Cambodia, Destinations, Travel log

Siem Reap: the gate to Angkor Wat

Please note that this article contains tons of pictures because… well it’s Angkor Wat so it was so hard to resist! 🙂

We arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia, early morning (around 6 am). The hotel we booked online the day before had told us that the gate would open at 7:30 am so we decided to find a coffee shop to get a small breakfast … and coffee. We came across a petty big and modern coffee place that just opened (the staff was still in its morning stand-up meeting) and also offered some pretty good bakeries. We ended spending more than 2 hours there. We then walked to our hotel to drop our bags as our room was not ready yet. After such a short night we fell the need for more coffee and found a very nice place nearby. We ended up going to that place every day as everything we ordered was delicious! The place is called Brother Bong Coffee.

Later on we went a bit to the center. On the way we stopped at the Visitor Center of a Children’s Hospital not sure what to expect. They actually bring awareness about the need for care, especially for children. We were explained that the project started in the 90’s by a Japanese photographer, Kenro Izu, who was visiting the country to take pictures and got appalled by the the global situation. Indeed only 43 doctors survived the Khmer Rouge, 20 of whom fled the country. After 1979, only 26 pharmacists, 28 dentists and 728 medical students remained. In the 90’s, the poverty rate was still 50% and in 1995 the mortality rates for children under 5 was 121 per 1,000 live births. The access to health care is still a challenge in the rural areas of the country.

Apparently they opened a similar hospital in Luang Prabang (Laos) 3 years ago. Silviu took that opportunity to buy a krama (traditional Cambodian garment with many uses, including as a scarf, bandanna, etc) and we also made a small donation. The gratitude we received in return by the adorable student volunteering there was over-whelming.

We later went for a walk in the center, visiting some of the (much more recent than Angkor) temples as well as passing by the famous Pub Street. The atmosphere during the day is very different from the night! The center was pretty quiet; also it was very warm so we guessed that people were either resting or visiting.

We finally came back to the hotel, pretty tired. Our room was pretty nice and the A/C was very welcomed! We allowed ourselves 2 hours of nap as at 16h30 we booked a tuk-tuk to bring us for sunset at Angkor. But before, we needed to buy an entrance ticket!

Note a few tricky points:

  • The entrance tickets are available for 1, 3 (valid for a week) or 7 days (valid for a month). We took the 1 day only (still 37 USD!) but we learnt that if we buy it after 16:30pm the day before you can have access for sunset, that was our option. Don’t lose your ticket!
  • Angkor Wat is both the name of the main temple and by extension “Angkor” is the name of the full archeological site. So sunset at Angkor doesn’t mean at Angkor Wat. Actually only 2 places are open after 17:30: Phnom Bakheng, which is a hill overviewing Angkor Wat (but at distance), and Prae Roup, a relatively high temple on the Eastern side. This is where we chose to go.

The sunset itself was not very impressive as the sky was pretty cloudy but we really enjoyed being there as it was a good preview of the site. People are all gathering on top of the temple for the sunset. The rest of the temple was pretty empty for us to visit, which was nice!

And … here start the pictures!

In the evening we could not resist the temptation of a (pretty good) pizza nearby our hotel. We didn’t want to go too far as we had booked our tuk-tuk for the next day at… 4h30 AM!!! If we have only one day we need to make sure to enjoy it, especially before it gets too crowded and too warm!

So here we are by night heading to Angkor Wat (one of the 4 places open at 5am for sunrise). We arrived there a bit in advance so had to wait until the guards would let us in… and here we go! In the dark, we cross a bridge, pass the beautiful entrance gate and continue in direction of Angkor Wat. In the dark we can have a glimpse of its splendor and we are looking forward to get in!

Wait, did we just break into the Angkor Wat?

Wait… why are people turning left here? Oh they want to see the sunrise from over this pond, good for them but there are still plenty of time. We keep straight to the main entrance. Once arrived we see two Spanish guys speaking with a guard that they obviously woke up, who explains us that the access only opens at 6am… What?! SO the full sunrise in Angkor Wat thing is just to pack us in a designed spot and wait?

Of course, the rebels in us, we decide to walk around the temple as we have time… and realize the other entrances are not guarded… hum, should we try?  We can always pretend we didn’t know… All lights off we carefully head inside. The buildings are dark but several courtyard inside allow us to get some lights as the night is pretty clear. What a unique experience to be there! Just the 2 of us (and the bats) in the dark trying to guess what is around us! The temple offered us what it had best to offer: peacefulness, complete silence and a few minutes of meditation.

We managed to discreetly get back to the main crowd on time for the official opening… And just for you to understand why and how much we appreciated to be together in the silent and emptiness of Angkor Wat, I put here some pictures of “what” was outside waiting for the sunrise (that was inexistent by the way).

We chose to do the “Small” Tour which was really enough for one day! The tour was comprised of: Angkor Wat, Bayon, Baphuon, the Terrace of the Elephants, Ta Keo and Ta Phrom. Other smaller temples were on the way. but we chose to stick to the ones we were interested in.

And here are our wonderful pictures of it!

Angkor Wat

Bayon Temple

Baphuon Temple

On the way

Ta Phrom

We came back at the beginning of the afternoon for a quick lunch before buying our tickets to leave for Laos the next day. We finally managed to enjoy the swimming pool of our hotel for a refreshing bath! In the evening we indulge ourselves a very painful strong but nice massage at a Seeing Hands, which is an organization that trained blind people to Japanese style massages. Afterwards we had one final Cambodian dinner.

Next stop: Laos!

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2 thoughts on “Siem Reap: the gate to Angkor Wat

  1. Henrietta says:

    We actually loved all the cafe’s from Siem Reap. It is a good place to spend a few days since there is actually more than Angkor Wat around. Thanks for the post!

    1. Perine says:

      Thank you for your comment! Indeed Siem Reap is developing a lot and there are many activities to do around!

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