Special Six: Evenings in Siem Reap

With everything there is to see during the day around Siem Reap, there is usually not much energy left by the time evening comes around. My friends and I used to take a short rest during late afternoon and then leisurely explore the nearby 2 Thnoc street and its neighbourhood in the evening. Here are our six favourite things to do in Siem Reap in the evenings.

  1. Pamper your feet with a reflexology foot massage.

After all the walking during the day, we felt our tired feet needed to be indulged especially as foot massages were so affordable. We tried out a different spa on 2 Thnoc street each day but liked best Bodia Spa, above U-Care pharmacy.

2. Shop at Senteurs d’Angkor on 2 Thnoc street.

My favourite shop on this street was Senteurs d’Angkor. The place not only smelled lovely, it had lots of bath products as well as a range of spices. Great place for some souvenirs.

  1. Visit Artisans Angkor

Artisans Angkor considers itself a social business. This company began as a project for providing skills training to youth from communities with limited educational opportunities. Since the company was formed in the late 90s, it has opened 43 workshops in Siem Reap providing employment to 1300 people. The handicraft showroom we visited was on Stung Thmey street and had lots of wood statues, lacquered sculptures etc. I bought some lovely silk scarves here.

  1. Eat at Pub Street

We enjoyed trying out different cafes on this street packed with restaurants and cafes. The place was always crowded during evenings with loud music blasting from different restaurants.

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Source: Shelley Graner @ Plans Subject To Change

  1. Explore Angkor night market where you can buy souvenirs and try street food.

On the last evening of our stay in Siem Reap, we visited the Angkor night market which, according to its website, is the first night market in Cambodia. The night market, open from 4pm till midnight, had different stalls selling souvenirs and handicrafts as well as food and drinks. I bought several krama, traditional Cambodian scarf, here.

  1. Take a trishaw ride across the city to see Siem Reap in the evenings

We enjoyed taking the trishaw ride from our guesthouse and going for a ride around the city in the evenings. It is a lovely way to enjoy seeing parts of the city which you would not have time to visit.

Bonus: I did like River Garden, the place we stayed at in Siem Reap. We had booked two rooms and were given a sort of two storey mini chalet to ourselves. The breakfast provided each morning was delicious.

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I did lose something of great sentimental value to my mother and me here though. After my road traffic accident, my mother gave me her special mini Annai Velankanni statue to take with me on my travels. I generally take out the palm sized luminescent mini statue and keep it in a place visible to me so that I would remember to repack it in my bags. However, I forgot to repack it when I left Siem Reap and the little statue after being in my family for nearly twenty years was lost. I wrote to the staff at River Garden but I received the reply that they had not found it in my room. My mother was quite upset about it but I hope that someone who needed the protection of Annai Velankanni more has it with her or him now.

Have you lost anything of great sentimental value to you during your travels? If you have visited Siem Reap, what was your favourite place to visit in the evenings?

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Special Six: Temples at Angkor

The Angkor archaeological park, considered one of the most important archaeological sites of South-east Asia by UNESCO, can be quite overwhelming. The 400 square kilometres of the park area is filled with ancient temple ruins of the Khmer Kingdoms from the 9th to 15th centuries. After seeing one temple after another, it can be easy to stop appreciating the differences and nuances in the temple styles and the history behind them. Aware of this, my friends and I chose a few temples we wished to see, both within and outside the Angkor park area, during our three days in Siem Reap. Even though our guide tried to persuade us to fit in more, we stuck to our choice which I believe enhanced our appreciation of the temples we did see at Angkor.

We started our temple visits at Angkor Thom, the last capital city of the Khmer empire, established by King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century.

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The south gate with its 54 asuras (demons) and devas (gods) lining each side of the path to the gate, pulling on the snake’s tail and head respectively, was depictive of a Hindu mythological story regarding the creation of the earth.

The south gate had three faces facing each direction, with the central facing both in and out.

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The Bayon, the state temple during Jayavarman VII’s reign, is at the centre of Angkor Thom. With over 200 gigantic smiling faces carved on the towers of the temple, it is certainly a fascinating piece of architecture. My impression when seeing the smiling faces was that it was representative of Buddha, as there is a serene expression on each face, even though it might have been images of King Jayavarman VII.

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The bas-reliefs at the temple were also very interesting. I was wondering if it was illustrating the work that went into building the temple or whether it was depicting the King’s journey to the celestial Kingdom, as it was then believed that the King was a representative of the Gods.

Leaving the north gate of the Bayon, the guide took us to the Baphuon, which had been the state temple of Yasodharapura, the capital city of the Khmer empire during the early 11th century reign of Udayadityavarman II.  In the 16th century, the temple was converted to a Buddhist temple and several parts were demolished to reconstruct a reclining Buddha statue. It is difficult to see the Buddha statue clearly but when I looked closely, I could distinguish the face lying on a hand.

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Next to the Baphuon is the Terrace of the Elephants, which was used by King Jayavarman VII, the one who built Bayon temple, as an audience hall as well as a platform to view his victorious returning army entering through the victory gate.

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Exiting Angkor Thom through the victory gate, we made our way to Ta Prohm, a monastic complex built by King Jayavarman VII and dedicated to his mother. The guide preferred referring to it as the Angelina Jolie temple though.

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It was an amazing sight to see the ruins with massive trees, fig and silk-cotton, that had taken over the complex.

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It was the massive trees that commanded one’s attention here. Ta ProhmAfter lunch, we made our way over to Angkor Wat. I feel we should have started our day at Angkor Wat and ended it at Ta Prohm, simply because the afternoon heat in Siem Reap can be quite draining and the gigantic trees at Ta Prohm does offer a lot of shade.

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Angkor Wat was built by King Suryavarman II, in the early 12th century, as the capital city and state temple dedicated to Vishnu. It was subsequently converted to a Buddhist temple.

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Angkor Wat, the best preserved within the Angkor archaeological park, has the special distinction of being the only religious monument that appears in a national flag. Several countries, including Sri Lanka, have religious symbols in their flag but not a historic religious monument.

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On the second day, we had insisted upon visiting Kbal Sbean. Our guide had been less enthusiastic about it as it was about 40 kms away from town and he kept insisting there were many more important temple complexes closer. We were insistent however, as I personally believed, that the Kbal Sbean was the hidden gem or rather less visited gem of the ancient temples around Siem Reap. I strongly felt it would turn out to be best of the Siem Reap experience.

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Photo credit: Danny Yee @Wandering Danny

Kbal Sbean, located in Phnom Kulen, is a river bed carved with Hindu and Buddhist religious images between the 11th and 13th century. To reach the riverbed, one needs to climb a little hill. For anyone without mobility issues, it is an easy climb. For me though, it gradually became tougher as the incline increased and the path was not clear. The ankle, that I had twisted in Ho Chi Minh city, also started hurting. I reached a point when I realized that I could not climb further without assistance.

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Especially given that were I to slip and injure my leg further on those rocks, it would be difficult to access help. I did not want to detract from my friends’experience of the place so decided to stop where I was and asked them to proceed. Initially reluctant, the two of them finally left after I reassured them I was completely fine with it.

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I sat down on a little rock to rest my feet and watched the sunlight filter through the trees. I tried to regain my equilibrium after the upset I had felt at not being able to see what I had wanted to see the most during my visit to Siem Reap. The silence around me and the calming trees helped. Occasionally, there were groups that passed me by. After seeing the different responses of the first few groups that had passed by, I became interested in trying to predict how a group would respond to seeing me sitting along the path. There were many who simply averted their eyes, after the initial glimpse of me, and moved on quickly as if I were invisible or someone to be avoided. There were several who politely nodded their heads or murmured a good morning, without a single expression of surprise on their face and without a break in their walking stride, as if they came across someone sitting alone on a jungle hill path every day. A few though did stop to ask if I was alright. And then, a very few even offered to help me climb the last 100 metres of the hill, when they heard that I had stopped as it was too difficult for me to climb. Unfortunately, those that offered to help were in their 70s or 80s and I was not going to risk injuring them as well in case I fell.

So, while I did not make it to the riverbed to see the Kbal Sbean carvings, I did have an interesting experience sitting on a rock on the path and observing human behavioural responses to an unanticipated situation on their hike. The reason why this photo means a lot to me.

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After lunch, we made our way back stopping at Banteay Sreay. This temple complex, built in the early 10th century is the only one in Angkor, not built by a King, though he was part of the royal family and a counselor of the King.

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A Hindu temple, this little architectural gem came to be known as the Citadel of Women with many stories as to how it got its modern name. Most references to the origins of the name assume it is because of the numerous carvings of females at the temple, though there is a story that a female carver was responsible for the more delicate carvings at the temple.

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In Hindu images, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and beauty is often drawn or carved with two elephants on either side as in the carving above. The temple also has intricately decorated libraries. Again, knowledge and books is represented in Hindu imagery by Saraswathi, the goddess of wisdom. So perhaps the temple came to be known as the citadel of women because it was dedicated to women goddesses?

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Irrespective of the origins of its name, Banteay Srei is a little gem worth travelling to the outskirts of the Angkor park area for.

Each of the six temples visited was unique and amazing in its own way and if you have only three days in Siem Reap, I would certainly recommend visiting these special six.

Which of the special six intrigues you most? Is there another temple at Angkor that you would include in this list?

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Sunrise at Angkor Wat

One of my special memories of Siem Reap are the two mornings, when I went over to Angkor Wat at 5am to watch the sun rise over the beautiful temple complex. It was such a beautiful experience and there were fewer people around compared to the crowds later in the day.

While writing my post on Siem Reap this week, I was going through the photos I took at Angkor and I felt like sharing this collection of 12 sunrise photos at Angkor Wat first.

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reflection of angkor wat

My strongest recommendation to travelers visiting Angkor Wat would be to experience the sun rise over Angkor Wat, enjoying the place in peace and quiet before the crowds arrive. It is also easier to explore the place in the morning than under the energy draining afternoon sun.

Have you experienced a sunrise over Angkor Wat? Hope this photo collection has made you want to visit Angkor Wat, if you haven’t already done so!

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