• Spike

Siem Reap - Cambodia

Updated: May 28, 2020

I only spent a couple of days in Cambodia, simply to explore Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples .

I could probably have done with another day to explore more of the temples. I didn't think there was a great amount to see in Siem Reap itself, but there are endless temples to explore, there are over 1000 in total. It's only since the early 2000's that the city has become popular with tourists. Before this there was only one hotel and very few bars. It's popularity soared with the release of the movie Tomb Raider, due to being filmed at Angkor.

Angkor Watt

The largest Buddhist temple on earth. It was originally a Hindu temple, which can be seen by the many carvings depicting stories from Hinduism.

I chose to visit for the sunrise tour. It's quite a magnificent sight, seeing the sunrise over the temple. However I think this is the busiest time to visit the temple. It's always overcrowded with tourists, but sunrise is extremely popular. I'd recommend the sunrise tour if you can handle the tourists, but I can also offer a tip. Try visiting the temples in reverse, making Angkor Watt your last. The other temples will be empty first thing in the morning, so just ask your guide or Tuk Tuk driver to do a reverse loop. There should be several temples you get to see with no tourists whatsoever if you do it this way.

Angkor Thom

Translated it means "Great City" and houses the Khmer temple of "Bayon".

This would have been my favourite temple were in not for the mass amount of tourists. Simply entering the south gate to the temple is quite impressive. The bridge to the gate has a famous scene from a Hindu creation myth. A chain of gods on one side, and a chain of demons on the other, all pulling a giant serpent.

You'll then enter the city below giant stone heads, and that's consistently what you'll see the cities architecture is made up of. Giant faces carved into towers, which are actually quite stunning. It's believed the faces represent the Buddhist deity Lokeshvara.

If you want to see this temple without the hustle and bustle of all the tourists, consider coming here at sunrise. The majority of tourists will still be at Angkor Wat, whilst you should have the temple largely to yourself. If you wait until later, there will be tourists everywhere you turn.

Ta Prohm

This is the temple that really helped start mass tourism to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. Also known as the "Tomb Raider" temple, as it featured in the 2001 movie of the same name. It's the third most popular temple after Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.

Again, it was over crowded with tourists, but I think this place would be magnificent if it were less crowded. So again as a top tip I would suggest visiting this temple first if you want to avoid the crowds.

One of the biggest draws to this temple apart from it being where Angelina Jolie filmed her scenes for Tomb Raider, are the trees growing out of the temples. There are various temples similar to this on the circuit, but this one has a lot of trees growing within and even on top of the structures. It makes you realise how ancient and beautiful this temple has become with age.

Ta Nei

This was the one temple which was less crowded than all the others. My guide referred to this as the hidden temple, I guess as it's not so well known and not visited as much as others. I actually loved this one simply because of the ruins, I felt like I was Indiana Jones, clambering through the narrow passages and climbing over ancient rubble.

There were several animals here too, including a huge nest of bats above my head in one of the rooms.

I would highly recommend visiting this temple if you're fed up of the crowds at the other temples. Or if you just want to feel like a true adventurer on the hunt for an ancient relic in a booby trapped temple, there aren't actual booby traps here, but I guess you can get in touch with your inner child and pretend.

Shadow Puppet Show

I wish I'd had more time in Cambodia to see a shadow puppet show, but unfortunately I didn't.

Shadow puppetry has been performed in Cambodia for thousands of years and therefore it has a deep cultural heritage to Cambodians.

I think there are shows most evenings, and one of the stories regularly told is that of the Ramayana.

Even though I didn't get the chance, I regret not making more time and I encourage anyone in Siem Reap to see if it is as magical as many reviews claim.

Pub Street

If you're looking for nightlife, Pub Street is your best bet. A street with several bars, mainly packed with backpackers and other tourists.

Some of the bars here do get a little loud, especially places like "Angkor What? Bar", so if you're looking for a chilled out drink, it may not be that easy once the bars get busier.

You'll also find several places to eat long here too which aren't badly priced.

The area is fairly safe from my point of view, but just be cautious about going to other bars in other areas, and be a little cautious late at night when heading back to your accommodation. There are plenty of Tuk Tuk drivers around to drive you back to where you're staying.

Fried Tarantula

Like Thailand, Cambodia offers strange street food of the creepy crawly variety. This is mostly focussed at the tourists, although tarantula is actually a delicacy in Cambodia. In the 1970's they were a very popular snack due to the famine at the time.

If you're not too squeamish why not try one?

After trying scorpion in Thailand I was ready to try tarantula, so how was it? In all honesty, it wasn't as nice as I thought it would be. The meat wasn't, but there were many hairs in my mouth, even after finishing it, I couldn't help but feel there were still hairs in my mouth.

My advice would be to still try it, but go for the bigger ones as they have more meat on them.

Night Market

There are several markets in Siem Reap which are ideal for souvenir shopping, but the night market just off Sivatha Road is one of the best. It was here I was able to buy a handcrafted shadow puppet, the next best thing to not being about to see an actual show.

You'll find various street food and souvenir stalls, but it's reasonably priced and there are some truly beautiful and unique items for sale here.

Artisans Angkor

A large handicraft store selling some amazing items. There are fabrics, jewellery and homeware. perhaps the most stunning items for sale here are the stone carved items. There's actually a workshop next to the shop where you can see the items being crafted.

The stone items range from heads of past kings to Buddhas or all shapes and sizes. On my visit they had huge life size stone carved statues and monuments. But there was no way I could ever get something like them back home, as amazing as they were. I'm sure they offer shipping, but a stone item like that must weigh an incredible amount and surely shipping would not be cheap.

In the end I settled for a small stone carved head of Jayavarman VII, which was still quite heavy but thankfullyI didn't go over my luggage weight at the airport.

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