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Travel Story by Louise McLeman and Justin Macree

  Taking in the temples of Angkor
Siem Reap, Cambodia

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Siem Reap is the gateway to the temples of Angkor, Cambodia's spiritual and cultural heartbeat. A small French colonial town with beautiful buildings, still undeveloped and an emotional experience to visit. Expect power cuts at night which doesnít last for long. The roads are crazy with vehicles going in different directions. To try a Khmer meal visit Pub Street to enjoy a variety of foods (international cuisine is also available). The next street is the Old Market where you can buy souvenirs after a long day at Angkor.

We suggest you read the book called 'Angkor, Cambodiaís Wondrous Khmer Temples' by Dawn Rooney before you go as you would gain better knowledge before seeing the temples as there are loads to see. The architecture of Angkor Wat itself is the largest religious building in the world.

To visit Angkor you need to buy a pass. The pass must be shown to the temple guards (wearing blue shirts) every time you enter a location within the park and some of the outlying areas. A one day pass costs US$20 and no passport photo needed. A passport photo is only needed for a three day pass (US$40) or a one week pass (US$60).

The Angkor complex is so huge and transport is recommended. We hired a driver, Teng Sreang, who is also qualified as a guide and his English is excellent.

Angkor Wat, The Bayon in Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm are the most popular sites of Angkorís to visit Ė they are the most spectacular and the most famous.

Angkor Wat itself is truly vast (built around 1150), with its wide paved causeway running on for hundreds of metres and through several courtyards up to the iconic massive towers in the centre. There are shrines to the Buddha in active use within Angkor Wat, with larger than life stone statues swathed in bright orange cloth and incense burning at their feet. This place is still very much alive rather than being a mere museum piece.

The Bayon is perhaps even more memorable because of over 200 huge, smiling, slightly sinister stone faces that look down from the templeís towers at the visitors arriving nearly 1000 years after they were first built. It is the face of Jayavarman VII, the god-king who built more of the Angkor temples than any other king before him. His face also looks down at you from the grand entrance gateway into Angkor Thom, the walled city within which the Bayon lies.

Ta Prohm, one of the temples that has been left to be reclaimed by nature, rather than being restored like the others with the foliage and trees chopped away. Ta Prohm is intensely atmospheric, with huge strangler fig trees bursting through the dark grey masonry and their roots snaking in amongst the designs and decorations of the stonework, beyond the incredibly powerful visual spectacle of Angkorís temples. (Itís also the place where they filmed Angelina Jolie in 'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider'). Also itís similar to Preah Khan, Louiseís favourite location which still is part of the jungle, being restored at the moment. Lots of different species of butterflies can be seen here.

Justinís favourite was Beng Mealea, a remote Hindu temple in the countryside a hour drive east of Siem Reap, the best place to feel like Indiana Jones, clambering up and rock hopping around the crumbling stones and exploring through a covered dark gallery (It's not recommended for the faint hearted! But you can walk around the outside instead). A guide is based there who will go through it with you for safety as it could be slippery (the area has recently been cleared of land mines).

There are numerous Cambodian kids who speak good English hanging around each of the main temple sites. They will gladly sell you postcards, books and even drinks. It's quite hard to say no if you donít want to buy but you have to be firm. You could give them something like sweets or other stuff which they can use.

The currency used is both US Dollars and Riels. Cambodians prefer to deal in US Dollars. Sometimes they will give small change in Riels. (4000 Riels = US$1) They wonít touch dirty or crumpled money so keep your notes tidy!

To enter Cambodia, you will need a visa and a passport photo which can be bought on arrival at the airport for US$20. Also keep US$25 for the international departure tax when you leave Cambodia.

A biography of Teng Sreang the guide can be found at:

His email address is

Click on photo to enlarge

Ta Prohm  Intricate carvings

Date Submitted: 02 Apr 2007

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