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Aug04

Exploring the sites, and tastes, of Cambodia

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Exploring the sites, and tastes, of Cambodia

You’ve no doubt seen images of Angkor Wat and may have watched Ta Prohm on tomb raider and yes, the temples of Cambodia really are that amazing, but there’s a lot more to see in Siem Reap than just temples.

We started our Cambodia experience with a cooking class just a short stroll from our hotel. It was a very pleasant morning learning the fine art of Khmer cooking, including rice paper rolls and Amok fish curry. Then, of course, we all sat down to enjoy our creations with a cold beer. 

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The afternoon was spent at our own leisure; swimming in the pool at the hotel, shopping in markets, sipping coffee or hailing a Tuk Tuk for a trip to surrounding attractions. Siem Reap is very easy to navigate and has so much to offer in the way of restaurants, bars and shopping. It certainly has a unique charm to it.

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Sunrise really is the best time to see Angkor Wat, so a few of us were up early to try and see the ruins at first light. I grabbed us a Tuk Tuk and away we went. I didn't realise the ticket box location had changed and the process of getting tickets took a little longer than anticipated, but we got it sorted then headed into Angkor Wat and joined the throng of people waiting for sunrise. It really is quite spectacular.

After sunrise it was breakfast and a well-earned coffee. Then we waited for the rest of the group to arrive. Once all together we started our official tour of the temples. Our first stop was Angkor Wat, of course. We listened to the story of the carvings that adorn the walls and the history of the temples. Originally built as a Hindu temple in honour of the God Vishnu, by the end of the 12th Century it had become a Buddhist temple. It is the largest religious monument in the world.

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After Angkor Wat it was of to Bayon. Built in the late 12th century by the Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, it was the official State Temple and the centre of Angkor Thom. Climbing the stairs to the upper terrace brings you to the famous 'face towers' of Bayon. They are the smiling faces of the deity Lokesvara. The views from up here are just surreal.

A quick stop at the elephant terrace and we were back to the city for a beautiful lunch and a well-earned rest before heading back to the temple complex to see Ta Prohm, the 'Tomb Raider' temple. Walking through this complex, in its untouched state, you see the power of Mother Nature. It is a spectacular site with trees growing through the stone walls. There are many little nooks and crevices you can sit in and just take in the serene surrounds. This is my favourite temple - I could easily spend a day just chilling out here.

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Our next day was spent cruising on the Tonle Sap, a huge inland lake that along with the Tonle Sap River connects Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and further on to connect to the mighty Mekong River. Boat was one of the main forms of transport from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap during the wet season. It was a nice morning cruising the waterways observing the villages that live on the lake and rely on the lake for their very existence.

That evening we enjoyed a dinner and traditional Apsara dance show - telling stories of Khmer culture through music and dance. A perfect way to end a five-day tour in Siem Reap. 

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Want to see Cambodia for yourself? Find out more about our tour to Vietnam with a Cambodia add on here.

Adrian Duncan is a tour host with Two’s A Crowd.

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