Siem Reap International Airport
The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap took about 2 hours. After the plane landed we walked down onto the tarmac and walked into the airport building. The building looked like a country resort very unlike the modern building of other international airports.
On entering the airport we were told to fill up a health declaration form, so there was a mad rush to get the forms, to find pens, to fill it up and to hand it to a female staff who stood blocking our path to the immigration counters.
After we passed the immigration counter, my husband told us that the immigration officer asked him for 小费 (some money) in Mandarin. By husband replied in English saying that he did not understand and the officer gave up after a few tries.
What a way to spoil the image of a country, by greedy corrupted officer!!
Happy Angkor Tour
The instant we walked past the custom we could already see our guide as he was holding a big card with my name printed on it. Our guide’s name was Jimmy and though our conversation I found out that he and the van driver came early to the airport, two hours ahead of our arrival time. I was puzzled as they were fully aware of our expected time of arrival so why the need to come to the airport so early. His reply was that there might be some unforseeable situation that cause us to reach Siem Reap early. I did not understand the rationale of his reasoning because usually it would be a flight delay rather than early arrival. Even if it was an early arrival it would just be 10 to 20 minutes earlier and not two hours earlier. Well, I felt they were being overly considerate but I should not be complaining.
To make sure that we did not have any misunderstanding on our temple visit, I requested Jimmy to run through the itinerary of the day. In my email to his company I had requested for four temples, they were Angkor Wat, Ta Phrom, Angkor Thom and Bakheng for sunset. Jimmy named the first three and another four place but left our Bakheng so I told him I wanted Bakheng to be included. Though he said there might not be enough time, I insisted he included Bakheng and he agreed. He had also included a after dinner Aspara Dance Performance which I told him I had informed his company that we did not want to attend. So with our destinations for the day settled we were ready to set off.
Traveller Sim Data Card
Our first destination was Angkor Wat but first we needed to get our tickets. Jimmy explained that we had to carefully keep the ticket which would have a photo of our face as we would have to produce it at all the temple entrances. He said that the security guards were very diligent in their checks, so if the face of the ticket holder did not match the photo on the ticket, entry to the temple would be denied. He cautioned us about the non-waterproof ink that was used to print the photo and emphasized that we had to keep our ticket dry all the time.
At the ticketing booth there were many people but the queue progressed quite fast. One by one we had to be photographed before being issued a ticket.
After getting the tickets, Jimmy directed the driver to drive to the East entrance of Angkor Wat. He told us that East entrance was less crowded. At the entrance there were quite a number of security guards checking the tickets. After validating my face and photo the guard punched a hole on the reverse side of the ticket on the number that represented the day of the month and let me entered the temple gate.
Angkor Wat means Capital Temple, it was built by a Khmer King in the early 12th century as a Hindu temple but gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.
The temple looked very majestic. The structure looked very intricate and very complex. It must have taken a lot of craftsmen many years to build the temple. The entire complex is rectangular in shape. Outside the outer wall is a moat. Within the wall are three rectangular structures stacked one on top of the other, each progressively smaller than the other. On the third level stands five towers.
The first two levels looked were like covered walkway with many columns holding up the roof. Between the 1st and 2nd level was a huge ground of green grass.
We passed the 2nd level and came to the base of the five towers. The towers were massive gigantic structures sitting on layers and layers of steps. It was hard to imagine how one could go up to the towers.
As we round a corner we saw two sets of steep wooden steps leading up and down to the main entrance of the third level where the five towers sat. There was a long queue of tourists leading right up the base of the steps going upward.
Jimmy told us that there was a quota as to the number of people allowed on the third level at any one time. He said that once we were up there to stay for about 20 minutes and then coming down.
Though the queue was long, it moved very fast. When I reached the start of the queue a guard sitting under a huge umbrella gave me an entry tag before allowing me up the stair. I guessed once all the tags were given out it would mean that the quota was reached. The tags would not be running out soon as the number of people coming down and returning the tags were as many as those going up.
The view from the third level was spectacular. The sky was so blue it contrasted brilliantly with the white clouds, surrounding the temple was a massive forest and its deep natural green colour emphasized the brown-grey age old structures of the temple beautifully.
The third level consisted of four open air square courtyards forming a larger square. At the each corner of the larger square stood a tower and the fifth tower stood at the centre of the larger square. The towers were linked by covered walkway overlooking the open courtyard.
We stayed up on the third level for more than 30 minutes before going down the steep steps to meet Jimmy who was sitting under the shades talking to other guides. I noticed that all the guides regardless of which tour agencies they came from wore the same uniform (orange top and black pants).
Jimmy took us back to the first level but this time to the gallery areas where we sawa long wall full of craving. The craving depicted historical victorious war events of the Khmer dynasty. Jimmy tried his best to explain the story that each set carving was telling, I tried by best to be attentive since my hubby and children shown no interest in the stories at all.
It was already close to noon and we had been in the Angkor Wat for close to three hours. I was worried if we would have enough time in the day to explore the other temples. Jimmy assured me that only at Angkor Wat we needed more time to explore, as for the other temples there were much smaller and could be explored in a short time.
In the morning, Jimmy brought us into Angkor Wat compound through the east entrance which was less crowded and was good for photography. By about noon we were done with Angkor Wat and Jimmy walked us toward the west entrance which was the actual main entrance of Angkor Wat. At the west side in front of the temple was two huge ponds, Jimmy told us that the banks of these ponds would be the best locations to take great sunrise photoshots of Angkor Wat in the morning.
The west entrance was indeed much more grander than the east entrance, it had a long wide walkway that started from temple complex all the way to the moat. As I walked along this walkway, I frequently turned around to look at the temple complex behind me, I could not stop myself from picturing how the scene would look like during the hey days of this empire. How the king and his entourages would approach the temple from this walkway, would the king be walking, or would he be sitting on a sedan chair carried by muscular bearers or would he be riding a horse driven chariot.
This Khmer empire that built such a wonder of a Temple must indeed be a rich, power, advance and great society.
AirCon Van Comfort
The driver of our van was already waiting outside the west entrance when we exited the entrance, he handed to each of us an ice-cold face towel and a bottle of ice cold water. I felt so good to wipe away the grim on my face and the chilled towel felt good on my neck and arms. It was about 12.30pm and the place was hot but we felt so contented and comfortable sitting in the van under the full blast of cold aircon as we drank the ice-cold bottled water. Apparently chilled towels and bottled water were part of the complete package for the rental of an AirCon van. An expense that was well worth the value!
Ta Prohm was the second temple of the day. This is another 12th century temple which was a a Buddhist Temple dedicated to the mother of King Jayavarman VII.
Its dilapidated state of ruin was also where its beauty shone. It was amazing to see the powerful force of nature encroaching onto man-made structures and would have totally buried the temple if Ta Prohm had not been discovered and preserved for tourists.
Many of the corridors in Ta Prohm were impassible, blocked by piles of fallen craved stones. We were not sure how safe and stable the structures were so we followed Jimmy very closely, walking where he walked.
It was pretty amazing to see these gigantic trees growing on top of the roof of the temple and their roots snaking around the temple structure penetrating into cavities gripping onto the temple walls.
Jimmy told us it was these trees that had made Ta Prohm famous and I definitely agreed.
Lunch at a local Restaurant
We had our lunch at a local restaurant, we ate curry chicken, stirred fried vegetable and rice. The taste was very similar to that of Thai cooking. Our meal costed about US$25 which I felt was a bit on the high side considering that the meal was rather simple and we were eating in a local restaurant with no air-conditioning, but this was expected as these were restaurants serving tourists.
Ta Nie Temple
After lunch, Jimmy brought us to a temple called Ta Nie Temple. To get to the temple the van had to drive over a stretch of some unsealed road which made the ride quite bumpy and uncomfortable. We arrived at a deserted clearing and saw a temple ruin in front. Beside us there was no other people around. I had no idea why was Ta Nie Temple being included in our itinerary and what was its significant. In my research for temples of Angor, I did not remembered Ta Nie Temple being mentioned. Jimmy said something about wanting us to visit an authentic ruin and not one that had been somewhat restored so as to welcome visitors.
Ta Nei was small temple and its state of ruin was very bad. There were wooden props everywhere holding up the doorways. Jimmy lead us through into the temple for a quick round. I guessed the best time to visit Ta Nie would be either very early in the morning or late in the evening as I felt that the dim light would gave this isolated temple a mysterious and eerily atmosphere.
Angkor Thom was the last capital of the Khmer Empire and was built in the late nineteenth century. It was a fortified city enclosing residences of priest, officials of the palace and military as well as buildings for administering the kingdom. There were no evidence of these residences as they were made of wood and had perished long ago. At the center of Angkor Thom was the temple of Bayon and it is still standing there today.
From far Bayon Temple looked like a structure with many towers of intricated carving. It was only when I got near that I realised that the craving were huge gigantic faces.
There was a center tower which was also the highest one, near the top it had four faces each facing a direction (north, south, east and west). Immediately below were more faces facing outward in a circle. Around the tall central tower were shorter towers about 37 of them as according to Jimmy and each had four faces.
Interesting each gigantic face looked like it was mediating. The eyes looked shut and there was a slight upward curve to the mouth. The faces were all similar with no distinction to each of them.
I had seen a lot of beautiful pictures of sunset over Phnom Bakheng and was looking forward to go there just before sunset. Unfortunately it began to rain heavily and we had to abandon our plan to visit Phnom Bakheng. I could see that the rain had turned the roads into one muddy mass and when Jimmy explained that it would be very difficult to walk up the steep path to Phnom Bakheng we could only agree to end our temple visit tour for the day without Phnom Bakheng.
Our Hotel Angkor D’Tresor Resort
Once we got past the main gate we could already see the “resortness” of the hotel. Beautiful and exactly the way I had seen it on the internet.
I picked this hotel for our 3 night stay because it was a small hotel in term of number of rooms but large in terms of space. I had also read many good reviews regarding this hotel and since the prices were reasonable I booked this place.
We were guided to a bungalow with two rooms and a private roof top. The rooms had separate entrances but internally they were interconnected by a communicating door.
The rooms were huge and lovely. They were fully aircon and the floors were wood finished. Cosy, modern looking, clean and cool were the adjectives I would use to describe our rooms.
The pool was just outside and we could not resist changing into our swimming costumes and jumping into the pool. Wow, it was a salt water pool and the water was warm! It felt so nice as instead of feeling a chill when I jumped into the water I was enveloped by warm soothing water. I felt so relax lying on the half submerged incline pool seat as I let the warm water loosen my stiff muscles. The four of us had not been swimming together for a long time. It was so fun to fool around in the water especially when we got the whole pool to ourselves.
Roof Top Dinner Birthday Dinner
Dinner was a private family affair on the roof top of our bungalow unit.
The roof top was lighted with candle lights around a dining table set for four. Tola, our personal waiter for the evening breezed to and fro between the kitchen and the roof top to serve us the dishes. We had two western meals and two Khmer meals. Each meal was a six course dinner.
As Tola served us our food he would explain how each Khmer dish was prepared, his explanation help us to appreciate the food as we savoured the various the herbs and ingredients that went into them.
The finale of the dinner was a surprise birthday cake for my hubby. Tola and two other staff brought the cake to our table singing Happy Birthday song to my hubby.
This was the first time I managed to spring a surprise on my husband. He knew that we were having a birthday dinner but he did not expect a cake as we were out of town and it would not be easy for me to get a cake for him. He had no idea that before we left for Siem Reap I had preplanned with Keo, the hotel manager, to get him a birthday cake.