About a month ago, I skittered on a Cebu Pacific Air flight from Manila to Cambodia, and set out on a 3-hour flight that landed at approximately 9:00PM in Siem Reap. A red Khmer face sculpture greeted us the moment we stepped in at the arrival hall of Siem Reap International Airport, hyping up the excitement of what’s in store for us in Cambodia for the next days of our trip.
From the airport, we clocked in early to bed after checking in at our accommodation, The Crown Angkor Hotel. It was my first time visiting Cambodia, and was fired up to see the temples that this region is famous for, and get a glimpse of the modern Khmer way of life as well.
Siem Reap on my Bucketlist of Places to Explore
As a kid, I got hooked on playing PlayStation for hours during the weekends, and the 1998 RPG Tomb Raider III was one of the best games. I’d admit that I only got to know about Siem Reap after watching the 2001 blockbuster of Tomb Raider’s big screen adaptation with Angelina Jolie playing the lead role as Lara Croft. Many of the scenes were shot in one of Siem Reap’s temples, showcasing its unique beauty. I have to say that the movie was the major influence of having Siem Reap on my bucketlist of places to explore.
Our Siem Reap Itinerary: A Balance of the Old and New
Like everyone else, the magnificent temples probably are the main reason of visiting Siem Reap. There are a lot of temples in the northwestern region of Cambodia and we can probably explore it all in 4 days, but we wanted our trip to be a balance of brief learning about the Khmer history, and also to experience the modern Siem Reap. Our trip’s itinerary was a good mix of several temple visits, some shopping, a little partying and to smatter a bit on Khmer cuisine that gave us a generous introduction to both the history and the region’s modern lifestyle.
On our itinerary were 5 impressive temples to visit – Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ba Yon, Ta Phrom and Prasat Bantaey Srei , three shopping destinations, impressive Khmer restaurants, and a stroll along Siem Reap’s party strip – Pub Street.
A brief about some of Siem Reap Temples
Siem Reap temples appeal to a lot of tourists to visit Cambodia. Within the UNESCO World Heritage site of Angkor Archaeological Park has temples with many well-preserved stone carvings that give the visitors a chance to take a gander on the once well-heeled Khmer Empire.
But before dropping by these temples, make sure you get an Angkor Pass. Visitors need to secure an ANGKOR PASS to be able to visit the temples in Siem Reap. Prices as of May 2019 are at US$37, US$62 and US$72 per person for 1,3 and 7 days respectively.
We purchased the 3-day Angkor Pass, and got to visit 5 spots within the 3-day period, squeezing in time for shopping, coffee, relaxed meals, and even a classic Khmer massage.
Here’s a list of the five temples we visited.
UNESCO World Heritage Angkor Wat is definitely a must see when in Siem Reap. The world’s largest religious structure of over 162.6 hectares, is believed to be either a funerary or a state temple during the 12th century. First dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, it later became a Buddhist temple in the 14th century. Walking around the temple, you’d notice carvings of celestial dancers called as “Asparas” and there is approximately over 2,000 of these on Angkor Wat. And yes, you’ll get to spot monkeys too! 🙂
If you get to wake up early, swing by as early as 5:00AM to witness a dramatic view of the sunrise with Angkor Wat temple on the foreground.
Angkor Wat is open daily from 5:00AM to 6:00PM.
2. Angkor Thom
Literally translating to “Great City,” passing through a bridge over a moat before entering the impressive south gate on our way to Bay On Temple, gave me a hint that what’s in those gates are profoundly stunning Khmer historic architecture.
The arch gate has intricate carvings of the four faces of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and elephants, while the causeways that leads to this gate has statues of gods and demons.
Notable temples within Angkor Thom are Ba Yon Temple, Terrace of the Elephants, and Ta Prohm Temple.
Open daily from 7:30AM to 5:30PM.
3. Bay On Temple
Set in the middle of Ankor Thom, the temple features over 50 stone towers with 4 faces of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara carved in many of them. Built in the 12th century as a state temple of Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII.
4. Ta Phrom Temple
The 12th century Ta Phrom temple is made famous after it was featured on the 2001 blockbuster movie, Tomb Raider. The monastery was build in commemoration of King Jayavarman VII’s mother. Many would dub this area as the “lost temple in the jungle” as the temple is enveloped by huge trees and vines.
5. Prasat Bantaey Srei
10th-century temple that houses the most preserved relics in Siem Reap. It’s called locally as the ‘citadel of the women,’ it’s fitted with pink sandstones. You can also spot sculptures of female deities in traditional attire carrying lotus flowers on each hand.
About 32km northeast, this temple beyond downtown Siem Reap offers a different feel. Open daily from 5:00AM to 5:00PM daily.
Khmer Food: Local and French Influence
Food is one of the very delightful way to explore when visiting a new city. Two of the restaurants that very much left a very good impression during our Siem Reap trip were Malis and Khema.
During our last night in Cambodia, we had an exquisite Khmer course dinner at Malis Restaurant. Personally, the stars of the meal were the Amok Fish and the Malis Signature dessert. The main course, Amok Fish, is goby fish fillet resting in a pool of lemon-grass curry paste steamed banana leaves basket. The dessert is jasmine flower cooked in Cambodian honey and ginger.
Siem Reap was under the French rule until 1946, and it’s likely to find traces of the culture, and its cuisine, in the present Khmer lifestyle. Dining at Khema made me experience a gratifying French fare for lunch the day before flying out. Steak-Frites Cafe de Paris was my fave, made with tender slices of beef in their house specialty butter sauce! So good!
Siem Reap is an invigorating destination, and thought that it offered so much more than I expected. It’s more than just a Temple Town, but also the place to enjoy shopping for unique and local products at a steal, as prices are affordably low. The cuisine, both the exclusively local and from influences, are pretty fascinating. I really won’t mind coming back to explore more of Siem Reap!
You too can experience, or re-explore, Siem Reap! Book affordable flights through Cebu Pacific Air now! The Philippine’s number 1 low-cost airline flies three times weekly from Manila to Siem Reap.