Cambodia - Anything else than temples?

My plan was to see the temples and then continue to Phnom Penh, the capital. There they have Red Khmer prisons and the killing fields. I had 5 days for this and it started with a 1.5-hour flight from Laos’s Luang Prabang to Siem Reap. 

They built a new airport in Siem Reap which opened at the end of 2023, but the airport’s location posed a challenge. It was far from the city center, requiring a 1-hour drive by car and not so cheap. Only the bus is cheaper but only runs every two hours. 

So the only reason for arriving in Siem Reap was because it's where the Cambodian temples are.

Probably nobody comes to Cambodia and does not visit Angkor Wat, or at least somehow considering to fit it in. I didn't visit the Taj Mahal in India because that temple is too far out of town and only one stupid temple. Angkor Wat is different.

Is it worth visiting Angkor Wat?

It's worth visiting, but I also didn't have any expectations about it and I didn't plan to stay more than a few hours. Some tourists visit the temple for 2 or 3 days, thats crazy! Cause after a few hours of looking at temples, I felt I'd seen them all and even after the third temple, questions arose: “Is this not just the same temple as before?”.

Entrance is expensive, but it is also among the most impressive sites to see in Southeast Asia. There are definitely hordes of tourists, but the area is huge too. The best decision was probably to avoid visiting the Angkor Wat temple in the morning and instead look at the lower-priority temples first. I went to visit the main temple around midday when it was hottest and by that time most people were already gone for lunch.

Day 2 - Angkor Wat and its neighbors 

The sun had barely risen when I stepped into the rickshaw waiting outside my hotel. It was 8:30 AM. The ride to the entrance of Angkor Wat took a mere 10 minutes.

Ticket Purchase and Entrance

At the entrance, I presented the pre-purchased entrance ticket - a digital pass that cost me a whopping 37 USD. But it’s a small price to pay for the privilege of sweating profusely while deciphering centuries-old carvings, or so. As I shuffled on the rickshaw through the gates, I braced myself for what promised to be a thrilling descent into antiquity. Or so they say.

From the gate it takes another few minutes by rickshaw to the first temples.

Seeing the hordes of tourists, made me shiver

As the clock struck 9 am, I passed by the imposing silhouette of Angkor Wat’s central spires.

But what caught my attention wasn’t the temple itself - it was the stream of sweating people flowing out of its gates. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, emerged, their faces etched with awe and wonder.

They were the early risers who had witnessed the sunrise - a sight I had deliberately skipped.

Bayon Temple and Baphuon Temple

Unlike most visitors, I intentionally saved the main temple "Angkor Wat" for the end of the day. Why? Because everyone rushes to Angkor Wat first. So I craved a different experience and set off first toward the lesser-known corners.

My first stop was the enigmatic Bayon Temple. Its stone faces stared down at me.

Nearby, the Baphuon temple stood there, its intricate carvings telling stories.

Surroundings between Temples

The area is huge and there are many smaller artifacts everywhere. For example the Elephant Passage. Is called like that because of the elephant carvings.

Next, the Suor Prat Tower beckoned - a slender, multi-tiered structure rising against the sky.

Ta Prohm Temple. This one resembled an abandoned movie set, with tree roots masquerading as props.

Tranquility by Srah Trang Lake. Before midday, I found myself at Srah Trang Lake.

The Culmination: Angkor Wat

Finally, as the sun reached its zenith, I stood before the iconic Angkor Wat. Its symmetrical towers are impressive.

Thankfully the crowds had thinned due to the midday sun and heat.

Long walk until the second entrance.

Arriving at the main temples.

Going upstairs.

Around is a nice view.

And the way out towards the exit again.

By 1pm, my temple odyssey ended. There are many other temples in this area, but after a few hours of temples, I definitely had seen enough.

Afternoon in Siem Reap City Center

In the afternoon, I ventured into Siem Reap’s heart and I sipped strong Cambodian coffee. 

This city center is modern but a maze of restaurants and souvenir stands.

Day 3 - Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

So here I was on Day 3 of my Cambodian trip with the journey from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. Armed with my trusty online booking from - the transport ticket was secured. 

The price tag? A reasonable 86 USD. The convenience of booking online saved me the hassle of haggling with tuk-tuk drivers or deciphering hand-drawn maps.

The journey itself was a typical scenic drive, taking a leisurely 5 hours to get from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.

Passing through rural landscapes, roadside markets, the works. Sat there contemplating the age-old trade-offs: cost versus comfort, speed versus soaking in the experience.

Downtown Phnom Penh visit around the Independence Monument.

Random streets of downtown Phnom Penh.

Day 4 - Unveiling Dark Chapters

Now, onto Day 4, where I decided to dive headfirst into Cambodia's not-so-rosy history. First stop: the city’s prison, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

A delightful place filled with stories of torture, fear, and despair. Scary place but a tourist hub in Phnom Penh.

There was one of the only survivors of the prison. 

He wrote a book and is now selling it inside the prison. He can't speak anymore but his co-workers explained where he lived inside the prison.

And if that wasn't cheery enough, a half hour tuk-tuk ride away were the Killing Fields. Mass graves, thousands of lives lost. The Red Khmer’s atrocities are still visible.

The walking around is easy and an audio guide explains all the details that happened.

It was sad to hear about the history of Cambodia. If you have only one day in Phnom Penh, this is where you should be going.

Random streets of Phnom Penh.

Day 5 - Along the Waterfront and off to Myanmar

Along the Tonle Sap River, at the intersection with the Mekong River.

Late in the evening, I had a flight to Myanmar.

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