I arrived in Siem Reap with a very positive outlook of Cambodia. Exploring the various parts of the country, I couldn’t be more in love with it. However, spending a few days in the city, unfortunately it showed me a different side.
Upon arrival, as per usual in any new place, I went for a wander. As my hostel was near the market, the streets were flooded with stalls selling anything you could imagine – fruit, meat, clothes, watches, jewellery. It was clear that Siem Reap was the tourist haven of the country. It also appeared to be the poorest city, with many beggars and their young children sadly in the street.
Maybe if I spent longer, I may have found more reasons to love it, however I felt like it had lost the beauty and simplicity of real life Cambodia. But it still wasn’t a place to miss because of the country’s iconic ancient ruins – Angkor.
The temple complex of Angkor (which translates to Capital City in Khmer, as it was the hub of the Khmer empire, which reined between the 9th and 15th century) is made up of a collection of cities including roughly 38 major archeological sites (72 including additional buildings). Originally built as a personal temple mausoleum for King Suryavarman II being dedicated to Hinduism, after the emergence of new builds/cities (under different Kings) and reconstructions over the years, it has since become a well-known Buddhist shrine and hot tourist destination.
Tickets can be purchased for one day ($37), three days ($62) and seven days ($72). As hard as you may try, you wouldn’t be able to see all the sites in one day, however as I had little time, I bought a single pass. Because of this, I decided to organised what is called a ‘Small Tour’, which in fact isn’t small, as it encompasses several of the major and minor temples, covering 17 kilometres. But instead of taking the normal tourist route, our lovely tuk tuk driver kindly took us the opposite way to avoid the crowds.
Below is our route, a bit of information on the different temples and photos. I’ve tried not to completely overload with information, especially as I even find it hard to get my head around the full magnitude of the site.
The start of our jam packed day started at Bantaey Kdei. Translating to ‘Citadel of cells’, this mid-12th century temple was originally built as a monastery, housing monks at various points throughout the centuries, up until the 1960s.
Being our first stop, we spent a long time exploring the temple and were amazed at the detail and structure of the building. We even walked up to a lake, which used to be the King’s swimming pool, according to our guide! Ta Prohm
Personally I thought this temple looked like something out of Indiana Jones with it’s big jungle trees and roots intertwining through the ruins. The temple, being built from the late 12th century, was originally known as Rajavihara (Monastery of the King). Unfortunately due to years of looting and decay in the structure, it was undergoing some construction work.
Being one of the tallest of the temples, I instantly became Jessica Croft during the hour we explored it’s steep structure. The pyramid shaped Ta Keo mountain temple was built in the early 11th century and was in fact never complete.
This was my favourite of all the temples! Constructed in the late 12th century to early 13th century, it is the heart of Angkor Thom (translated to Great City) the last of the capital temple cities created during the Khmer Empire. The site is richly decorated with a sea of stone faces and with it’s different levels, was fun to explore.
Angkor Wat is the main attraction at this large religious site and has in fact become an important symbol of Cambodia, being honoured on its flag, as well as it’s beer 😉. Standing as the world’s largest religious monument and the most preserved of the temples, it is no surprise crowds after crowds of people flock to see it everyday. Originally constructed at the beginning of the 12th century as a Hindu temple, it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist site. Honestly, the amounts of people there did spoil it a tiny bit, however it was still impressive!
So that’s my day exploring ‘some’ of the temples. With the heat it was a tough and I’m not sure if I would have been able to do two more days, but I’m definitely glad I went.
Jessica Storm ✌️