If you’re looking for a quick stopover trip, Siem Reap, Cambodia is one of those places worth visiting. Like the rest of Southeast Asia, getting there and getting by is quick, easy and doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket.
Before visiting Cambodia, you do need to apply for a travel Visa, good for 30 days of stay. Getting one is rather easy thanks to the online registration. You want to use this method because it is the quickest way, especially for you spontaneous jetsetters. Not only that, you bypass the long immigration line because they have special e-Visa counters. Only one other person on my flight used the e-Visa. I don’t think you even have fill out the immigration forms the flight-attendants hand you since I’m sure the immigration person that processed me just throw it away. It will cost you $28USD ($20 visa + $5 processing fee + $3 bank transition fee) and takes 3 business days to process. You will have to submit a photo (JPG or PNG format) when applying. I just used my iPhone and took a quick photo of myself against a white wall. Don’t worry if it’s not the best photo of you because it gets distorted when you submit anyway. It gets even more distorted and pixelated when you print out the copies after they send you the approval e-mail. Save your printer ink and print it out in the lowest quality possible. As long as they can scan the barcode, you are golden.
Skip the currency exchange because every place you go will ask for USD. Some of the hotels offer free airport pickup, so make sure to enter your flight number and arrival time when booking your hotel. Your driver will be waiting for you in front with your name on a paper. Your tuk-tuk driver will most likely ask to be your driver for the duration of your stay. He will drive you around for a full day for only $20. If you’re traveling by yourself and want an even cheaper method, hire a motorbike driver. I believe it’s $10/day. The hotel I stayed at was the Royal Crown Hotel & Spa. You can read my review HERE.
Temples of Angkor
You will need to purchase a ticket to gain access to the temples. One ticket will gain you access to all the temples. $20 for One-Day Pass or $40 for Three-Day Pass. Make sure you keep the ticket with you at all times. There will be people to check your ticket at each temple entry point. TIP: Your One-Day Pass gives you access to the Angkor temples starting from 5:00PM on the previous day. So if your flight arrives early enough, you can watch the sunset with the masses on top of Phnom Bakheng.
Sitting at the top of hill, Phnom Bakheng has become one of the most popular places to watch a sunset in recent years with a 360º panoramic view of the city of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom and their temples. Be advised, it is a 15 minute hike uphill, so wear the appropriate shoes. Once you get to the top, enjoy the beautiful view of the sun setting over the Cambodian countryside. You might have a hard time getting photos with hundreds of people jockeying to try and capture the same image.
Instead, just relax and embrace the scenery. Capture what you can. As soon as the sun falls below the horizon, many of the tourists and locals will leave and the temple staff will start telling people that the temple is closing. I suggest staying as long as you can so you can get some shots of the colorful sky and temple without too many people around.
I hope you’re ready to wake up at 4:30AM to catch the sunrise with thousands of people. Built in the 12th century by Khmer King, Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat is largest religious monument in the world. When your driver drops you off at the front, cross the bridge over the moat, enter the front gates. Ignore all the tourists sitting near the front gate and small libraries on the sides. Instead, make a beeline to the small lakes directly in front of the temple. For the best spot, you want to go to the far left, towards the little souvenir & cafe shops. (Unfortunately, it was extremely overcast that day, so I don’t have the best example photo.)
If you get there a little late, you’ll probably see a hundreds of people gathered on the left side of already awaiting for the sunrise. You can try your luck there or if you’re not worried about getting your shoes covered in mud, you can try walking through the mushy swamp area by the right lake. Just like Phnom Bakheng, as soon as the sun rises behind Angkor Wat, all the tourists leave to the next temple. Surprisingly, being one of the most famous temples, not a lot of people walk through it. You can either skip it like many of the others or take your time and explore this massive temple and get all the photos you need. I suggest checking it out. It’s worth seeing. You’ll have the temple to yourself as the crowd is minimal and you’ll avoid the masses of tourist which are all probably at Prasat Bayon.
Literal translation “Great City”, the ancient city of Angkor Thom was last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer Empire. There are two main temples to check out. Bayon & Baphuon. Want an unique way to see the outskirts of Angkor Thom? Ride an elephant.
One of the most distinct temples in the world, Prasat Bayon, is known for the 54 faces craved into the massive stones of the temple. Great photo op on a sunny morning with the shadows adding even more texture. Heck! Even on a cloudy day makes a great photo op. As you are about to exit the north side of Bayon, there is a small temple that you can climb up and get a good view of Bayon temple. Keep in mind the steps are very small and steep.
Once you’re done, walk over to Baphuon, which is just north of Bayon. Climb up to the top towers and you’ll get a great panoramic view around Baphuon.
You can also check out Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, the big Buddha across Baphuon, Sour Prat, and Phimeanakas (part of the Royal Palace which was adjoined to Baphuon). I opted to skip all those since I wasn’t too interested in seeing them.
If you’re like me, the main reason you wanted to visit Cambodia was because of Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones. Yup! This is the place where they filmed the movies. This place is an amazing sight with the giant Banyon trees growing and wrapping around the temple ruins. Getting a photo is not an easy task since everyone is lined up trying to take their photos in front of the famous tree. There’s two ways around this. You can either A) be polite, yet forceful and ask people to hold on while you sneak in a shot. B) walk around the corner to another tree and snap a photo there. Or you can just wait patiently.
Now that you got your photo (hopefully), it’s time to explore the rest of Ta Prohm. TIP: Instead of following the crowd into the main corridor of Ta Prohm, enter the little hallway of maze to the side. Each and every turn is a great photo op. Climb to the top of the crumbled stones and get an overview of Ta Prohm with no one in sight. If you’re not sure where you can enter and you’re willing to pay, you can always look for a local that is willing to guide you. If you’re traveling solo, they’ll probably come up to you right away. Is $10 worth it? Absolutely! You can probably talk your way out of paying that much by being prepared with having only a few dollars in your pocket and saying that’s all the money you have left.
If you’re like me, by this point, you’re probably pretty much templed out. After awhile, all the temples are starting to look the same. Even after exploring one of the coolest temples in the world, My day pretty much ended here since it a thunderstorm rolled in shortly after. I actually had one more temple on the list, which is Banteay Srei. It’s worth checking out in the afternoon, though it’s quite far. From what I’ve heard, it may cost an additional $10 or so. If you journey out that way, you might want to check out Pre Rup on the way back and catch the sunset. Other alternatives is go back Angkor Wat for sunset to give you a complete different perspective. Or if you didn’t go to Phnom Bakheng the day before, this is your chance.
And there you have it! You’ve just seen and conquered all the major temples around Siem Reap in one day. Time to grab a cold beer in Pub Street, kick back, and get ready for your next adventure.
Photos by Andy Blake