Saturday, May 30, 2009

Siem Reap - the charming city

1. The main purpose of my visit to Siem Reap is to see the magnificent Angkor Wat, major temples and ruins in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Since it is a 4D3N tour, we would need to plan the route properly so that we can visit all the key temples of Siem Reap within 2 days.

2. For the first day of tour, we decided to go by tuk tuk so that 2 of them can rest and enjoy after one whole day of driving the day before. I was tasked to get a good rate for a guide service and tuk-tuk (I recommended Heang) to bring us for the temples tour. Once the rates were settled, Heang brought us to the nearby local coffee shop for the Cambodia beef kuek-tiao soup and coffee (hot water needed as it is far too thick).

3. As advised by our tour guide Sokha, we proceeded for the inner circuit of temples in Angkor Thom, Central Angkor Thom (Bayon, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Lepar King), Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat in the first day, while keeping the outlying temples Banteay Srei, Phnom Kulen and Beng Mealea for the 2nd day by Pajero. Admission pass is US$20 per pax per day, or US$40 for 3 days, covering the key temples including Banteay Srei. Separate charges are levied for the rest of the outlying ones. Visitors are advised to carry tickets at all times as it will be checked at each park entry and major temples.

4. Having a good guide is helpful in understanding the bas-reliefs and history of the temples, otherwise the temples are just lots of impressive piles of rocks. We have Sokha with us @ US$20 per day and begun our tour first to Angkor Thom (means Great City). Built by King Jayavarman VII (1181-1219), Angkor Thom, the last capital of Khmer Empire razed by the Chams, was a fortified city consisting residences of priests, palace officials and military, plus buildings for kingdom administration. After King Jayavarman VII recaptured the city from the Cham invaders in 1181, he began a massive building campaign across the empire constructing Angkor Thom as his new capital city of around one million people. He began with the existing structures of Baphuon and Phimeanakas, and built a mega enclosed city around them, adding the outer wall and some great temples, and Bayon is located at the centre of the city. There are 5 gates, each crowned with 4 giant faces, to the city. Victory gate leads to the Royal Palace and the South gate where most tours begin (we are there). As the month of May is considered a low season for Siem Reap especially due to the current financial crisis, so we became very popular among the souvenirs sellers since there are less tourists and visitors at the temples.

5. In Angkor Thom, Bayon is the centre of the city and Jayavarman VII’s state-temple plus representing the pinnacle of his massive building campaign, is extremely impressive and unique, with its many towers of 4 faces of Buddha, and in the centre 8 faces of Buddha. Built as a Buddhist temple, we were told that there were 54 towers originally representing 54 provinces in Cambodia, but over the years due to wars, left only over 20 towers left standing now. The bas-reliefs starting from the East gate showing the daily life of the Khmers, depicting victorious battles of Khmers over the Chams, supported by Chinese army. Among the various scenic spots, I like the most was the one where I have a closest encounter with the Buddha, this is the best shot I have so far.

6. The temperature in Siem Reap in May can be as high as 34 degree c, and the sun is really intensive and burning, so do remember to wear light, bring cap, sunglasses and mineral water. After a quick tea break, we continued our journey to Baphuon (under restoration), interesting animal carvings along the walkway entrance and tried to figure out the outline of the huge reclining Buddha, and then up to the top of Phimeanakas (below pic). You can see me proudly standing at the top of the sandstone structure "Vimean Akas Tower" as though I am at the top of the world. From this position, we have a good view of Baphuon and the surrounding areas. Next, we strolled to the 350 m Terrace of the Elephants, which was a giant viewing stand for public ceremonies at that time; it is just like the platform at our City Hall in Padang for the annual National Day Parade.

7. After a nice lunch with icy coconut drinks and beers, we visited the jungle temple of Ta Prohm, outside the walls of Angkor Thom on the Eastern side. Built around 1186, this Buddhist temple gives visitors the mysterious feeling of an Indiana Jones movie, the ups and downs, skirting around the holes and trees, we went through the route really like the adventurer Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones movie. The temples almost completely invaded by forests, many parts of had crumpled, and some kept together by tree roots that snake around the temple structures. Looking at this, man would realize how tree fought their way through for survival and alter the structure designs.

8. At about 2 pm, we left Ta Prohm for Angkor Wat (city temple). Angkor Wat is visually, artistically and architecturally most breathtaking of all Angkor temples. It is a massive 3-tiered prymaid crowned by 5 lotus-like towers of 65 m in height. Angkor Wat is the centerpiece of visit to the temples of Angkor. At the apex of Khmer political and military dominance in the region, Suryavarman II (1112-1152) constructed it in the form of a massive temple-mountain, served as his state-temple and funerary temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, surrounded by a 190 m wide moat, the Hindu temple measures 1.5 km by 1.3 km. There are many bas-reliefs and carvings, some 2000 distinctively rendered apsara (more than 30 different head gears) carvings along the temple walls throughout the temple, depicting stories and characters from Hindu mythology and the historical wars of Suryavarman II, it is quite a pity that we had little time to visit, except the Churning of the Ocean of Milk as we were too tired and thirsty at the end of the whole day journey and needed rest and drinks, and also need to move on to see the next highlight - sunset in Siem Reap.

9. After Angkor Wat, we proceeded to see the sunset at Phnom Bakheng. But the sun seen to playing “hide and seek” with us and quietly hide behind the clouds so we did not get to see the full sunset, but, it was still quite a beautiful sight that worth waiting for together with a thick crowd under the hot sun.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Maiden trip to Cambodia -Siem Reap, 11 May 09

1. Have never thought of going to Cambodia, and frankly, it has never been in my travel radar as a compelling destination to visit until I got to learn more about it, established contacts with the first Cambodian official in Singapore and gained interests with its history when helping Neo Chian and Sunny in getting the travel permits for their 2-month driving adventure Asean On Wheels from Apr-Jun 09. Since the 2 of them would be there in May, I decided to take the opportunity to join them and explore one of the 7 wonders in the world – Angkor Wat.

2. On May 11, I boarded the SilkAir plane and commenced my journey to Siem Reap. Surprisingly, the plane was full, majority are tourists, and I asked myself - where is the recession? When landed in Siem Reap at 3.45 pm, I was surprised to see the airplane parked so near to the arrival hall (within 3 min walking distance) which looks more like a resort-style accommodation than a terminal. We all know that first impression is very important, and Siem Reap Airport terminal gives visitors a very comfortable, serene and relax feeling that you are coming here for holiday, and I like it straightaway. My luggage was one of the first on the conveyor belt and I passed through the immigration counter smoothly.

3. I am completely new to Cambodia and Siem Reap and worried of not knowing how and where I would end up if 2 of them didn’t arrive in time, so i was advised to pre-book the accommodation @ Ei8htrooms Guesthouse and it turned out to be a lovely place to stay in with very friendly people around us. It was US$20 a night plus free airport transfer, unlike the 3-star hotels which I asked Singapore travel agents to check and that cost as much as US$65. I was glad to see the airport transfer done by a tuk-tuk, the main mode of transport here. Even though I have been traveling around in China and nearby regions for some years, first time taking tuk-tuk from airport to city, anyway it was a nice, sunny and windy (a little sandy) ride to the guesthouse by their contracted driver Heang, a young man who is polite, friendly and knows what he wants to do in the next 3 years.

4. I like the setting of the guesthouse the moment I arrived at the lobby which reminds me of a spa lounge with a garden courtyard and the rooms come with mosquito netting bed.

My first time sleeping on a bed with mosquito netting, everything seen to be new and fresh to me in Siem Reap. A good start. All visitors are to take off shoes before entering, so the entire place is clean and neat. To us, it is really value for money, plus their service is prompt and efficient with soft-spoken receptionists. Most importantly, they provided us with an essential facility – secured parking place for the Pajero.

5. Our coordination and timing are pretty good even though they were late a little due to a wrong turn. I am very happy to see them in the foreign land safe and sound after a 2 weeks’ drive. After a quick wash up, we walked across to the pub street (like our Clarke Quay) to look for food, and happened to see a very nice boutique hotel named Be with only 4 rooms coupled with an art gallery and western restaurant, and another Hotel named One with only ONE mega beautiful suit just next door (same owner), then had dinner at the nearby buzzy restaurant alley, a very touristy place full of angmos, souvenir shops and little children selling flowers and seeking donations.

6. We learnt that the recent financial crisis has affected the tourism traffic by at least 30% as we can see some of the hotels are quite empty and in total darkness. The Massage outlets are not crowded at all, and we had a good bargain for an hour body massage @ US$5 at the street near the Little India Outlet.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


After having travelled with Neo Chian and Sunny for a brief joureny in Siem Reap recently and seen the seriousness of them blogging plus the benefits of penning thoughts down before forgetting, I decided to set up a blog to share my learnings and experiences acquired during my overseas postings and travel adventure.

It is never too late to try new things and to learn. The moment we stop learning, the moment we are ossified.

I'm live

Finally, got my blog set up and ready to fly. Join me on my tales ...