I’ve planned to visit Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, ever since I crossed the Cambodian border about 6 months ago. I was just a 2 hour drive away but went straight back because I only wanted to active the second entry of my tourist visa. Now that it was time to do another visa run at the Cambodian border, I took the opportunity to stay in the country for 2 nights and visit the amazing Angkor Wat temple complex.
Angkor Wat was the center of one of the most populated cities in the world during the 12th century. It had an estimated 1 million inhabitants but was completely abandoned after a period of drought, resulting in wide scale famine. The complex was rediscovered in the 19th century, which seems like a story straight out of an adventure movie. Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world.
My tour to Siem Reap
Going to Siem Reap for a couple of days, takes some planning and preparation. Because I only wanted to stay for a short time, I figured my best option would be to book a tour with a tourist agency. This way I don’t have to arrange transportation and hotel bookings by myself.
I found an agency that offers a package deal including transportation from Bangkok to Siem Reap and back, 2 nights in a hotel and a tour guide with tuktuk driver to visit Angkor Wat. All this for the price of 5,200 Baht (about 130 EUR). The agency I went with is called Canary Travel and they seemed cheap and reliable.
We left from Khao San Road at 7 AM in an almost fully packed minivan. What I didn’t realize (because I never book a group tour) is that all of the travel agencies in Bangkok use the same minivan company. All of the passengers booked their tour with a different agency and they all paid another price. Now I understand why the lady in the agency told me all of their tours are full booked everyday, even though their office was deserted the 3 times I went there.
It took a 4 hour drive to reach the Cambodian border where I had to apply for my Cambodian visa. Luckily the rules to apply for a Cambodian visa aren’t that strict. It took 2 hours to get through customs and back in the van.
We were told that taxi’s would pick us up from the Cambodian border but this didn’t happen unfortunately. For some reason they only had minivans available or we had to wait over an hour for their taxi drivers to show up. Waiting that long didn’t seem very attractive after just completing a 2 hour wait in the sun so everybody chose the minivan. I’m still not sure if the promise of a taxi isn’t just a scam of the tour agencies to lure customers in.
Arriving in Siem Reap
My room was quite comfortable and the hotel is located in a street full of restaurants and bars. If that’s not enough, the center of Siem Reap with the famous Pub Street, was just a 10 minute walk from there. I treated myself to a meal of Amok for $3 and got some rest.
The breakfast was scheduled at 7 AM the next day, so of course it was served at about 7.45. Nobody bothers to follow a schedule in Cambodia or Thailand. Now it was finally time to get in the tuktuk and visit Angkor Wat.
Entrance to the area is $20 for the whole day and gives access to all of the temples, which are plenty. First on the list was the Bayon temple. This temple is part of the Angkor Thom complex. A tuktuk was booked for the whole day to take us around as included in the package.
Angkor Thom entrance
The Bayon Temple
The Bayon temple stands out because of the many faces that are carved out in tall rock towers. According to our guide they are Buddha faces but some think that they are a representation of the reigning king of that time. They are very impressive nevertheless.
It’s hard to make a photo in these temples without people standing in the way. The entire area attracts about 3,000 people so there’s a current flow of people walking in and out. This is, however, still relatively quiet when compared to popular tourist attractions like the Forbidden City in Beijing, which attracts up to 80,000 visitors a day.
Everywhere you go, it feels like you’re being watched
The Baphuon Temple
The Baphuon temple has been undergoing some renovations recently, like many of the temples at the site. This is mostly financed by the UNESCO World Heritage Fund. France has been one of the most significant contributors into this temple’s repairs.
The Ta Prohm Temple
This temple is characterized by the trees that are growing on the roof. It is believed that birds dropped seeds on the roof, from which these now massive trees have emerged. Their roots have surprisingly managed to find their way to earth through the stones of the temple.
The tree in the photo above is about 400 years old and completely intertwined with the temple. It can’t be removed because it would destroy the building.
This temple is made famous by the 2001 hit movie Tomb Raider. This movie was partially filmed here with the wild growing trees in the background. This has boosted the popularity of the temples and brought in a lot of new tourists.
Angkor Wat Temple
Our guide saved the best for last, so at the end of the day we could finally visit Angkor Wat. We entered through the back entrance at the east gate to avoid the crowd.
The three towers that are essential for the temple’s appearance, can be seen up close from the top platform. They are also represented in Cambodia’s national flag. The middle tower has a height of 65 meters, which is spectacular for a 12th century building.
Probably the tallest tower of the 12th century
Towards the end of the tour we were taken to a restaurant that was a little bit of the beaten path. The guide scared us by telling that street food is very dirty here and that some tourists had to go to the hospital after eating it. Then he took us to this restaurant in the middle of nowhere that serves overpriced food.
This is all a bit of a scam to make some extra money on commission. The quality of the food was good but priced at about $7 to $10, which is way too high for Cambodian standards. This is one of the reasons I don’t like to do group tours.
The view from the entrance of the temple is very beautiful and a great place to make photos. There are some vendors out there selling all kinds of articles but not in a very pushy way. The fresh coconut juice that is sold here is actually very refreshing and delicious.
My opinion about the group tour
My tour group consisted out of me, 2 young French guys and 2 Italian women. The Italians had actually lived in Amsterdam for 8 years and were capable of speaking Dutch.
Although the tour package definitely has some benefits, I don’t think I will ever do a group tour again. Most of the trip consists out of waiting and you’re only as fast as the slowest person in the group. I have also learned that when you’re told to wait for ‘just’ 20 minutes, it will always take at least an hour.
Some of the van drivers are also extremely unfriendly. On the way back to Bangkok our driver yelled to us at the beginning that we would only stop at 2 places in Bangkok and that we would have only one toilet break in between. He didn’t want to drop people off along the way, even though we passed straight passed my apartment complex.
When we did the stop in Bangkok he yelled at us that he would only wait for a maximum of one minute here. I had to get out of the van here temporarily because I was in the front and almost couldn’t get back in anymore. This guy wanted to drive away when people were still grabbing their bags because the minute had passed. I had to jump into the driving van to prevent him driving away without me.
What doesn’t help neither, is the poor communication while going from Bangkok to Siem Reap and back. Sitting around waiting, without knowing what you’re waiting for and how long it will take, is very unpleasant.
Siem Reap itself and the temples have been very enjoyable. Although the center part of the city is overflown with tourists and street vendors, prices are still low and the food is great. Definitely a recommendable place to go for a holiday. Not only can you visit Angkor Wat but the city itself also has a lot to offer.