Bittersweet Memorable Visit to Angkor Temples Siem Reap
After months of planning we finalised a vacation to Cambodia. Most of the visit to Angkor Temples in Siem Reap turned out as planned. However there were enough surprises and shocks too to make this holiday memory a bittersweet one.
Why Visit Cambodia? And if Cambodia why visit only Siem Reap?
It is really hard for me to describe why I zeroed into Siem Reap for my 8 days vacation. Friends suggested other places in Cambodia and even other neighbouring countries like Laos and Vietnam but I stuck to my choice of visit to Angkor Temples of Siem Reap. The temptation to experience these alluring temples undisturbed was too hard to resist. Large religious monuments fascinate all, and being a Hindu I had this deep desire to visit the world’s largest Hindu Temple complex. No temple complex in India matches this heritage yet. The second reason is the craze to visit UNESCO World Heritage sites, which many travellers can relate to. (One of these days I have to count how many of them I have visited and photographed.)
These two passions made me read up about the ruins of these magnificent temples. Angkor Wat temple was built in 12th century. The symbolism attached to Angkor Wat is interesting, hard to believe so much of Hinduism existed then and had spread so far in south east of Asia. The central tower of the temple is believed to represent Mount Meru which is the legendary abode of Hindu Gods. Four other towers represent peaks surrounding Mt. Meru. The wall that goes around it represents the edge of the world. And the moat represents the ocean.
Once Hindu Temples now Buddhist Temples
Today most of these temples are converted to Buddhist Temples. There are evidences of Lord Shiva worshiped here once, with several scattered broken Nandi (vehicle of Lord Shiva) in several temples. Most of them have housed idols of Lord Buddha and is worshiped too. So the sanctity is still maintained.
Beyond all religious significance what enthralls all photographers, tourists and travelers, and historians and architect more is the brilliant sculptures that adorns the walls of these temples. The architectural style that existed then is so impressive and is still evident from the ruins. The detailed structuring of chambers, corridors, and porches was done in symmetrical manner with lot of precision. All these done around 10 centuries back!
Tuk Tuk Drivers in Siem Reap
Photography of Angkor Temple during sunrise is widely accepted must do activity by locals. So much so that the tuk tuk drivers include it in their travel packages they offer. The cost for the visit to Angkor Temples at 4.30AM and back to hotel for breakfast and again back to temple tour cost the same as that for temple tour without sunrise part. Not sure if I was lucky or all tuk tuk drivers charge the same way.
Dealing with tuk tuk drivers of Siem Reap can be tricky. It is better NOT to hire the very first driver who approaches you. Check with couple of drivers and also discuss the route you will take through the temples. Temples are scattered over a large area so a little bit of homework helps, else the tuk tuk driver can really take you for a ride.
Tickets for Visit to Angkor Temples
Had we made the visit to Angkor Temples an year back we could have saved a lot on tickets alone! There is a steep increase in prices for Angkor Temples from first February 2017. This increase is after 22 years.
- Make sure you carry cash for the tickets. They don’t accept cards.
- Make sure you are dressed properly else chances are you may be denied a ticket.
- Purchase the ticket in the morning because an evening purchase leaves with you very less time to see even 1 temple.
- The penalty for loosing tickets is very high so take care of it till last day.
- Last but not the least wear that smile because you will be photographed and put in your ticket. This is a good carry back souvenir item.
Should you take a tour guide?
There is plenty of info both online and in books and it is possible to tour without a guide. Advantages of having a guide are one – they tell you the best photography angles. And two – they tell little stories revolving around the sculptures which may not be available online, but then one cannot be sure how authentic they are.
Little adorable sales kids at Angkor Temples
Oh! They are so cute, smart and simple! It is really pleasing to see that there are NO kids begging for money in this temple complex. The kids will run after you, pitch for sales, coax you into conversations and ultimately make a sale. I fell for them easily until a moment came when I had to consciously ignore them. Some of their sales pitch includes dialogues in English like:
8$ for two, ok you give me 6…
I need to make profit…
and they will add I feel sad if you don’t buy…
stressing more they will say – I remember you… I wait here when you come back
I make no sale from morning… you are first
Now I have this habit of getting into conversation with locals, but beyond a point our conversations never happened. Soon I realized the kids know only these few lines. They seem to have been tutored to say them over and over again. But they are smart, they can judge easily whether they will be able to make a sale or not and move on to next tourist they see.
Food in Siem Reap
At night without fail we hit the pub street. It is lined with superb restaurants and one can have authentic Cambodian cuisine. During day,amidst temple tours we halted at restaurants in the complex. These are priced high but then one has no option but to food in them, as coming out to city was impractical. Check out what they serve unless you are ready to eat anything under the sun.
At one of the places I was horrified to see a huge ant in my dish. It was promptly photographed and the chef was called to explain. He replied we Cambodians eat such ants in our dish – with a smirk on his face. But chef… I am a tourist! The dishes were replaced in a jiffy to avoid further embarrassment.
Use of Travel Insurance
After making 6 international travels safely we got to know how useful travel insurance is! The husband had a fall in one of the temple premises, a simple trip and fall case which turned complicated with a fracture. When there was no sign of pain subsiding we had to ask the driver to take us to a hospital. The tuk tuk driver took us straight to Royal Angkor International Hospital. It seemed like the tuk tuk drivers are instructed to take injured tourists to this hospital.
The hospital has top class facilities and the doctors at emergency were prompt and efficient. It was a matter of two hours when we walked out of the hospital; his hand in sling, with X-ray report and fit to fly certificate from the good doctor. Verdict was – surgery required!
We had one more day to go. With the injured arm tied up firmly, the husband popped in painkillers and we managed to reach back home. Thus ended our visit to Angkor Temples of Siem Reap Cambodia! Bittersweet in a way! If I get a chance I will visit these very temples again as they are so enchanting!