I booked my tour with Siem Reap Private Day Tours who I found through TripAdvisor where they received many good reviews including mine. I opted to spread out my touring through 3 ½ days so my itinerary was very relaxed. We often started a little bit later in the morning, around 9:00am and ended at around 3 or 4. For me, this was perfect as we didn’t have to travel too much from site to site. We were able to stay longer in each site and I was able to take hundreds of pictures at different angles and was even able to wait out tour groups for shots so that it seemed like I had the whole place to myself.
In Cambodia you are required to have a certified tour guide to bring you inside the temples/ruins or you can explore on your own. If you hire a private tour company to take your group around, most of the drivers are not certified tour guides and you may need to hire a separate one. I strongly recommend doing so as each temple/ruin has its own unique history and may not be captured in a travel book. Siem Reap Private Day Tours is able to arrange one for you in your preferred language. Just advise them at the time of booking.
The main Angkor Wat temple is as magnificent as the pictures portray it to be. The complex is about 400 acres big, and give yourself plenty of time to explore it all, you will not be disappointed. We arrived at 5 am to watch the sun slowly rise and illuminate the 5 towers of Angkor Wat in a gentle orange and pink glow. Do not pass up the opportunity to climb the main tower of Angkor Wat. The views you get at the top is not something you want to miss.
Apart from the main Angkor Wat complex, my favourite sites that I visited are Ta Prohm, Bayon, Banteay Srei and Neak Pean.
Ta Prohm was featured in the 2001 Action Adventure film Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie. While not a very large complex, the main attraction are the trees that have started to grow out from the walls and buildings. In many areas, you see the complex weave of tree roots, climbing all over the walls of the structures. When I visited Ta Prohm, my guide suggested that go during the regular lunch hour and go while the large tour groups were eating lunch. Because of this suggestion, there were maybe 12 -15 people in the temple complex instead of the usual 100+. We took extra time exploring the ruins and examining the carvings that are all over the place.
Bayon is a very mystical place. There are 2 walls on the main floor of this complex that have very intricate carvings that tell the story of the Khmer of old. They appear to show people doing everyday life activities and as you move down the wall, the scenes start changing to show mythical or historical battles during times of the Khmer Empire. In the terrace area above, you see numerous smiling stone faces on the towers. Some say the faces are a representation of King Jayavarman VII and others say that those are the faces of Buddha.
Banteay Srei is a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and is one of the temples that is outside of the city of Siem Reap. You need to travel about an hour north to get to it and if you only had time to do one temple that is outside the immediate area of Siem Reap, this should be it. Banteay Srei is built primarily with red sandstone which, depending on the light of the day, will give the buildings a very rich reddish, and pinkish hue. There are very intricate carvings all over the walls of each building and statues that still stand intact after years of being exposed to the elements. Thinking back and looking at my pictures, I would have loved to have been in Banteay Srei during sunset, the colours must be absolutely amazing.
Neak Pean is a temple built on a manmade island on the manmade lake Jayatataka. It is believed to have been a hospital of sorts and the central pond inside Neak Pean is said to be a representation of Lake Anavatapta in the Himalayas whose waters are thought to cure all illnesses. The temple area itself isn’t too big but it is still a neat place to visit. It’s amazing how they were able to make these lakes and temples without modern machinery. It must’ve taken years and hundreds or even thousands of people to do it.
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