Escape To Angkor

Siem Reap, approximately a four-hour direct flight away from Shanghai, is a buzzing little city in North-western Cambodia that is famed for being the gateway to the Angkor region. The area is covered in more than one thousand temples, the largest of which being Angkor Wat. Even though it was built in the early 12th century, it is still a modern day symbol of Cambodia, and should be at the top of every tourist’s bucket list.
This was our second visit to Siem Reap, the first time being in 2007, and we certainly noticed a big changed. The tourism industry has transformed this once sleepy city into a loud and boisterous party town filled with restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, bars, pubs and clubs; especially around the aptly named Pub Street. In the evening, the area is crowded with tourists from around the world, especially rowdy young backpackers taking part in organised pubcrawls. Although this is an area well know for its live bands, drinking culture and nightlife, we enjoyed the area much better during the daytime, when we were able to walk around the area, buy local trinkets, snack in the local restaurants that are dotted around the streets and experience a Cambodian massage. We particularly enjoyed trying the many different variations on the famous local dish, Amok fish curry, which is a rich, thick yellow curry served in a coconut.
Located a short tuk tuk ride away from the city centre is Angkor Archaeological Park. You must buy either a one-day pass or a three-day pass, at a slightly discounted price to enter the site. We realised that the area inside the park is so vast, and heaving with temples, that visitors would struggle to cover enough ground in one day. You can negotiate a price with your tuk tuk driver to take you around for the day, or the full three days. It is also possible to hire a guide to take you around the temples, which we highly recommend, to truly get an understanding of the site’s colourful history and the importance of the ancient buildings. If you want to explore the park independently, you can rent a bicycle, and thanks to the newly paved roads, it is quite a comfortable option, if you can stand the humidity. We visited the Angkor National Museum, during our time in Siem Reap to learn more about the pre-Angkor and post-Angkor reign, which was very beneficial, and if you want to tour the temples on your own, this should be your first stop. There are many statues and relics in the museum, along with explanations that will help your understanding of the area and the period of time.
Once inside Angkor Archaeological Park, Angkor Wat welcomes you upon turning the first bend in the road. Surrounded by a lake, the reflection of the water gives the viewer an almost kaleidoscopic view of the scenery. Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious monuments in the world, and is an awe-inspiring testament to the faith of bygone generations. We noticed that it was markedly busier that on our first visit eight years ago, and any photos you take of the temple will be full of people. However, it is definitely quieter first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening, so we suggest visiting during these times. As the temple is made up of many corridors and chambers, it is possible to find calmer little nooks and crannies where you can sit and soak up the atmosphere. Beautiful walls with stone carvings of different royal and religious scenes are extremely intricate and impressive.
Two other sites that are very much worth visiting are Ta Prohm and Bayon. Ta Prohm is perhaps the busiest temple we encountered, with scores of tourists lining up to take a photo beside the famous tree that was used in the filming of Tomb Raider, a film in which Angelina Jolie starred. The trees have pushed their way out through the ancient temple, making a break for the sky and leaving the stone building blocks in ruins. Instead of trying to restore the complex to its previous grandeur, it has been left this way, partly leading to why this temple is so popular with tourists who are looking for a photogenic vista. Massive carvings of stone faces, which look out in four different decorations on jutting high towers, dominate Bayon. You are able to climb the steep and narrow stairs right to the top of the complex and walk amongst the godlike statues.
If you are looking for a truly remarkable experience when visiting Angkor Archaeological Park, you should sign up for the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon that takes place at the end of the year (Web: www. You are able to run around the site and view many of the famous temples on foot. Money for the charity race is also donated to local charities that work to help a country that experienced so much devastation only a short while ago.