Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Updated, August 2019
The ancient temples of Angkor Wat came up repeatedly as we researched the region. Our guidebook, web sites, and fellow travelers classified it as "a must-see". My expectations are usually quite low when so many people flock to a specific site but I must admit the whole experience was awe-inspiring.
Why Siem Reap and Angkor Wat?
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
After spending a couple of exciting weeks in Vietnam and three nights in Phnom Penh, it was time to move on to Siem Reap, Cambodia. The bus ride was about 6.5 hours and uneventful. Ticket prices were reasonable compared to flying and included the viewing of a kong fu movie. It was hard to follow the movie in a foreign language without subtitles but the good guys would surely win in the end, and they did.
Tuk-Tuk in Siem Reap
Our tuk-tuk driver Terry was charming and easily persuaded us to use his services while in Siem Reap. He was one of many drivers at the bus station and for $3 US provided a ride to our hotel. We booked a sunset tour on the first evening and a sunrise tour around the Angkor Wat area the following morning.
Where to Stay in Siem Reap?
We stayed three nights at the Mudra Angkor Boutique Hotel and booked with Expedia at $CAD 57.00 per night. This was a good value for the money spent. The room was well-appointed, on the main level and with easy access to the pool, which we used more than we had anticipated.
Sunset Tuk-Tuk ride to Angkor Wat
Despite the title of this blog post we are going to start things out with a sunrise on the first evening. As planned Terry picked us up and drove us straight to the gates of Angkor Wat just in time for the sunset. It didn’t take us long to realize that we were in for a special treat the following morning when we would enter the temple and do the full tour.
As I was capturing the sunset, Di struck up a longer conversation. Terry (30), had studied English for six years at a Pagoda. Born and raised in Siem Reap, he worked as a waiter for eight years making about $80 US a month. After marriage and children, he realized he couldn't support his family and decided to start his own tuk-tuk business. He lives in a small house with his wife and two young children. They do not have electricity. The cost for hook up is approximately $150 and then $6-8 per month in usage. They are saving up. Terry was noticeably proud of his hometown and the ancient temples. He was very informative and protective, making a point of reminding people not to stand or touch the statues and walls.
It was a good way to start our first day in Siem Reap. We got a good feel for distances and the logistics involved with the ticket purchases for the following day. The sunset was magical and Terry later dropped us off at a good dinner restaurant he suggested.
Angkor Wat Sunrise
The sunrise at Angkor Wat is what you will remember when you leave Siem Reap so make sure you don’t miss it. It should be on your travel bucket list. One of the keys to a successful Angkor Wat visit is to outsmart the crowds. We rose at 4:30 am and met our tuk-tuk driver, Terry at 5 am. Each morning large crowds head to Angkor Wat for the sunrise. There is nothing quite like an intimate photography experience alongside hundreds of other visitors/photographers. I am glad we were forewarned about the crowds and I decided not to fret about the photography. Instead, I enjoyed the views and I assisted a young German as she had a hard time nailing the exposure of a tricky sunrise. We put the camera to manual exposure and went from there. She was thrilled and I was glad I could help.
We left the sunrise scene fairly quickly and beat the crowds. We explored most of the grounds and had several wow and awestruck moments with almost no one else around in the early morning hours. This was truly spectacular. The guidebook challenged visitors to take a photo at Angkor Wat without people in it and I eagerly complied.
Ankor Wat Tour Guide
Terry took us to as many temples as our legs and patience could handle in the 35-degree heat. We saw Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, and Ta Prohm, the location site for the movie Tomb Raider. See more photos below.
Angkor Silk Farm, Siem Reap
On our second day in Siem Reap, we tested the pool in the morning and spent the afternoon at a not for profit artisan center with woodcarvers, stone carvers, and other artists. The visit included a bus trip to a traditional silk farm.
We were slightly disappointed Terry did not show up at 6:15 am to take us to the airport as we agreed. Naively or not, we decided something had probably come up with his family or he had got a better deal booking a sunrise trip to Angkor Wat. We walked towards town and hailed another tuk-tuk no problem and were soon on our flight to Phuket in Thailand.