Angkor Wat has been on my bucket list for years and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to visit it. It didn’t take multiple flights, trains, and buses to get there; it was only minutes away from the Siem Reap International Airport. Upon landing, I was expecting to see jungles (perhaps from the Mayan ruins that I had visited in Mexico) but it was totally not the case. It looked more like rice fields and scattered houses with dirt roads.
We landed just before the scheduled time – 9:45 AM and there was a lot of people in the right-hand area filling out the visa on arrival application. To save time and passport page, I got the e-visa prior to arrival 🙂 The evisa process was easy and fast: fill out the application, upload a passport photo, submit payment all can be done online at: https://evisa.gov.kh/ We received the evisa by email in less than 24 hours! I wish obtaining visa from other countries are this easy! Since we already have our visas, we went directly to the passport control/immigration lines and were near empty. We got our Cambodia stamp, picked up our luggage, and walked out. I had arranged airport pick up with the hotel – Lotus Blanc Hotel (they only offered free airport pick up and not drop off). The staff from the hotel was there with my name and he walked us over to wait at the entrance gate. He drove the car over and off we go to the hotel in less than 15 minutes of drive.
On the way to the hotel, I saw many tuk-tuks and motorcycles and trash on dirt roads; reminded me of China back in the days. Once we turned onto the “national highway”, it is filled with upscale modern hotels on both sides of the main road. We arrived Lotus Blanc Hotel and given a welcome drink – it was so gingery and sour that I couldn’t drink it after a sip!
The reception area was spacious and no other guests there :O
We arrived prior to check-in time but our room was ready so we were glad that we didn’t need to wait! Our room was on the 3rd floor, spacious and clean:
Each room has a balcony but we didn’t spend much time there as our days were filled with sightseeing!
We went to the hotel restaurant – Lotus Blanc for lunch as we didn’t feel like to walk out and then have to rush back for our half-day tour at 1 pm. There was a lot of French tourists in the restaurant having lunch. We opted out of the buffet and instead order by dishes. First, the mango shake, it was so refreshing and the slice of mango was so sweet and smooth!!!
I ordered the beef lok-lak, a traditional Cambodian dish that I always order in Cambodian restaurants back home. Guess what, the beef lok-lak was totally different than what I used to have at home!!! The beef lok-lak in the US is grilled sliced beef whereas in Cambodia, it’s beef cubes -.- Nevertheless, the beef was good quality and tasty.
For appetizer, we ordered the mango salad with fish. It was a good appetizer dish the sweet and sour sliced mango, cucumber, pepper, and carrots.
Jason ordered another traditional Cambodia dish – fish amok. It was steamed fish with curry sauce inside a coconut. This was super delicious! The curry sauce with fresh coconut gave the coconut aroma and yet not over power the sweetness of the fish. The fish was steamed perfectly that the texture was still smooth and not overcooked. We highly recommend fish amok!!!
After our delicious lunch: 2x mango shake (around $4.50 each), 1 appetizer, and 2 entrees cost $45.65 in a 5-stars hotel! In Cambodia, we found the cost ratio of drinks versus food are very out of proportion; drinks can be half or same price as the main course!!! We finished lunch and walked back to the reception lobby where we checked in, note that Lotus Blanc has two reception lobbies so sometimes it was confusing on where to wait for the tour. We were there by 1 pm and waited and waited….no one show up. Suddenly, I felt something was wrong and I checked my email confirmation again and OMG I now noticed the dates were off! Perhaps due to the overnight flight from Male to Singapore to Siem Reap, I booked the wrong dates yikes; we arrived on the 14th not 15th!!! I walked up to the concierge desk and asked the lady to call the tour company for me – Happy Angkor Tour. The owner is Mony that I had communicated via email, I told him that I made a mistake on the days but unfortunately all his guides and drivers were booked for today so no tour for us today 🙁 He was very nice to rearrange instead of a half-day tour tomorrow to move to a full day tour.
The concierge came to the rescue, she called around and found a driver available for the half-day tour. I told her I only need to see Angkor Thom and it’s okay without an English tour guide. She confirmed the driver for $30 USD and we waited for 15 minutes or so. The driver arrived and it was a relief that we didn’t waste half a day! The driver works for the hotel according to him with his very limited English. He was really trying to communicate with us but we had a very hard time figuring out what he was trying to say with few words of English and with very heavy accent. He said a lot of workers go over to Thailand to work as they earn at least 4 times as much as in Cambodia. He told us that he is making $100 a month. We found it odd that he disclosed his salary to us but maybe as a hint for us to tip him to help him out. He dropped us off at a huge building and said “ticket”. The building has tens of ticket booths so they must have a lot of tourists! I purchased the 3 days pass which cost $62 USD each; they accept credit card.
Then, we were on our way to Angkor Thom, I was super excited! There was no “entrance gate” that I had imagined but rather stopped on the road and our driver showed our passes to the ticket checking staff. Few more minutes of drive, we arrived at one of the ancient entrances where it was filled with statues on both sides of the road. Our driver dropped us off and he said he’ll wait on the other side of the entrance so we can take photos. What a beautiful entrance!
Now I really feel I was in Angkor Wat, it was spectacular!
This narrow entrance is for two-way traffic so each take its turn without any traffic lights. Once we were done with photos, we walked in along with cars with limited space.
Our driver was right there waiting for us, we hopped in the car, and another minute of drive, we arrived Angkor Thom!!! I have to admit that I didn’t do much homework prior as I booked an English tour guide so I was relying on the guide to guide us. Without a guide, we were on our own to navigate the magnificent temples of Angkor Thom, first stop – Bayon. Bayon is famous for its smiling Buddha faces! We got there around 2:30 pm and it was a lot less tourists than I have expected and seen from pictures. With a little bit of wait, we were able to photographs without other tourists 😀
I was very impressed by the detailed cravings in the temples from columns to walls to doors!
Awesome cravings like this can be found in every corners and walls in the temple that added depth and 3-D effect.
Look at the details in just this doorway, it was unbelievable how they craved out all those details by hands almost a thousand years ago!
One of the towers in Bayon with 4 Buddha smiling faces.
To give you an idea of the size of one of those towers…..how ancient people built this???
A Buddha drawing inside one of those towers:
Bayon alone is massive, we didn’t know where we were, we just follow along the path through towers one after another.
Eventually, we walked out to another side of the temple. See all those towers each with 4 smiling faces of Buddha.
We turned back to where we started and then continued on to Baphuon.
It was a long open stone path to Baphuon with no shade at all, good opportunity to get tan haha!
At the end of the stone path, there were staffs there checking ticket and also dress code. For all temples that you can climb up, you need to adhere to the dress code – covering knee and shoulder. I was prepared with my light cardigan 😉
Doorways and windows are the must photograph spots!
We didn’t see much tourists until our climb up the Baphuon.
Thanks to the wooden stairway they added, it made the climb much easier and safer. However, it was still very steep and I dare not to look down!
Look at those huge boulders stacked up to create the temple’s towers, must be well coordinated to place the right size and shape.
Looking down, see how steep it is??
There is another flight of stair to the very top of the temple but it was closed. The very top has this door, it looked like the doorway to heaven.
We walked around the 2nd story of the temple to enjoy the architecture plus its scenery below – very lush.
See that long stone way to get to the temple that we walked across? Looking down from above, we can see the massive structures of this temple alone!
The back side of Baphuon once we walked down.
The same stone way to leave the temple and we noticed how this stone way was built, supported by smaller columns as like a bridge!
Follow along the path got us to the entrance of Phimeanakas.
A lot smaller and not accessible to get up the temple but it’s beautiful indeed.
Used to be a pair of trees 🙁
Next, another famous monument/structure of Angkor Thom: Terrace of the Elephants. The walls there are filled with elephants craved out from rocks.
A wall of Buddha statues…how many can you count?
After the Terrace of the Elephants, we walked over to the grass parking lot as instructed by our driver and we found him there. We told him it was amazing!!! Then, we drove us to one of the entrances of Angkor Wat as it was good timing to see its golden color in the late afternoon.
We didn’t go in because we’ll save Angkor Wat for tomorrow with Sokunna and them.
On our way back to the hotel, I asked the driver to stop by a supermarket so we can stock up on drinks. We got mango and coconut juices 🙂 Once we arrived the hotel, we thanked our driver and tipped him $5 USD, he was very appreciative of the tips. Brian, Sokunna, and her family have arrived at the hotel already so we joined them and took the tuk-tuk out to Pub Street.
It was like a 15 minute ride and passed by many local restaurants and shops.
Arrived Pub Street, it wasn’t as busy as I thought perhaps we were early!
We walked around and checked out souvenir shops, too bad nothing stand out for us so we didn’t get any souvenirs :O We did not dare to get drinks from those fruit stands as we were super cautious on what we eat; we don’t want to get sick during vacation.
We walked for 7 minutes to get to Khmer Grill Restaurant, highly rated in TripAdvisor. We have 8 of us and thanks to Sokunna’s family who talked to the staff in Cambodian, they quickly jointed the tables and setup for us. The drinks ranging from $3 fruit smoothies to $5 latte; Jason’s green tea latte was just so-so.
The entrees were $3.5 fried rice to $5 rice plates. You see how out of proportion drinks and food prices are? I told Sokunna about the beef lok-lak I had at lunch and she said oh in Cambodia that’s what beef lok-lak is beef cubes….LOL!!! Ahhh so instead I ordered a spicy stir fried chicken and it was just okay, the taste was good but the ingredient weren’t. We also ordered grilled shrimp and squid and they were not impressive. After the meal, we don’t get how it got 1,297 reviews with 4.5 stars hum…. Yes it was cheap but the ingredient and flavors were just okay.
After dinner, we took the tuk-tuk back to our hotel, the city was lively at night and we felt very safe in Siem Reap!