holiday in Angkor?
Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, is one
of the most spectacular ancient sites on earth.
Now that most of the land mines have gone and Cambodian security has
improved since the collapse of Khmer Rouge, Siem Reap is a civilized
and relaxing place to stay with terrific restaurants and bars, though if you can afford it get a hotel with a swimming pool, heavenly after a few hours of sweaty hiking.
- No accommdation near the Angkor Park, Siem Reap, where most of you stay, is 6km/5miles away (most economic way to travel
is with a pre-arranged taxi or motorbike).
- The town centre is touristy and commercial with huge five star hotels, souvenir
shops, fancy restaurants and bustle with hustlers and traffic.
- Prices are picking up and no longer ridiculously cheap.
- Night strolling is not very safe.
When to visit Angkor
November - February.
Worst: Easter, particularly late March (hot and sticky, herds of young people on spring holiday hit Cambodia),
June to August (extreme heat 35-40C with humidity, it could have heavy rain and impassable
OK: the rest, particularly September - October (May-Oct is monsoon season but can be good in terms
of clear air, greenery, full moats, less crowds and lower price.)
Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights:
2 days for the major temples. Recommended: 4 days.
Early starts are vital, then chill out around midday (a swim is ideal)
and try not to rush to see everything.
Enjoy the ambience or you will end up with temple overdose PDQ.
***Angkor Wat is most famous for its outstanding location
and awe-inspiring architecture.
It is the world's largest religious monument, with the world's greatest
series of ornate reliefs in astonishingly detailed sandstone.
This was originally a Hindu funerary temple in early 12thC, then
converted to Buddhism.
It it essential to go in the afternoon if you aim to take good photos
since the temple faces west, tho' it's great at sunrise, too.
***Angkor Thom complex was the Cambodian
capital around the end of 12th century. It is surrounded by a stupendous
wall with five entrance gates. The highlights are:
The Bayon, a Buddhist temple with 54 towers, each with four enigmatic
smiling faces carved on them. It also has fine reliefs differing
from those at Angkor Wat, depicting life in the city.
The Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King are also
***Ta Prohm, a Buddhist temple ruin
entwined with towering trees where some of the scenes of the film
Tomb Raider were shot. This place has a real 'lost world' feeling.
***Banteay Srei, a small pink sandstone
temple, is host to exquisite and well-preserved carvings based on
the Hindu 'Ramayana'.
**Tonlé Sap Lake, the largest lake in
Southeast Asia, with remote floating villages scattered around.
A boat trip is a popular excursion from Siem Reap (12km).
*Phnom Bakheng, a 75m high hill with
a ruin on top is said to be the best place for sunset but in reality
it is a far from mystic, tranquil moment since it is packed with
tourists as well as locals gathering for the view.
The crack of dawn over Angkor is a better bet.
**Kbal Spean, the pleasant site of
'River of the Thousand Lingas', riverbed carvings, at the foot of
holy Kulen Mountain. A 10 km dirt road from Banteay Srei, or 60
km from Siem Reap. If you go thru hotels or a tour operator
it'll cost a lot so hire a taxi for a modest amount (including visiting
Banteay Srei) and a local guide at the site for less than half the price!
**Phnom Kulen (Mt. Kulen), is the the
most sacred place in Cambodia for Khmers, with riverbed carvings,
a massive reclining Buddha at the top and a waterfall. It's a peaceful
picnic/bathing spot, popular with locals.
50km from Siem Reap. (A taxi at $60-70, will include Kbal Spean,
Check the water condition towards end of dry season, there may be
Full Moon day at beginning of November, Bon Om Tuk (the Water Festival)
is Cambodia's biggest and most important festival. Locals go bananas
celebrating a natural phenomenon (the reversing of the current of
Tonlé Sap River), with boat races and fireworks. Nationwide but
Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are the places to be.
Khmer massage: For a small fee tourists can get a delightful and relaxing treat from
a charming masseuse one any corner of the street. Or if you are feeling lavish try a high-class spa.
Apsara Dance: Khmer traditional dance
with symbolic hand gestures can be seen in major hotels or restaurants.
Around $12 with a massive buffet meal.
Bird watching: At Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary
on the northwest bank of Tonlé Sap Lake. The dry season from Dec-March
is the ideal time to be here.
Boat trips: A couple of hours trip
on Tole Sap Lake to see the huge expanse of water and get a look
at locals' life in stilt villages.
As usual in Cambodia there's no shortage of excellent meals, from
good value food vendors - fruit, noodles, etc - in markets or streets
to top range restaurants. Try Angkor beer, especially the dark one.
The best place is Old Market (Pash Chas) for handicrafts including
hand-woven silks, coconut and wooden products, temple relief replica,
jewellery, and clothes.
There are also several high quality souvenirs shops around the market.
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