Footsteps in… Siem Reap: Temple hopping!

As M and I stepped off the plane and on to the tarmac at Siem Reap’s Angkor International Airport, we could hardly believe that we had made it all the way from Kenya (via Bangkok, Thailand). It was a beautiful sunny day, and we were excited to explore this country that is so off the beaten track for many.

Getting through Immigration was easier than we had anticipated – we had obtained visas online, and the officers stamped us through with no issues at all. Our baggage also arrived in record time, and before we knew it, we had got ourselves a taxi (you have to get a voucher from the taxi stand at the airport) and we were whizzing away towards Tara Angkor, home for the next two nights.

One tip – do not bother changing your currency into Cambodian Riels as the locals do not accept any payment other than US Dollars. You will end up with wads of Riels and not know what to do with them!

We got incredibly lucky with our taxi driver, Mr. Panha, who also doubled up as an invaluable guide to Siem Reap. We needed to book a flight from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and Panha took us to a travel agent before we checked in to our hotel, where we booked a flight within a few minutes. Yes, Siem Reap IS that efficient!

First impressions of Siem Reap – what a slice of heaven on earth! The streets are well marked, people follow traffic rules, they are cordial and friendly…the list goes on!

The travel agent was situated by the prettiest lake with ducks and swans paddling away and there were a myriad of people cycling around it – all very idyllic, and for good reason! Still in disbelief that we had made it this far, I confess that I had to pinch myself several times to make sure I was not dreaming!

Panha agreed to be our taxi driver (and guide and he was fantastic) for the rest of our stay in Siem Reap and I would recommend him any time. He is also very reasonable. I do have a contact number for anyone that may be interested so please do get in touch.

Tara Angkor Hotel is conveniently located within a few minutes walking (or tuk tuk) distance from the main hot spots in Siem Reap. The rooms are a decent size, they are clean however their concept of a king size bed is two twin beds joined together, which is most annoying. We were welcomed with a sweet concoction of coconut water and a syrup of sorts with a purple frangipani decoration, and cold towels which was a nice touch.

We checked in and 15 minutes later, Panha drove us straight to our first stop of this leg of the trip – to the mysterious Beng Melea temple about 40 Km out of Siem Reap but our first stop was a roadside restaurant where we sampled some of the most delicious Khmer cuisine I have ever tried. We had the traditional fish amoc which are fillets of fish marinated in Khmer spices, wrapped in banana leaf and baked) and a chicken curry served in coconut shell and served with steamed rice and cost less than US $5 for both M and I. Delicious.

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The walkway to the entrance of Beng Melea is adorned with restored five headed nagas, meant to protect the temple from evil. They looked so evil they sent shivers down my spine…

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Also known as the ‘Indiana Jones Temple’ this temple is covered in tree roots and moss and when exploring it, you almost feel like Indiana Jones is going to come bursting out from somewhere!

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There are large rocks, vines, and roots of trees that you hop over, and one can easily spend an afternoon exploring this vast complex. I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon as M had bought me a new Nikon D90 camera and I had fun clicking away.

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We spent almost 4 hours at Beng Melea, and once we were done temple trawling, we went back to the hotel, and booked ourselves in for a luxurious couple’s massage – which was fabulous. The spa was fully booked but the hotel was nice enough to accommodate us in one of their spare rooms which they made up into a massage room – the downside being they didn’t provide any of the usual gowns, slippers or disposable knickers but the quality of the massage more than made up for this.

That evening we watched the traditional Khmer and Apsara dances at the Cambodian Cultural Village, which Panha organised for us (he got us the tickets in advance and a fantastic table right in the front). The dancers were so elegant, and Panha had some interesting stories to tell us about each dance, which made them easier to follow.

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The village has an all you can eat buffet for a very modest price of and we asked Panha to join us for dinner, which was great as he turned out to be great company! The whole evening lasts about 3 hours, and the food is delicious. There is everything under the sun from traditional Khmer cuisine to sushi, to Chinese, to fresh made Vietnamese pho and French fries and pasta for those that want it. Well worth the visit and a good intro to Siem Reap’s cultural side.

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