Exploring Siem Reap and Ankor Wat
From the history of Angkor Wat to the beaches of Sihanoukville, and everywhere in between, Cambodia is truly captivating. We began our journey in Siem Reap, making it home for four days and the base for our avid exploration of the temples using a three day Angkor Pass. You need to buy a one, three or seven day pass and we found that two full days suited us with just a brief visit to a temple on the morning of the 3rd day. Whilst Ankor Wat is very close to Siem Reap, many of the often more beautiful temples are much further afield and a tuk tuk driver is required. There is no shortage of them around town and outside the temples but we found it best to get our hotel to arrange one for us using their local knowledge and bartering skills. Some of the temples are quite small and frequently we found we were the only ones at the more further afield places giving it an amazing feeling of peaceful beauty. There is a tethered balloon which you can go up in for views over Angkor Wat and surrounds, which is supposed to last 20 minutes but can be as short as 10 if it is busy.
One of our days was spent on a trip to the floating town on Tonle Sap Lake, about an hour out of Siem Reap. It was an interesting insight into the ingenuity of the locals as you pass floating schools, shops and houses and if you have some spare time it’s a good way to break up your temple visits. There is also a nearby hill you can walk up before heading back, which we chose to do, and were rewarded with a small temple, sprawling views and a beautiful sunset over the fields interrupted by no one but the local birds.
Siem Reap is a fast growing city that is easily navigated and there is a market providing some good shopping. Filled with an abundance of cafes, restaurants and bars for the evenings and trying the local specialties of Khmer Chicken Curry and Amok are a must. There are other activities such as quad biking, horse riding or bicycle tours but there is no doubt that the temples are the main attraction and sunrise over Angkor Wat is well worth getting up for.
History abounds in Phnom Penh
Flying out of Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, on the interestingly named but now defunct PMT Air, was our choice but there is also the option of taxi, boat or bus, taking anything from five to nine hours. Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia and a base for exploring museums, palaces and the French colonial history. A visit to the Foreign Correspondents Club to enjoy a chilled beer on the balcony whilst enjoying the views of the river is a good way to finish after a long day on your feet exploring.
We visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, on the site of the former Security Prison 21, or S-21, to help us understand some of the brutal past of this country. It gives a very graphical and factual account of the past atrocities and really is quite overwhelming. After we left here we took a short journey out of the city to vist the spine chilling ‘Killing Fields’, or Choeung Ek, giving further insight into Cambodia’s civil war. Looking around the execution grounds of the Khmer Rouge can be difficult, disturbing and emotional but this is an essential part of your trip to Cambodia in helping to understand it’s past and to truly appreciate what this beautiful country has been through.
No holiday is complete without beach time
Leaving Phnom Penh we took a private taxi for the four hour journey to Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s best known beach resort. What it lacks in prettiness as a town it makes up for with stunning beaches, seafood restaurants and sunsets. It’s still possible to find yourself all alone on a beach if you are prepared to adventure away from the main resort and it gives easy access to some of Cambodia’s picturesque islands. We really did just laze the days away here flitting between the beach, pool and many of the quaint local cafe’s. At night Serendipity Beach comes alive with beach bars and backpackers but further along we found Otres Beach, a much more relaxed and genteel place to while the evenings away.
Our Cambodia adventure finished as we departed by ferry, heading towards the southern Thailand border, where we offloaded before taking our luggage and walking across the border to begin the next part of our journey through Thailand.
Check out some pictures of Cambodia in our World Images Gallery HERE.