A broke girl with a bucket list

Nine Temples in Nine Hours

Nine Temples in Nine Hours

And what else you should be doing in Siem Reap

Exploring Baylon temple at dawn Image © Alice Petch 2017

It was 4.45am when we stumbled out of bed in our hostel, before the other occupants of the room had returned from their night on the town. Feeling around in the dark, we packed up and found our way to the front desk, where our tuk tuk driver was waiting for us.

One long line for entry tickets later and we were standing in front of Angkor Wat itself, just silhouetted against the dark sky, as the crowd around us pushed and shoved to get their perfect photo.

The crowd at dawn, Angkor Wat Image © Beth Howlett

As the sun rose, so did the cameras – selfie sticks and people sitting on shoulders obscured the famous view. This supposedly spiritual moment turned out to be, for me anyway, the least significant part of my day. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no regrets about making it for sunrise – and the pictures that I managed to get in between the forest of selfie sticks turned out pretty good too. But the frantic crowd of people only there for the perfect photo unfortunately ruined it for me, and we ended up leaving Angkor early to return at the end of the day.

 

Angkor at Sunrise Image © Beth Howlett 2017

After sunrise, we went straight to Bayon temple, my absolute favourite of the day. Arriving early, we had the whole place to ourselves for the better part of half an hour. It was bliss: exploring old, twisting passages, climbing around the intricately carved walls and watching a troop of monkeys and their four newborns play on top of the temple walls.

As the sun really started to rise, we climbed the near-vertical stairs to Angor Thom and watched the crowds of tourists start to pull up in their tuk tuk’s and on motorbikes to begin their day too.

The one thing that I would recommend the most is paying a driver to take you around the longer loop, for only $15 US extra you get to see so many more temples, but most importantly, escape the crowds that often make the Angkor Wat complex underwhelming for so many people.

Angkor Thom Image © Beth Howlett 2017

After Angkor Thom and the intricate Terrace of the Leper King, we pushed on to the beautiful temple of Preach Khan and then the water temple Neak Peam. Crossing a long boardwalk, you arrive at the most tranquil place on the whole complex. With a small shrine in the surrounding forest, the temple itself is an artificial island, out of which a shrine rises.

Terrace of the Leper King Image © Beth Howlett 2017

I’m not going to lie, at this point we started to get tired. The next few temples we walked through much faster, still trying to find our favourite features at each one but getting progressively exhausted. We paid our driver a little extra to stop off at Ta Prohm, the famous ‘Tomb Raider’ temple, and caught up with the crowds doing the small loop.

After the better part of the day spent in small groups of people, having to join a queue and rush through the temple made us even more tired, and also meant that the temple we had gone out of our way to visit was nowhere near as special as the lesser known temples we had just come from.

Ta Prohm Image © Beth Howlett 2017

After Ta Prohm, we rushed through Angkor Wat before getting our tuk tuk back to the hostel and collapsing in a heap!

Here’s the stitch: if you only go to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat (and most people do that in half a day) what else do you do for the rest of the time?

Turns out there is a lot more than bar crawling down Pub Street to keep you entertained. The first awesome place to hit up is the Angkor Night Market: held every night near the centre of Siem Reap. Live music, fresh food, fried ice cream, cheap massages, souvenirs and everything else you can imagine are stacked into two blocks of market stalls that come alive at around 8pm.

Angkor Night Market entrance Image © Beth Howlett 2017

However, the most significant thing we did (aside from Angkor itself) was a trip to the Landmine Museum, located about a 30 minute tuk tuk ride outside of Siem Reap. Everyone needs to go here. It serves as an educational facility and museum, to teach people about the horrors that the Cambodian people went through, and are still suffering the effects of to this day. Not only that, but the $5 US entry fee goes towards the upkeep of the school that the Museum runs on the same property for child victims of landmines.

If you have time, please seriously consider going here as not only is it locally run, but the tuk tuk ride there is amazing – passing through local villages and farmyards and taking you away from the tourist-y centre of Siem Reap.

Finally, on the way back from the Landmine Museum, the Butterfly Centre is worth a visit! It’s a great place for a quick stopover or somewhere peaceful to have lunch – especially if you have small children!

Butterfly Centre Image © Beth Howlett 2017

Of course Siem Reap and Angkor Wat itself is unmissable, but the recent bump up of the entry fee to $37 US means that many tourists feel underwhelmed as they are confronted with queues and large crowds. Even if you have to skip a few, the longer route is peaceful, less crowded and you get to spend as long as you want at any of the temples.

At the same time, Siem Reap and the surrounding area is also filled with equally amazing things to do. The Landmine Museum provides an amazing half-day trip to learn about Cambodia’s history and support a local business, the Butterfly Centre is a fun excursion out of the city centre and the Night Market and Pub Street provide lots of entertainment for the evenings.

Side note: we didn’t actually make it, but Banteay Srei (popularly known as the women’s temple) is located outside of the Angkor complex. However, you have to use the same day pass as you do for Angkor to get into this temple too – or pay another $37 US for another day. This is worth keeping in mind if you are tossing up whether to do the two or one day pass, or even if you finish at Angkor early and are keen to see this awesome temple.

Angkor Wat Image © Beth Howlett 2017

Angkor Wat: $37 US, 1 day pass (map)

Landmine Museum: $5 US entry

Butterfly Centre: $5 US entry