Everyone raves about the Angkor area…the grandeur of the Angkor Wat temples… the enigma around the faces of Bayon…and gallery of a thousand Budhhas…the list goes on. However, there is stuff that few people tell you, which is good to know if you intend to head to Siem Reap to explore the Angkor area….
- Siem Reap, the town closest to the Angkor Area, is as touristy as any city can get in South East Asia. It has an international airport and is connected to major towns in South East Asia. In fact, I found Siem Reap to be as touristy as Phuket!
- There is accommodation to suit every budget at Siem Reap….luxury hotels, budget hotels and backpacker hostels. Some hostels are really good! I stayed in Hostel Siem Reap, which had a great kitchen and a lovely little pool to chill during the afternoon.
- The dry season is from November to March, which are also the coolest months. Afternoon temperature in the afternoon during these months is ~31 – 33 degrees Celsius. Even though I am from hot and humid Mumbai, I found the heat in Siem Reap too much to handle in the afternoon.
- The popular temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Phrom are crowded very often. Most people start their visit with Angkor Wat early in the morning. Hence, other temples are relatively deserted during these hours. Angkor Wat is quieter immediately after sunrise when most tourists head back to their hotels for breakfast.
- Vegetarian food is available in plenty… all cuisines… Italian, Khmer, Thai, Indian! In fact, the gelateria in Siem Reap offers gelatos as good as those served in Europe. I would recommend trying out the Khmer cuisine for sure… its less spicy than it’s Thai counterpart. My taste buds had a gala time!
- I never saw anyone being pulled up for baring their shoulders or knees (either of these is not allowed in any Buddhist temple). However, I would strongly urge you to respect local customs while visiting the temples.
- A lot of walking is involved while exploring the temples. There are steep steps and crumbly rocks at places. Wear comfortable shoes.
- Read up a little on the Khmer history and Hinduism. It will enhance your experience… trust me! Little kids sell guide books at the Angkor Wat at about sunrise. Strike a good bargain and get your self one.
- Visiting the museum should the first item on your list…before visiting any temple. There is so much to observe in the temples, which you may overlook if you are not looking for it! Guides don’t take you through every tiny detail.
- There are no audio guides available for any of the temples. Hiring a guide at the entrance of the Angkor Wat is your best bet. Reach early in the morning… at least an hour before sunrise to ensure that you do get a guide to take you around.
- Pub Street is a lively area and has plenty of restaurants. There is a Hard Rock Cafe here as well. Night life is pretty active in Siem Reap.
- Do make time to visit the Night Market. Its a great place to buy souvenirs at a bargain. While most souvenirs seemed mass produced in a factory, there were still occasional shops that did have authentic handicrafts.
- Too much of walking? Tired? Head to one of the many massage parlours in and around Pub Street for a foot massage.
- The Khmer region has a rich cultural history. There are plenty of shows that let you take peek into the cultural dances and performing arts. However, if you do not want to pay for one of these shows, head to a restaurant/bar that has a performance in the evening. I went to Temple Bar and watched elaborately dressed dancers perform….before I hit the party scene!
- Lastly, remember that there a lot to see in the Angkor area. Explore the biggies first… Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prom and then choose the other temples that you want to visit. Don’t try to cram every think in your itinerary …you might just get ‘templed out’.
Bon voyage… its time to visit this manmade wonder and tick it off your bucketlist!