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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Cambodia Travel Diary: Siem Reap

Cambodia is one place that had been on our minds to explore for over a year now.  Why? Because it has one of the world's wonders and it is a UNESCO world heritage site! My husband and I finally planned a trip there to celebrate our anniversary few weeks back. One of the advantages of living in Singapore is that it makes all of South East Asia easily accessible. It was just about 2~2.5hrs flight and visa on arrival for Indians (you will know what a relief that is, only if you are an Indian!)

What is one of the top 5 things you do when you plan a travel? You check the weather and the best time to visit the place. And we being very cute, forgot to do that and ended up there in the HOTTEST (note the bold letters) season of the year. It was around 38~39 degree Celsius but felt like 45deg. Not a smart choice, considering that majority of the places you have to visit are temples made of stone which heat up like crazy! So please don't go there in May/June unless you want to get a tan, sunburn or badly roasted.

Siem Reap is a small town and thrives mainly on tourism. So be prepared to be hounded by the local sellers, tuk-tuk drivers and tour guides wherever you go. We stayed at the Royal Angkor Resort which was a French colonial building, on the national highway slightly off from the town centre but the tuk-tuks make it accessible to get anywhere around easily for just under $5, if you know how to bargain with them. It had a lovely ambience and very friendly staff and I highly recommend it!

We had just about 4 days to explore and we started off with the Bayon and Angkor Thom temples as you get the best sunset view from near there. We got a 3 day Angkor Pass which would allow us to visit the entire set of temples for 3 days as many times as we wanted and cost about $40.  It was an adventure exploring this during peak afternoon with scorching heat and we were so dehydrated that I thought I would faint anytime  (which is why you have to be smart and not go there during summer time!) But it was worth all of that hardship as the temples are beautiful and the guide we hired gave us a lot of the history which made it more interesting. Hinduism and Buddhism are very predominant there and as I am familiar with both, it kept me very engaged while I gulped down 2 isotonic drinks, 3 bottles of water and some tender coconut water. 

We went on later to explore the famous Ta Prohm temple also known as the Tomb Raider temple as a small part of the movie was shot there with Angelina Jolie. So it is a major tourist attraction and it was completely packed with people, especially the Japanese tourist groups (we see them in action everywhere :))

Another full day was spent exploring the main Angkor Wat temple, both at the time of sunrise and sunset. They look very different as the temple gets fully lit up for a few minutes at the time of sunset and the sun rises behind the temple during sunrise if you are at the west gate, so you can capture some amazing photos. It is very important from which entrance you go in if you are looking to do photography based on the sun's position. So make a note of that! As it was summer, there was hardly any water in the mirror pool in front of the temple, so we couldn't get great pictures of it with the reflection in the pool, which are the signature photos taken at this location. But nevertheless, managed to capture a few decent ones!

During Sunrise

During Sunset

Honestly I was a bit disappointed with the Angkor Wat temple maybe because I had huge expectations. So it didnt take my breath away or made me feel like I should come back here again. I was happy to just tick this off my list of places to see. 

Apart from the countless temples to visit, you also have the old market to explore in the heart of the city. There is a night market if you are someone who loves to shop till you drop, like yours truly! There is nothing unique to buy except for some wooden handicrafts and regular clothes and decorative stuff. Cambodia uses USD as their main currency even though they have their local cambodian currency. So all transactions are in USD which means no hassle of exchanging currency. People work really hard there, manage to speak english and are very polite as their economy thrives on tourism. So you will feel at ease while you are travelling there.

There is also a pub street nearby which as the name suggests has loads of pubs and restaurants to tingle your tastebuds. Make sure you don't miss tasting Khmer cuisine, which is the local cuisine of Cambodia. It is mainly non-vegetarian but if you are a fussy vegetarian like me, you can go to this restaurant called Chamkaar near pub street which serves only vegetarian Khmer cuisine. To my surprise, I loved a couple of their dishes! And if you get bored there are many Indian, Italian and Thai restaurants as well to explore.

Apart from the above, you can visit the cultural village on the national highway and a floating village to do some boating and other short trips all of which we skipped simply because of the weather. Instead we chose to indulge and pamper ourselves in the spa with some amazing body massages, head massages and foot reflexology. You have to use your awareness and choose a good place for this to have a nice experience.

Overall it was a good vacation. Will I go back there? May be during winter just to see if the experience would be different. 

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