Angkor Wat is a destination where a little research beforehand will greatly serve you. I have been wanting to come here for a few years, and yes, I did a lot of research! This series will hopefully make your time more enjoyable.
I planned on staying one week in Siem Reap. We loved our guesthouse and there is much else to do in the city. We kept extending our stay for an eventual total of 11 days. I will provide much more detailed information in a subsequent post.
You need a temple pass to visit the sites. It includes your photograph and is checked at every site. They are available for one day ($20), 3 day ($40) and 7 day ($60). FYI, despite anything read to the contrary, you do not need to carry Cambodian Riel anywhere. Dollars are the “coin of the realm” in Cambodia. We have been all over the country this month and dollars are accepted everywhere and dispensed in $100 bills from every ATM. The 3 day pass can be used over a week and the 7 day pass can be used over a 30 day period. We bought the latter; we don’t like to rush and I figured even if we only went four days we were breaking even.
If you buy your pass after 5 pm, you get a free evening entrance to see a sunset. Most folks go to Phnom Bakheng and it gets extremely packed with sunset shutterbugs. Fortunately our good friends Tom and Jenny of Till the Money Runs Out tipped us off to this fact. Instead we had our tuk tuk driver take us directly to Pre Rup, the “other” sunset temple. Still fairly crowded, we left early and were rewarded with a great sunset driving past the nearby Srah Srang a large pond known as the Kings Bathtub.
For our first full day we decided to visit three of the outlying area sites which I was particularly keen to see. Because of the distance and the heat, we hired an air-conditioned car rather than a tuk tuk, a good investment. Sid’s English was passably fair and we were picked up right on schedule at 6:00 am.
Our first stop, Banteay Srei, is often referred to as the Pink Temple or the Citadel of Women. Located 25 km from Siem Reap, this 10th century temple was dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. The carvings are very intricate in design and the symmetry of the entire complex was notable. It was built mostly of hard red sandstone which lent itself well to the ubiquitous carvings. Restoration is exquisite in its execution.
Our first temple ended up being one of my very favorites during our entire stay. We lingered and shot many photos. Just outside the temple we stopped for coffee and banana honey pancakes before heading to our next location.
Five kilometers further north lies Kbal Spean, also known as the River of a Thousand Lingas (representation of Shiva, phallus, power). It is not a temple but rather a river that you hike about 1500 meters uphill to reach. At 8:45, it was already getting very hot but we went for it. It is a beautiful forest area and there are hundreds of submerged carvings beneath the stream. As it was the end of the dry season, the carvings were readily visible.
Note all of these sites have guides available for hire. It is not necessary to hire one and they are quite polite and not pushy for the most part. We had a young man followed us discreetly. He disappeared while I was meditating at one site but later reappeared offering to show us more carvings. This was the one time we used a guide’s services. Not only did he show us other areas we might easily have missed, but he took us to a beautiful waterfall considered to be holy and waited while we cooled off. He more than eared his $3
At 80km east of Siem Reap, Beng Mealea was our final destination. This temple requires an additional $5 entrance fee and has been left completely to nature. As a result, one can climb over boulder-sized building blocks and through windows and narrow openings, the sort of thing that is strongly discouraged at other temples. It is a very large jungle complex and takes some time to explore properly.
It was a 90 minute drive back to our guest house. Fortunately, the car temperature was pleasant as the outside temperature was approaching 100°F. We were back by 11:30 am.