6 things to do for a quickie in Siem Reap, Cambodia


The sky was red and the horde of tired tourists that flooded the temple city of Siem Reap turned silent. Camera clicks can be heard. Even the most noisy groups of Koreans were wordless. Everybody was staring straight to the west, awaiting the revered sunset viewed from Phnom Bakheng temple atop the Elephant Hill.
It was like an holy hour in a place where most Siem Reap temple-hopping adventures culminate. At one side of the temple complex I lay my butt flat on the huge centuries-old brick. Angkor Wat is on my southern side. A deep sigh of relief and content. 

Rustic Phnom Bakheng center structure.
Looks like a gateway to another dimension.
It's time for my camera to rest after thousands of clicks and for my feet to relax after 9 hours of walking. I've done so much in two days and a rusty ol' bike is still waiting for me back at the hostel for a city bike tour for another half day. This is what you get when you have a long list of things to do and you have a limited time to wander around the city of endless brick roads and archaeological wonders, a rich Khmer culture and interesting people in a city where almost everything costs wan dalah (one dollar). 

If you only have three days, or less, to visit Siem Reap, it may not be enough to truly see life in the city. But no one can stop you from exploring the world, right? Adventurers are not limited by time nor by resources. If you're dropping by the temple city for a quick visit, here are the things you can do: 

1. Visit the famous Angkor Wat

Finally, the Angkor Wat

This Hindu temple is the centerpiece of every visit in Siem Reap or perhaps the whole of Cambodia. Being the largest temple complex in the world you'll be sure to see humongous structures with intricate details that tell of the historic past of Khmer Kingdom. 

Be prepared to be annoyed by the rushing of large visiting crowds. I prefer the stillness when I am outdoors but understandably Siem Reap, being one of the most visited places in the world, is not the place to expect that. 

Angkor Wat, the highlight of temple-hopping trips in Siem Reap
While at the complex you can do monk-watching. These silent men in tangerine robes are a common sight in the complex as they collect alms or just roam round. I was lucky to have been invited by a young monk to walk around. He served as my tour guide. We talked about meditation, his god, his monastic life and how technological modernity was integrated in monkhood.
Budget time: 2-3 hours

2. Burn your sole in Angkor Thom

A good time to rest in the vast Angkor Thom
Angkor Thom is literally a "great city". This was my first destination when I strolled around the temple area in Siem Reap. I got excited upon seeing the lined-up statues, that were more phallic than godly, and arching structures at the entrance so I took some photos. But that was just the welcoming station to a series of complexes inside the 9 km² wide old Khmer City. Before finishing the Angkor Thom tour by myself, I was already soaked in sweat.

Bayon temple, established in 12th century by King Jayavarman VII, the former kingdom's state temple and the largest among the sites in Thom, is at the center of the city complex. 

Angkor Thom can easily be found in tourist maps as it is the largest compound in the city. 

That wide, you can only imagine how much of your rubber sole will be used up while walking.

Budget time: 2-4 hours


3. Get tangled in the roots of spung in Ta Prohm

Angelina Jolie, where art thou?
I'm sure you're familiar with Tomb Raider movie where Angelina Jolie had her gadgets fixed and readied. One tour guide I asked said there was an actual on site location and the site had to be cordoned to keep the Jolie fans away while shooting. I used to doubt it was all just computer generated images but I was wrong.

The spung roots mysteriously integrated and covered some of the structures in the temple. Walls were even braced with steel to prevent it from giving in. 

Ta Phrom, established by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century is among the UNESCO world heritage sites in Siem Reap. 
It's always tempting to have a photograph at the "root" sites but you have to be patient in waiting for your turn. Again, hordes of visitors flock the temple sites even during off seasons. Everybody will be as interested as you are in having photos at the site. 
Budget time: 1-2 hours


3. Wait for the Sunset at Phnom Bakheng

Korean lovers in Phnom Bakheng
Lovers, families and groups engrossed in the moment watching the salmon sun setting in Siem reap, it's an afternoon routine in this uphill temple. This temple can be reached through a 15 minutes hike or by riding an elephant at $20. 
Sunset at Phnom Bakheng to end the loooong day
This temple complex atop the Elephant hill, just like all the other temples in the city, is also under re-construction by international historical organizations and the Cambodian government. Expect to see modern cranes that play contrast to the old structures. 

Your telephoto lenses can be a good tool in capturing Angkor Wat from afar as seen from the hill. 

To reach all the other destinations you have to have a reliable driver. I rented a single motorcycle for a day at 9 dollars. My driver waited for my exit in every temple I went to since I started my city tour at 8am until the sunset.

Budget time: 1.5 hour

4. Go night shopping


Cambodian t-shirt? Cool and cheap at the the Nigh Markets
Night Markets are scattered all over the town proper. This is new to me who thought a night markets is a lone place in the city where everything cheap, from souvenir items to food stalls, are concentrated. In the case of Siem Reap there are several stores complexes with multiple stalls of these types. Guess what I got from the night markets? Of course, souvenir items mostly costing wan dalah up. 

Budget time: You have all the night to shop around!


5. Get some booze for the night at Pub Street
The party center in SR
Experiencing a town isn't complete without seeing what's happening at night. If Manila has Malate and Cebu City has Mango Avenue, Siem Reap has the Pub Street. 
The street is the converging station of all backpackers and tourists who want to take a relaxing time after a day's wandering.
with my new-found buddies, fellow backpackers Saul ,Kajsa and Linnea
I explored the street and hopped to several bars with Englishman Saul and Swedish Linnea and Kajsa, my room neighbors back in my hostel. Indulge in pints of Beer Lao, Singha and the local drafts at a cheap price available in several themed bars.

6. Bike around the city
My wandering machine for half day.

It's a different experience to see in candid moments the locals doing their stuff. Take a two-wheeled cycle to see the city in a different perspective.

Bicycles are usually rented for $1 per day with free bottled water. I had mine for free as offered at Hak's House, the hostel where I stayed for two nights. 

I learned a lot of things I haven't read about in books like monks are now open to using social media accounts like Facebook to connect with their relatives and the ourside world. They also use cellphones - a weird discovery for myself who thought contemplative monks are living ascetic lives. 
Time Budget: For quickies, half day biking is enough.

It was indeed a quick visit for me. However short, my stay was still an eye-opening experience for a backpacker who got out of his home country for the first time and visited two countries in less than two weeks. []

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>>My solo Siem Reap trip, an extension of the Thailand group tour, was the highlight of my 2012 adventures. More blogs about Siem Reap, soon. 

1 comment:

  1. Probably a separate day is needed to see this second wonder of Cambodia. After Angkor Wat it's a lot to take in, but if you have to do it in the same day then be prepared to be gob suggested by the work to reclaim this series of buildings from the jungle. We liked the trees still growing through the structure, the rainforest roots claiming whole buildings from the top down, and the feeling of being lost in its passages.
    It rained heavily when we first arrive before boston new york washington dc tour. It was the perfect way to see this jungle forest surrounding Angkor Thom and the rock does seem to come alive with its images when wet.

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