I think I can safely say that I’ve traveled to a decent number of places over the years, but of course I still have plenty of countries I plan on visiting someday soon. These dream destinations, as you might have guessed, are more or less similar to those many others want to go to; which is why I love it when there are these little pockets in the world obscured by my flashy European dreams that end up surprising the heck out of me. It just proves that there is more to travel than just aspiring to visit famous European cities or exotic Caribbean locations. Maybe people need to invest more attention to places like Cambodia for a change.
Tiny Siem Reap in Cambodia is a magical place. No doubt about it. And oddly enough, despite visiting mostly temples, I end up finishing my trip with a real desire to return and see the ruins once more. Temple-hopping certainly does not sound like the most exciting thing, but somehow it feels different here in Siem Reap. For me, this is the kind of place you can come back to over and over again, but each time experience differently when you go with another set of people. And it doesn’t hurt that I like the food here!
One of the things I loved the most about Siem Reap was the peace and quiet. If I’m not mistaken, the crime rate in this area is quite low as well, so I suppose that adds to the easy feelings I had while I was here. But mostly it was the sense of zen evoked by every location we visited. There’s something really unique about the way Cambodian Temples are constructed. They’re not buildings in the middle of the street or anything like that; rather they are located usually at the centre of their own little “cities”, inside large jungle spaces that somehow find a balance between nature and manmade structures. Temples like the Angkor Wat have a way of really making one feel in touch with the culture and the history of the Khmer people, and I think that sentiment alone makes traveling all the way here worth it.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. That in itself should already give you an idea of how grand it is. Literally a massive stone structure that stands imposingly in the distance, the Angkor Wat is most definitely a sight to behold regardless of the hour. I know a great deal of people aim to take sunset photos of Angkor Wat, but I can tell you its grandeur doesn’t give a damn about the time of day.
The Angkor Wat is located in a gigantic lush compound surrounded by long walls plus a moat that form a square all around it. I really cannot help but be in awe of the efforts being done by Cambodia to ensure not only the preservation of the temples but its surrounding jungles and greenery as well. Every temple complex I visited on this trip immediately transported me back to a time when the old Khmer kings ruled sprawling cities such as this one.
Going through the Western entrance of Angkor Wat you are greeted by the towering statue of Vishnu, a revered god by both the Hindu and Buddhist worshippers in Cambodia. This is an absolutely impressive depiction.
Walking across the bridge toward the temple, one can immediately spot the differences between the architectural styles of the Angkor Wat from the previous two temples I’ve shared (Bayon and Ta Prohm Temple). For one thing, they were built by different kings. The inspiration for this temple is actually Mount Meru, otherwise known as the Sacred Mountain and home to the gods of the Hindu and Buddhist. The temple itself has five sets of towers that symbolizes the five mountain peaks of Mount Meru.
And just like my visits to the other Cambodian temples, walking inside is enough to tickle your imagination. I wasn’t so happy with my photos so I didn’t post many of them here, but I was saddened to see that there were again a lot of headless statues inside. Apparently the temple was looted by enemies of the Khmer back in the old days.
When you’re done looking around at the temples, come right back out and take a gander at the shops set up right beside the “pond” in front of the Angkor Wat. Most of the things are similar to those of the market, but priced a little higher. However you can still haggle and get perfectly good deals if you’re in the mood for some shopping or don’t have the time to visit the marketplace.
My favourite among the interesting wares sold here are these gorgeous paintings. I have a weakness for the smiling Bayon so I was immediately drawn towards this particular stall.
I’m usually a sucker for artworks from other countries that perfectly depict it in the same way that I see it, so I went ahead and bought a smaller version of that painting. There are many other beautiful paintings here thought and I kind of wish that I bought some others as well to frame and hang in my room. More reason to go back, yes?
Ton Le Sap Lake
For a break from all the temple running we did, we hitched a ride at the pier and took a cruise through the Ton Le Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake that flows all the way through to the Mekong River in Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
A lot of people live in floating houses all over the lake, most of them immigrant fishermen from Vietnam. We even passed by a Vietnamese floating school.
I really adored the colourful houses parked in the lake, and interestingly enough they all look rather sturdy. They’re all about the same size, bobbing around in the water as we passed by in our own little motor boat.
But probably the coolest (or most shocking) part are the kids in all ages below 13 with snakes in their boats. These kids try to keep astride your boat as you go on your way to the central marketplace in the lake and they will hand over their pet non-poisonous snakes for you to play with or take photos with for a dollar. Once I even saw a baby boy in a boat poking a snake with his pudgy fingers like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Man these kids are tough. However I do think it’s very clever of them to use something that is abundantly available to them and make a business out of it.
The central floating marketplace is the only place here you can buy your souvenirs. It carries some similar stuff as the regular market does at a higher price tag, but with some added attractions such as the Siamese crocodiles. I did notice some items here I did not see in the land market, but I didn’t get to visit all the stalls so I can’t be sure.
Our boat dropped us off in one of the bigger floating structures in the area. It even has a top deck where you can climb up and take lovely pictures of the lake and its inhabitants. I really appreciated this a lot and was left wondering how it must be like to live on the water like this.
One thing’s for sure though. This trip to Cambodia will remain one of my most memorable ones yet.
Here’s a little travel video I made of all the places we visited in Siem Reap!
To see the other places we visited in the video, check out the other posts in this travel series: