Angkor, the ancient capital city of the Khmer empire, is at the top of every traveler’s bucket list. There are over a thousand ancient temples that look like they are straight out of a movie. Quite literally, Ta Prohm was featured in the movie Tomb Raider. I went to Angkor for the first time in 2005, 4 years after Tomb Raider was released. I remember thinking back then, how are they letting us climb all over these ancient ruins? I have photos of me and my friends climbing the steep stairs and posing with the statues. Because of the temples’ popularity in the years that followed, they have since prohibited climbing and sectioned off areas for preservation.
Siem Reap has changed so much in 12 years!! There used to be one main area around Pub Street and the only people who traveled there were backpackers and older rich couples. Fast forward to 12 years later, I was very surprised to see boutique hotels and vegan cafes. I was in Siem Reap during the Khmer New Year, which they celebrate for 3 days. The locals celebrate with family, friends, food, booze, water gun and baby powder fights. Yes, you read that right water guns and baby powder.
Whenever I’m asked about Siem Reap and the Angkor temples, I always give 3 pieces of advice: 1) Stay at a hotel or hostel that has a pool. Siem Reap was/is the hottest place I’ve ever been to. I made a mistake on my airbnb reservation. I booked this cute homestay at an Old Khmer House with a Cambodian family but I didn’t realize until the night before that it was for the next day. I quickly checked my booking.com app and found Rambutan Resort for $58 a night. My room at the Rambutan Villas was a real gem; it was big, comfy, had AC, pool and a tub on the balcony. I’m not sure who would take a hot bath in 100-degree weather but it’s the thought. I would’ve stayed at the Rambutan for the duration of my stay if I had known I would later suffer a heat stroke. The old Khmer House was very charming but I was very sick and I really needed a strong AC unit and pool. Keep this in mind if you’re a heavy sweater like me.
2) Get a 3 day Angkor pass because it’s impossible to see all of the temples in one day unless you just want to see Angkor Wat. I paid $62 for the 3-day pass. The “thing” to do when you are starting your Angkor journey is to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. It’s definitely worth it because it’s not as hot in the morning and not as crowded. Seeing the sunrise over the temple is pure magic! The rest of the days consisted of waking up at sunrise, temple it, siesta, then dinner. The other temples open at 7:00 am and a good time to start your day because again, it’s less crowded and not as hot.
3) Get a guide for one or all of the temples. I hired Kol Cchen to take me to Angkor Wat and Bayon temples (google Kol Cchen Angkor Wat). He is a Siem Reap local and was very knowledgeable about the history and the architecture. I have a deeper appreciation for Angkor because I learned about the Hindu and Buddhist relics that cover the temples as well as the history of the Khmer empire.
When you’re in Angkor, you can’t help but feel like you’re Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. I found that the best approach is plan out your days in advance and decide which temples to visit. It’s important to take it all in slowly and to keep cool. Stayed tuned for Angkor Part II.
Rambutan Resort Pool
Tub on the balcony
Watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat
My guide wanted to take a photo of me
Buddhist monk in Angkor Wat
I loved the lotus flowers
Healthy Cafe – Fifty 5 in Siem Reap
Driving around Angkor
The many faces of Bayon
Footprint Cafe – The perfect spot for coffee and finding a good book
The Old Khmer House
The bedroom at the Old Khmer House
Khmer New Year on Pub Street