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krisek Angkor Village - A travel report by Krys
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Angkor Village,  Cambodia - flag Cambodia -  Si«m Réab
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krisek's travel reports

Unbelievable Angkor

  13 votes
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Sunken deep in a lush and dark jungle, which had been reclaiming its territory for centuries, the temples of Angkor are amongst our planet’s most unworldly and dramatic spots. ‘Incomparable’ doesn’t begin to describe the unbelievable magic of this place.

Angkor aerial, taken from a baloon
Angkor aerial, taken from a baloon
To date, the temples have made far the most significant impact on me than any other place on Earth I’ve seem in my life. I know that many travellers / fellow members have been very lucky to see Angkor, but I would like to share my experiences as well. Although I realise that probably no words will ever give the place justice.

Cambodia was on the top of my wish list and actually the single reason to go to Indochina. This is all for the Angkor area and the Khmer temples. After very many debates with myself, and the people who’d actually been to Cambodia, I restricted my movements within the country to ensure I spend enough time in the Angkor area.

Before I went to Cambodia, I’d seen many wonderful places, both natural wonders and architectural masterpieces. I became very difficult person to impress. I knew it was true. Yet, when I stood at one of Angkor temples, I was on my knees. My mind couldn’t compute the sheer magnitude of incredible visual impulses and the feelings of humility and awe all at the same time. After beaches and one of Crusaders’ castles in Turkey, Cambodia was my first Asian country. It’s hard to describe the reactions of my body. I was shivering from awe. The combination of the magnificent temples with their elaborate decorations and the overpowering nature was staggering. And I wasn’t prepared for that.

Falling leaves in the jungle surprised me a little. I didn’t expect leaves to fall in the tropics. They were quite large and when hitting the ground they made a sound that could be confused for an approaching animal. That was what stimulated imagination.

Angkor once was the largest pre-industrial city on Earth and most definitely the most beautiful. It covered 1,150 square miles. The Mayan metropolis of Tikal (Guatemala) on the other side of the planet was second largest but with its 50 square miles it was 23 times smaller! Angkor was almost 3 times the size of New York City! So, there are many temples and structures to see over a really vast area.

Favourite spots:
The most spectacular one was Bayon. It was definitely my favourite. Its feature were 216 mysteriously smiling faces of an unknown person, situated on 54 towers. Each tower containing four faces. A perfectly symmetrical wonder! It’s a materialisation of a fairytale temple, located deep in the jungle, covered with mysterious carvings of unknown faces. Ruined, and left to the jungle, monkeys and snakes to own it. It had 3 levels. To each level steep stairs led and each level contained its own mini temples. The higher level, the lsmaller, but equally astonishing. The steps were so steep with very small room for feet, that I eventually didn’t climb the highest level. It was less difficult to climb up, and the real trick was to get down. I decided not to risk my photographic equipment. I visited Bayon more than once, and the best time was right after sunrise, when the sun was systematically and slowly illuminating the smiling towers. The faces were enormous, a lot larger than real life size.

What's really great:
Banteay Samre
Banteay Samre
I also loved one of the better-preserved temples, the Banteay Samre. It was outside the recommended routes and less crowded with tourists. It brought me to my knees. I’m not lying! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I still don’t believe what I saw. It almost scared me. It was perfect, built between 1112 and 1152 by the King Suryavarman II, about the same time as Angkor Wat. It had two levels. The outer wall level and the centre - rather compact temple of a perfect symmetry. It was completely walled around forming a square. It had 4 wall temples and 4 corner temples. In the centre it had a central sanctuary to which 4 gates led, each with its own portal, looking exactly the same like the other. The wall temples made an incredible sight from the outside. Almost as if it was put on the wall like a big paper clip. Or better, like a mobile block on a monorail. The wall being a brown rail and the temple being a grey-green block. Simply amazing! And it wasn’t even in my plan. A local took me there.

Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
On the first day, I went to see (in order): The Bayon, The Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Preah Paliiay, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei and Angkor Wat.

On the second day (in order): The Bayon, Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei through villages - a nice highlight of the day, Banteay Samre, Prey Prasat, Preah Khan, Preah Neak Pean, Eastern Mebon - one with the elephant statues, hot air balloon, and Angkor Wat for the sunset again. There were many more other places to see, but I didn’t manage to squeeze them in.

Ta Keo temple was least interesting. It was tall and steep, but almost entirely free from carvings or decorations. Ta Prohm once was the most important temple in Angkor, and is now one of the most photographed, however for a different reason. Cambodia government let the jungle to reclaim it. Giant trees invaded this vast temple, growing over the entrances, windows and decorations thus making it amongst the most dramatic.

World’s largest Angkor Wat was perfect at sunset reflecting in ponds.

Angkor Village travelogue picture
When I visited, there was no shortage of places to stay around Angkor for any budget I never made a booking and I got a room at a budget place I selected from a guidebook whilst on the plane. A few extremely luxurious hotels rose in the outskirts of Siem Reap town, as well.

I couldn’t decide and narrowed down to two options: Family Guesthouse and Smiley Guesthouse. I eventually landed at Smiley’s (€8 single, €10 double). It was a bit away from all the action in a cul-de-sac and looked like a place hidden in a residential area. Chickens ran around freely. I selected a room in a new block, which effectively made the place like a small hotel adjacent to the more basic (and authentic) huts. The rooms were spottless with tiles on the floor. I had to hike to the eateries and the best place to pick up a ride to the temples, but I didn’t mind. Exercise was good for me. Smiley’s was able to arrange trips and transfers to the Tonle Sap lake for the fast boats connecting to the capital.

Banteay Samre
Banteay Samre
Siem Reap itself was a busy town with no monuments but great restaurants and a great name. It actually means Siamese Defeated, which is not entirely accurate since Thailand (Siam) controlled at least this part of Cambodia for 113 years. I didn’t see much of the town, as it was already dark. And I didn’t go out that much either. On my first night, I collapsed early after spending effectively 35 hours with no sleep, since I embarked on the temples exploration straight after arrival from Europe (London-Bangkok-Siem Reap). I didn’t even eat anything. I had to call the next night an early night as well, since I had to get up very early to get my boat to Phnom Penh.

However, I heard about places of entertainment and partying. A number of hotels organised cultural evenings, most of which included apsara dance, an elegant dance as depicted on the walls of the temples. Ivy and Tooi Tooi were popular bars/clubs to meet fellow travellers, open until early hours of the morning.

Eastern Mebon
Eastern Mebon
Although some of the bars, there was a good one by the river, Liquid, were perfect for hanging out, but I thought that the temples themselves were much better than perfect. Hordes of people were also rushing for the hill of Phnom Bakheng for the sundowner, but I preferred the ponds of Angkor Wat, where I could talk to some of the monks and novices.

My favourite spot for chilling was the temple of Eastern Mebon. It was perched on a small hill and I could sit among the elephant statues and look into the fields and the jungle and to pause my day and lose myself in deep thoughts. Yes, eventually a group of kids would interrupt me asking for something but hoping to get some cash, really. They would hang around with me until they made me give them something. I was only prepared to agree to modelling fees so I could take a few snaps of them around the temple. I wouldn’t do that but I really didn’t know how to get rid of them.

Although I was not hungry (I was full of excitement, I guess), I thought I should be responsible and went eating. There was this Thai restaurant, Chivit Thai, that came recommended by several books and even colleagues of mine who went to Cambodia a few months before. So what did I do? I booked myself into the restaurant, and ordered a small thing – king prawn green curry. Since I wasn’t hungry, I shouldn’t shove too much food into my stomach. Ha! What I didn’t know was that the restaurant thought otherwise. With my main and only dish, I got fish cakes with salad on the house, and when I finished with my curry, I got a fruit platter – on the house. I left the restaurant very happy and impressed. And completely stuffed! But I have to admit that by that time, it was the best green curry I’ve ever tasted. The restaurant wasn’t the cheapest, I don’t think, but it was extremely pleasant, service was professional, waiters were friendly, waitresses gorgeous and the food was heavenly.

Other recommendations:
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
The villagers at the other hand tended not to notice strangers. They were busy with their lives, preoccupied with their households. I actually didn’t see many grown-ups around - with the exception of those working hard in the rice fields or cooking in the kitchens under their houses. The life appeared very quiet and simple. The tuk-tuk and motorbike drivers were those whom I noticed most. The number of them seemed uncountable. These are also the most talkative, which was understandable as talking was what got them food on the table. They must’ve been amongst the bravest people on the planet. I’m saying it after seeing how they drove and manoeuvred with the traffic. To turn, they just indicated and started riding on the slowest of the opposite lanes, jumped on pavement, continued a while and then turned.

Motorbike (€10/day) was the fastest way to go around the temples, but tuk-tuks (€20/day) were more comfortable and allowed for taking photos while on the move. I used both.

Published on Monday March 10th, 2008

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Tue, Oct 28 2008 - 05:59 AM rating by gloriajames

well done! u have such a flair in travel writing... btw.. great pics!

Wed, Mar 19 2008 - 04:02 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Amazing place and amazing report

Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 01:32 PM rating by alfonsovasco

delicious, good excellent... no words to appreciate your good work

Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 02:57 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

well combodia angor is excellent place and i have read many nice reports here about this place ,another excellent addition from you ,keep it up ,great work done.

Thu, Mar 13 2008 - 02:44 AM rating by downundergal

This report is just jam packed with info - I don't know how you managed to cover so many temples in what sounds like just a couple of days. I got a case of "temple burnout" after about the 6th one. But I agree the various temples of Angkor are truly mindblowing and no words can justify how amazing they are until seen in real life.

Wed, Mar 12 2008 - 12:12 AM rating by wojtekd

Great report! But I would like to see some sample prices for accomodation, transport etc...

Tue, Mar 11 2008 - 11:00 AM rating by marianne

Great stuff. How many days a year do you travel?

Tue, Mar 11 2008 - 08:49 AM rating by rangutan

I know now why we like your reports so much, it is the way you travel, the method is adventure, not a forced itinerary. Well written and illustrated as always!

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