After a surprisingly comfortable night bus ride with flat beds and lots of sleep, we hit Siem Reap in the early morning. After a small breakfast at our hostel, we were ready to explore the temples of Angkor. The temples of Angkor are one of the biggest religious monuments in the world. 1000 temples spread out in area of around 1000 square km can be found around Siem Reap.
There are several ways to explore the temples of Angkor by (e-) bike, tuk-tuk, car, or motorbike (last one is officially forbidden for foreigners though). The most common vehicle of transportation is the tuk tuk, which usually costs around 15–20$ per day (depending on your negotiation skills and which route you are taking). Especially two routes are popular among visitors, the so called long and short route. The short route is taking you through the most famous temples (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, …) while the long route leads to more distant temples (Prae Roup, Ta Saom, Jayatataka,…), which are usually less crowded as well.
Our plan was to go on the short route on the first day and on the second day we planned to see the sunrise and then proceed with the long route. After paying the entrance fee for the three-day ticket (40$ valid for three days during one week). We went straight to the most famous temple of Angkor, Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also displayed on the Cambodian Flag. The huge temple area is quite crowded with tourists and guides offering their services. While a guide is something, which can prove useful at some points, the quality of the guides varies tremendously. So its better to book a guide in advance and check the reviews on trip advisor first. We decided to go without a guide and read about the different temples in our travel guide and on the internet. For someone, like me, who does not fancy the history of every fresco. In every temple, but rather interested in the overall history this way works quite well, but at some points we would have liked to get more information about some specific parts of the temples though. Angkor Wat itself is a huge and impressing temple and definitely worth a visit, but wasn’t our number one temple.
From Angkor Wat the next stop is usually Angkor Thom with the iconic temple Prasat Bayon, which is famous for its Buddhist faces. Apart from the Prasat Bayon the whole area around is worth exploring (Baphuon and Phimanakas). Because we spent a lot of time at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, we weren’t able to finish the small round that day, but we went to Phnom Bakheng to view the sunset. Phnom Bakheng is situated on a hill and only around 500 visitors are allowed to visit the temple at the same time. Obviously you have to be there early if you want to see the sunset. We were too late and were only allowed to enter the temple after sunset, which was still pretty nice.
Plans are fine, but might not live up to reality. My travel buddy got food poisoned and was not able to join me for sunrise and the long route. So I went on my own to Angkor Wat in the early morning. Angkor Wat, in particular a spot near the left pond, is super crowded in the morning. If you want to ditch the crowds just go to a slightly different spot and you can enjoy sunset in a more peaceful atmosphere. For the photographers, who really want to get the typical “Sunrise behind Angkor Wat reflecting in the pond” shot, there are two ways: 1) Get up super early and be one of the first ones at the pond 2) Between actual Sun Rise and the sun rising over Angkor Wat, there is usually a lot movement around the pond (many are leaving) and chances are good to get into the first row (the way I did it).
After sunrise at Angkor Wat I made my way straight to Ta Prohm (famous for being displayed in a Tomb Raider movie). Being this early at Ta Prohm made it possible to be almost alone at this mystical temple and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere right in the morning. Ta Prohm was definitely one of my favorites, because the combination of jungle trees and temple creates a fascinating atmosphere. The reasons why it was chosen as location for a Tomb Raider Movie are easy understandable and you wouldn’t be surprised if Indiana Jones would show up at some point as well. From Ta Prohm I followed the route of the big round but in the unusual anti clockwise direction, which helps a little bit to get away from the crowds. Around 3 o’clock I was finished with the big round and also, I have to admit, I was slightly oversaturated.
After my friend felt better the next day, we decided to go to the landmine museum, which is around 30km away from Siem Reap, but definitely worth the way. Cambodia is one of the most landmine contaminated countries in the world and they are still a real threat nowadays. Walking off-path in a lot of areas is perilous. The museum was created by Aki Ra. A man, who was a child soldier of the Khmer Rouge, later a soldier for the Vietnamese and at the end a soldier of the Cambodian Government in the 90ies created the museum. During these times, mines became his best friends and he used them for almost everything imaginable not only against enemies, but also f.e. to hunt. At some point he realized what harm is he doing to everybody in his country and started to search for mines and defuse them. He started to collect mine shells and because people wanted to see the mines, he started a small museum, which grew bigger during the last years. Today, it is still a small, but really interesting museum (the entrance fee is used to help Cambodian children), which tells a lot about landmines in Cambodia and around the world. Different types of mines and unexploded devices can be seen and signs also tell a lot about the wars in Cambodia including stories of Aki Ra.
Unfortunately our days in Cambodia were over afterwards and we left the country way too early and with so many places undiscovered. Cambodia is a definitely worth a visit and while I did somehow the popular route, I assume that real beauty of the land lies away from this route. While I really enjoyed my time in Cambodia, my perception is slightly marred due to the stories of scams and crime, but in my experience those things are only widespread in touristic areas and as soon you are away from these areas, the full beauty of the country will be visible.