centre highest tower linking to the chambers where the King rest in peace. There are still several other theories on how Angkor Wat was built but we just have to settle with this as it relates back to the inscriptions found on the bas relief and other expert findings. We might got a chance to know the true story if we only have a time machine! or perhaps hollywood might just do a movie on the reign of Suryavarman II as they did with 'Prince of Egypt' and the upcoming 'Gods and Kings'.

After our lunch we continue with our visit to Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Neak Pean and Pre Rup temples. Ta Prohm was made famous and better known when the movie, Tomb Raider was released some years back. It was founded by Jayavarman VII at around early 13th centrury as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. It was very popular due to its giant silk and banyan trees growth enveloping the temple and its surroundings as though it was just founded by some scholars. However, Ta Prohm did not age well as one of the largest giant tree which was an attraction there was not visible despite our several attempts to find it. I later noticed some of the visitors also surprised as to not finding the giant tree. There's no doubt that there are still several other giant trees here and some of which are at 400 years old. I also notice that one of the giant tree seems to be uprooting and the stones in which the tree roots grasp has been missing and metal brace was used to prevent it from uprooting further. I would certainly imagine that the temples are slowly and gradually deteriorating despite much efforts of restoration. I also noticed some stones are bulging outwards at the bottom of the walls indicating lateral force and inconsistent loading dispersion from the top. This may just be my own opinion and we do hope that it stands majestic for decades to come so that the next generation may see it with awe. We were also quite shock to find that the bridge with its tug of war figures were headless when compared back to our old photos of the Angkor South Gate.

Anyhow, we just have to move on with the other attractions. One of the serene attraction was an artificial island Buddhist temple called Neak Pean  which was also built by King Jayavarman VII.  I guess the King is certainly having an interesting life with all these constructions during his lifetime. Once we reached Neak Pean, we had to walk about 400 metres toward the temple with the soil path and a very interesting wooden platform crossing a lake. I have to say the lake is rather interesting with slim leafless trees, tree logs floating, whistling sound of crickets and toads. The word Neak in itself means 'naga' in Sanskrit or dragon and most often associated with the 2 dragons of Anavatapta, the mythical lake in Himalayas with its waters having curing properties.

With Preah Khan and Pre Rup visited, we just have to call it a day as it was really a marathon of 10 hours non stop. I still recalled that my friend almost had a heatstroke when visiting Angkor Wat on our 1st visit here having exposed to direct sunlight at 35 degree celcius is just no joke and fun. Once we reached hotel, I just couldn't take it and started to feel ill already and went for dinner at our hotel before hitting our cosy bed.

DAY 4 - 3/7/2014 Thursday

Day 3 was really a killer and I meant killer not because of the marathon of places to visit but the heat. Luckily, I had some medicine last night and now I'm back on my feet for the last day of my tour. We started our journey to floating village near Phnom Krom at about 11km south from our hotel. It was a bumpy ride as there's practically no roads but undulating red earth but we do see a lot of laid back living lifestyle in villages and small huts. Unfortunately, once we reached the floating village, it has already moved out as the rainy seasons are coming and our driver is also not aware of it. We may actually be able to see them by taking a boat to their location which may take 1/2 day from what we overheard later. So, Mr.Paul decided to bring us to the villager's market near Phnom Krom and some of the Roluos Group temples which was not covered in our itineraries. The market was rather small as we manage to walk pass it in less than 1/2 hour. 

In fact, I missed out on the Roluos Group on my 1st visit to Cambodia. It actually consists of Lolei, Preah Ko and Bakong. There's also Prasat Pre Monti which our driver skip as it's too small and insignificant. Lolei was the first temple we visit and also the last to be built by Khmer king Yasovarman I for his dedication of Shiva and his member of royal family. It was rather small and still under some kind of restoration. Preah Ko better known as 'The Sacred Bull' in Khmer was built by Indravarman I in 879. 

I strongly felt that it was one of the impressive temple within the Roluos Group with its intricate carvings and architecture. Our last visit was Bakong and it was a sizable sandstone temple mountain with a stepped shape pyramid. We did a short walk up the steps and took some photos before returning to our tuk tuk. Some said that Bakong was built in reference to Borobudur temple in Java due to its similar architecture. Our Day 4 was a short one as we manage to finish our tour right before lunch. We requested Mr.Paul to drop us at Siem Reap town for our lunch at old market before returning to hotel.
DAY 5 - 4/7/2014 Friday

On Day 5, we manage to have a long night sleep yesterday and our luggage are all pack up ready to fly back to Malaysia. Mr.Paul agreed to send us to airport with a fare of USD5 which was very reasonable but we just tipped him an extra USD3 for his sincerity and humbleness. We felt that most Cambodian people are very friendly despite being poor and live a simple life. My Cambodia trip did not covers the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh and perhaps it could possibly be my 3rd trip here in future. Overall, my stay in Siem Reap was very pleasant and the food were very nice despite the hot weather throughout our tours.

There's so much more to talk about Angkor Wat but I would just sum it up in 3 words, "Explore, Enjoy & Exhale".