Showing posts with label Siem Reap. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Siem Reap. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Cambodia: Day tour to Preah Vihear Temple from Siem Reap

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Ever since the Preah Vihear Temple in Cambodia was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008, I've been wanting to go. Among the numerous temples buult during the Khmer Emprie, Preah Vihear is said to have the most spectacular setting, built on top of a 525-meter cliff with fantastic views of the plains below.

Preah Vihear Cambodia
After many missed opportunities to visit Cambodia the past few years, I was finally back. And the first thing I asked was where to find a day tour to Preah Vihear Temple from Siem Reap. Surprisingly, it was not easy to visit the temple. First, few people know about it which is both good and bad. Good because you'll have this majestic temple built on a cliff all to yourself (so enjoy this Khmer masterpiece before tourists start the invasion). Bad because demand then to visit is not high. So the second problem is that there are no regular group tours to going to Preah Vihear. And you'll be constrained to rent a vehicle which is expensive if you are alone.

It was also not easy finding a vehicle. Well it was, but they'd usually charge you over US$200 for the day trip, too much if I was going alone. Some tour companies charge per head and won't give you car or van rates but the all-inclusive cost that includes lunch and your guide. Plus I couldn't find people who wanted to go really badly to share the costs with me. While I got some people interested, they'd get scared away by the rates. A Cambodian friend also told me that they got to rent a car several months ago for just US$100. So the overcharging was quite evident.

Good thing a day before my visit, a local partner offered to call a friend to get a friendly rate. And a friendly rate I got! Regular price is US$150 (contact details below). So the visit to Preah Vihear was on!

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Banteay Srei is a red sandstone Khmer temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva
Preah Vihear Cambodia
The inner enclosure of Banteay Srei is exquisitely carved with decorative motifs that include kala (a monster symbolic of time), dvarpala (an armed protector of the temple) and devata (demi-goddess)
It takes nearly four hours to get to Preah Vihear. Along the way, you could opt to pass by temples of the Angkor complex, especially a bit far from the main temple group like Banteay Srei, the exquisitely carved red sand stone temple dedicated to Shiva. But note that you will need an Angkor pass to visit, a day-pass costs US$20.

Before you could visit the temple, you have to pass by the ticket office at the foot of the mountain. Entrance is free (as of posting), but you have to register with your passport and they will issue you a ticket which you will have to show at two ticket inspection areas, at the foot of the mountain and right before the temple. Despite roads being well-paved most of the way, your rented vehicle, unless it's a 4x4, will not be allowed up since it can get really steep. So you will have to hire a motorcyle taxi (US$5 per person round-trip) or a pick-up truck (US$25 round-trip) also at the ticketing office to get you up to Preah Vihear Temple.

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Preah Vihear Cambodia
By now, it should be nearing lunch. So expect it to be extremely hot and humid. The temple complex is nearly a kilometer long, oriented along a north-south axis. So in total, you will be walking close to two kilometers under the sun. But it's most definitely worth it.

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Preah Vihear Cambodia
Preah Vihear Temple is a series of causeways, steps, gopuras (entrance pavilions) and courtyards before you reach the inner sanctuary. It takes about an hour and a half to two hours to make it to the main sanctuary and back to the drop off point where the motorcycle taxi waits for you.

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Preah Vihear Cambodia
Just like most Hindu temples in Cambodia, Preah Vihear was converted to a Buddhist temple. Despite being ruined today, Buddhist pilgrims still visit and pray at its inner sanctuary. I saw a group of pilgrims chanting led by a young Buddhist monk who would bless them after their prayers.

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Preah Vihear Cambodia
View of the Thai border from the Preah Vihear causeway
You will go down the same route. And as you near the end, while walking along the causeway, you will notice the Thai flag flying a few meters on the right, a reminder that Preah Vihear Temple has been at the center of a Cambodia-Thailand border dispute for the past few decades. The border with Thailand is just a few meters away and access to Preah Vihear was easier from the Thai side. But I was told the Cambodian side decided to close the border as things got a bit bad.

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Wild boar
After my visit, we went straight to lunch. My driver had suggested a very popular restaurant 20 kilometers away called Phkay Prouk Sroem Restaurant. They serve exotic dishes such as wild boar, deer, rabbit, snake and monitor lizard. The meats are sautéed with eggplant (a small green variety), kaffir lime leaves, chili and maras prov (a viariety of basil). I ordered wild boar and my driver got monitor lizard. And what surprised me is that I only paid US$11 for our food and drinks, about US$5 per person. And to think the serving size of each dish was good for two!

Back in Siem Reap, we passed by Pre Rup Temple before calling it a day. It's one of the favorite places to catch the sunset. But unfortunately, there was none today. We left before 7 a.m. and we were back before 5 p.m., with a lot of time to spare before my evening flight back to Manila.

Phkay Prouk Sroem Restaurant
Telephone No. 012 63 83 78 / 064 677 7727
012 63 66 17 / 0888 48 88 28

So Chet (English Driver)
Mobile No. 012 331 664 / 097 77 55 743

Monday, January 14, 2013

Join me on a tour to Siem Reap, Cambodia (May 23-26, 2013)

Take a ride on a traditional wooden boat on Tonle Sap Lake, watch the sunset on Bakheng Hill, experience the night markets of Siem Reap, witness Angkor Wat's magnificent beauty and splendor and immerse yourselves in the breath-taking cultural experience that is Cambodia! Discover Cambodia with Asia Society and Ivan About Town this May 23-26, 2013!

For my next international tour, I'll be collaborating with Asia Society to bring you to Siem Reap, Cambodia to visit the temples of Angkor! If you register early or form a group of five, we'll give you a discount! Details in the Asia Society webpage. E-mail for more information.

Related entry
Cambodia: Day tour to Preah Vihear Temple from Siem Reap

Monday, October 31, 2011

Cambodia: Traveling to Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and the pinnacle of classical Khmer architecture. The temple is actually one of several in the temple complex of Angkor, situated several kilometers from Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor.

My first major Southeast Asian trip in 2006 was a two-week journey that took me to five countries: Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. There were just a few travel blogs then. And mine was amusingly casual and conversational. Little did I know that my wanderlust for travel would bring me places. One of my stops during that trip was Angkor.

Getting to Siem Reap
There are several ways to get to Siem Reap. The most convenient of course is by air. There are direct flights from major Southeast Asian cities including Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately for the Philippines, there are no direct flights to Cambodia.

I took the land route from Phnom Penh which is a six-hour bus ride. You can also access Siem Reap by land from Bangkok via the Aranyaprathet-Poipet border crossing. I remember my bus trip lasted about nine hours. Or you can also hop on a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh which is about six-hours. Then take the six-hour bus to Siem Reap.

Another option is to take the river ferry between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap which is also six hours, But this will take you through the scenic Tonle Sap River and Lake.

Visiting Angkor
The temple complex of Angkor is massive. The different temples are actually several kilometers apart. And unless you have a lot of time to spare and are used to walking great distances, it's best to hire a motodup (motorcycle taxi), tuktuk or moto-romauk (motorcycle trailer), or van to take you around. You can also opt to rent a bike.

Note that foreigners are required to purchase passes to be able to visit Angkor. There's a one-day (US$20), three-day (US$40) and seven-day (US$60) pass. With the tuktuk, I was able to cover a lot of ground with the one-day pass. But others visitors would get longer passes to be able to explore the archaeological park more thoroughly or walk between temples. The main park entrance is three kilometers from Siem Reap.

There are two popular routes you can follow. The Petit Circuit, aside from Angkor Wat, Bakheng and Angkor Thom, includes Thommanon, Chaosay Tevoda, Spean Thma, Hospital Chapel, Ta Keo, Ta Nei, Ta Prohm, Kutisvara, Banteay Kdei, Srah Srang and Prasat Kravan. The Grand Circuit, in addition to those mentioned includes Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, Krol Ko, Neak Pean and Preah Khan. With the motodup, I was able to do the Grand Circuit in a day. Read the entry of my 2006 visit to the temples of Angkor.

Related entry
Cambodia: Day tour to Preah Vihear Temple from Siem Reap

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Cambodia: The temples of Angkor... a few hours in heaven

Weather forecast today: Mixed clouds and sun with scattered thunderstorms. High 88F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%. I woke up this morning at 5:30 a.m. and was ready to leave at 6 a.m. since the motorcycle was picking me up at that time, only to find out that it was drizzling. And it seemed this was the type that won't stop.

I checked the weather forecast since I was thinking of postponing it to the next day. It was going to rain as well. And it's supposed to be the dry season. I think it's some sort of blessing from heaven since the Khmer New Year is in a few days. If it didn't stop raining at 8 a.m. I told myself, I'd take the risk and check out the sites nevertheless. Anyway, I had breakfast at a popular tourist restaurant. I ordered a beef sandwich. Unlike the Philippines where our sandwich bread is usually tasty bread, in Cambodia, as well as in Vietnam, they use baguettes, since they were former French colonies. Expect a one-foot sandwich to arrive. I paid US$2 for it but I'm sure you could get it cheaper at less popular places. It was great!

The gamble I made paid off! Even though it was drizzling, it wasn't that much a bother. But because it was drizzling, Angkor Wat was quite empty. No droves of tourists! But seriously, I am amazed with the number of people the temples of Angkor are able to attract. I mean there were busloads of them speaking in different tongues. Listen up DOT, this UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts more people than the entire island of Boracay. And each pays US$20 for a one-day pass, US$40 for a three-day pass or US$60 for a one-week pass! So I suggest we start focusing on inbound cultural experiences as well as heritage tours and not just Boracay. Foreigners know Boracay already and thus, there in no need to promote it. You should find new destinations and work on them instead. Maybe even help have some more UNESCO sites declared in the Philippines.

Anyway, Angkor Wat was breathtaking. It's definitely a must visit for any trip to the temples of Angkor. Constructed by Suryavarman II in the mid-12th century, the apex of Khmer military and political dominance in the region, it was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. But today, images of Buddha can be found.

The walk across the moat was simply awe-inspiring. It was as if you were about to enter Heaven. And the chants from Buddhist monks really set the mood. The massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five beehive-like towers rising 65 meters makes you wonder how on earth that generation of citizens of the world were able to construct these monuments when today, new monumental structures are a rarity.

We then entered the Angkor Thom South Gate. Welcoming you was a row of soldiers and a large monument of Jayavarman VII. Angkor Thom is a 3 square kilometer walled and moated city and the last capital of the Angkorian empire. Inside Angkor Thom, I visited Bayon (below), the other must visit temple of Angkor. It is most known for the 37 towers with carved faces oriented towards the cardinal points. A topic of debate, many say the faces are a composite of Jayavarman VII and Buddha.

Also inside the Angkor Thom are the Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King among many other structures.

We exited the Victory Gate (left) and stopped over at Thommanom, a small but attractive temple built at the same time as Angkor Wat. A few meters away was the Ta Keo. Down the road was Ta Prohm (below), another Jayavarman VII built temple which saw the limelight as Lara Croft's Tomb Raider temple. The thing I liked about my visits to the different sites was there was traditional Khmer music meeting us all the time. Just like our blind rondallas in the Philippines, the musicians were victims of landmines playing on traditional Khmer instruments.

I had an early lunch in front of Ta Prohm. I had another sandwich, this time pork. But since we were in a heavy-traffic tourist area, expect costs to go up. It was US$2.50 and US$1 for a 500ml bottle of water. Imagine the profit they make charging at US prices with their costs much lower. See what tourism can do. And to think the big serving of rice toppings I ate yesterday night and tonight at this new restaurant in front of CCB Bank Siem Reap, Sivutha Street, is just US$1 each!

Further down the road was Pre Rup (below right), another Hindu temple which is architecturally and artistically superior. Next was East Mebon, a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. Ta Som was a few kilometers away. It is the most distant temple on the grand circuit, they have two set routes around Angkor, the small tour and the grand tour which tourists can pick from depending on time.

Ta Som (below left) is currently being restored with the help of the World Monuments Fund. Imagine hundreds and thousands of dollars pouring in Cambodia to help restore these temples.

I also noticed each site had a counterpart donor like Japan, China, France and India, who helped fund the restoration of the sites. I wonder why the Philippines does not ask for Japanese funding to rebuild Inramuros since the treasures were flattened as a result of the Second World War anyway.

The US should fund also since it was their carpet bombing that flattened most of Manila. Spain should help also since they benefited from this former colony, once the Pearl of the Orient, for over three centuries! But I guess government is too busy with their own useless squabbles to even think of preserving heritage.

The last two major sites on the grand ciruit were the Neak Pean, a small island temple, and the Preah Khan (below), a really huge monastic complex which was highly-explorable thanks to the many carvings and passage ways. We went back in Angkor Thom via the North Gate. Then it was off to Siem Reap town.

It's great seeing so much heritage. But a sad note was the headless statues all over the place. Looters really made a lot of money from Angkor. Oh these collectors!

Anyway, it looks like I will have a lot of time to relax. My bus to Bangkok leaves at 7 a.m. on Monday so I'll be free the whole day tomorrow.
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