Tag Archives: SE Asia Travel

72 Hours In Siem Reap

3 May

Angkor Wat - sunrise with temple reflection

Angkor Wat – sunrise with temple reflection

If you’re someone who appreciates history like I do, you’ll fall in love with Siem Reap. To be sure, however, this isn’t a place merely for history buffs. If that’s not your thing, I have no doubt you can still enjoy this endlessly fascinating city immensely.

Long known to be synonymous with World Wonder, Angkor Wat (English translation: Temple City), an impressive religious complex constructed in the early 12th Century, the city has been welcoming visitors and enthusiasts for years ever since the temple complex’s declared status.
No doubt some may recall that Cambodia’s had a not too distant tortured past mired in tragedy and loss but If there’s one thing that’s evident today is that its citizens have shown incredible resilience through it all and a new generation’s at the helm with lofty ambitions, steering the nation to new frontiers.

Siem Reap is easily accessible by most modes of transport. If you’re arriving by air, you’ll be touching down at Siam Reap airport, REP, which is just on the outskirts of town and a short drive in. And as is common with most popular tourist draws, lots of choices abound when it comes to accommodation. The Privilege Floor right on National Road, one of the main thoroughfares in town, is an outstanding property which I would highly recommend. You can see my full review here. A second choice that’s quite nice, in the budget range, is the Men’s Resort and Spa mere blks away.

Once you’re checked in and settled, inquire of your hotel concierge if it’ll be possible to hire a Guide for the days ahead. I do recommend it as if you’ve come to explore what this city is famous for, its temples, there are so many and it just makes your exploration a tad more interesting and perhaps manageable if you have someone on hand who can walk you through the history and all the nuance. The Privilege Fl. was able to arrange this and a driver for us, for the duration of our stay which was excellent.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Next, head out to Angkor Archaeological Park ticketing booth to purchase your passes for entry to the temples. The fee depends on the number of days you’d like the pass for. The 3-Day pass (40 USD as of this writing) I think is an excellent value. Do note that it is advisable to have cash at the ready here. Credit Cards are accepted at some establishments but we found that those were few and far between. Luckily, USD is the main tender, so you might even withdraw a sufficient amount before you head out on your journey. Otherwise ATMs in town dispense dollars.
Now that you have entrance sorted, you may choose to relax and take things easy the remainder of the afternoon (perhaps wise to prep for the days ahead). And if you happen to be staying at The Privilege Floor all the better. Head back to Damnak Lounge as you’re likely just in time for Happy Hour. Even if you’re not a guest there, you can also enjoy the Happy Hour for a mere 9 USD (all inclusive). It comes with an assortment of appetizers, in addition, and you can enjoy your drinks out on the terrace with a nice sunset view.

Day 1: Arise early, well before dawn, and head out to Angkor Wat to capture the immaculate sunrise over the temple. To be forewarned, you’ll have plenty of company at the viewing. It’s an event that tends to draw loads of crowds. Still, it’s a brilliant sight and one worth getting up early for.
After you’re through, you may elect to go back to your hotel, rest up and have breakfast before carrying on. Or, keep it moving by grabbing something locally within the area and carry on with your tour of Angkor Wat. To avoid the hordes, the East entrance, the back of the complex, is likely a better place to commence your exploration though your Guide may have a better idea. It’s a fairly massive area, so the duration of your tour is really up to you. I would say plan on a few hours as a general guide.

After Angkor Wat you may want to break for lunch after which you can carry on to Angkor Thom nearby to see Bayon Temple. It’s more of a ruin than Angkor Wat and has some interesting, distinctive architectural characteristics (note the mood of the Buddha faces). If temple fatigue hasn’t set in for the day yet then you may proceed to Ta Prohm which you’ll immediately notice is one of the most photographed and catalogued of the temples due to its appearance in the movie, Tomb Raider, and it’s overgrown vegetation–trees merging into the structures with mightily impressive roots.

At this point, no doubt you’re ready to call it a day. Head back to your hotel for some R&R and the later head out to Khmer Kitchen for some delicious grub (advance reservations recommended). Cap off the evening there or if you’re looking for something more stimulating to keep the night going, head out to Pub Street where a plethora of nightly delights await.

Out for the catch - at Kampong Klum

Out for the catch – at Kampong Klum

Day 2: Grab your Guide and head out to the floating village at Kampong Klum. This is a very fascinating village almost entirely on stilts following the river as it empties out to the Tonle Sap. Make an afternoon of it and stop for lunch at one of the floating restaurants on the water then tour the village afterward. When you’re through and you’re still up to it, you may choose to tack on a couple additional temples in the area: Preah Ko (temple of the sacred bull) and nearby Bakong. After a day of exploration, dinner at Viroth’s should be a fine way to end the evening.

Tonle Sap

Tonle Sap

Day 3: it’s a good time to tackle some of the further afield temples, Banteay Srey and Banteay Samre. These two are roughly 45 mins outside town but offer a unique perspective in terms of their architectural style, especially Banteay Srey which was constructed in the 10th century (well before Angkor Wat). In addition, its Hindu origins have been mostly kept in tact – another interesting detail to note.
Temple fatigue’s likely set in at this point, so perhaps it’s a good idea to head back to town and check out the Angkor National Museum and other sights of interest as you round out your trip.

What and enchanting place! I fell in love with its people and culture and simply can’t wait to return. I highly recommend it.

Around Town In Luang Prabang

14 Apr

Miniature Buddha structures at Pak Ou Caves

Miniature Buddha structures at the Pak Ou Caves

I still remember blank stares I got when I recently embarked on a journey to Southeast Asia that included Laos. I’d say, yeah, I’m off to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos and the reactions were mostly oohs and ahs at the mention of the first two but then dead silence at the last and then, immediately, oh that’s cool — as if to say, wherever the heck that is. Well, I suppose to some extent somewhat understandable.

Laos certainly (and perhaps blessedly) does not have the same sort of massive tourist draw the aforementioned places command — at least not quite yet. They’re there but seemingly in manageable quantities which makes a city like Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a place that still seems fairly off the beaten path and thus ever more so enchanting. Not just for the lack of its being overrun but also the sheer Zen nature of the city and its inhabitants, a population of just about 50k.

This was the last leg of our trip, traveling from Cambodia, and thus boarded a flight from Siem Reap direct to Luang Prabang on Vietnam Airlines, one of the few carriers operating this route. After a bit of a harrowing journey, largely due to the state of our jet, an ancient Fokker 100, we touched down at Luang Prabang airport, LPQ. Getting through immigration was relatively quick and painless (a visa is necessary for entry though this can be secured upon arrival at the airport). Next, we made our way into town. The Belle Rive Hotel is where we would call home during our stay and our experience there was mostly pleasurable. See my full review.

Luang Prabang is a very charming place that offers visitors truly memorable sightseeing and

Mekong River Cruise

Mekong River Cruise

recreational experiences. Early birds would appreciate the crack of dawn monk procession at the almsgiving ceremony. I’d be remiss in not mentioning that of course this is a sacred religious event and as such spectators should be mindful of the fact and respect the tradition. It is becoming somewhat of a tourist draw so the more cognizant we all are to help preserve the integrity of the ceremony, the better.

Further afield, roughly 18 miles south of the city is where you’ll find the multi-tiered magnificent Kwang Si or Tat Kwang Xi waterfalls. In my opinion, one of the must see attractions that should be included on any itinerary. It’s quite a remarkable experience and one of the better falls I’ve seen in some time. Don’t forget your bathing suits and flip flops, there are several swimming ponds along the trail to the largest of the falls where you can take a dip — a good reprieve from the sweltering temperatures.

Kwang Si Waterfalls

Kwang Si Waterfalls

Another notable attraction I’d recommend including on your list: Pak Ou Caves, roughly 16 miles the other direction, to the north of town. Make the journey via boat upstream on the Mekong (a distance of roughly 2 hrs – the scenery is well worth it) to Pak Ou, where the caves are located. They house an impressive collection of mostly miniature Buddha sculptures which have been collected over time.
Back in town, don’t miss the impressive 16th century temple, Wat Xieng Thong and the surrounding compound. And, as dusk nears, grab a driver and negotiate a sunset cruise on the Mekong. The views are quite picturesque; I think the Mekong displays a lot of character in these parts.

I think one of the more exhilarating experiences (if you happen to be an animal lover) is the elephant trek at Elephant Village Ban Xieng Lom. Have your hotel arrange for the trip out to Ban Xieng Lom or make arrangements directly. It includes pick-up, drop-off and a Guide. Grab your bathing suit here, too; you have the option to take a dip in the pool at the resort once the tour’s over. Lunch also comes included in the package.
When you’ve returned to town, ascend to the top of Phousi Hill for excellent views of the city and breathtaking sunsets. Once you’ve had your fill, from there, descend down to the night market on Sisavangvong behind the National Museum (another point that might be of interest) for some retail therapy. Lots of crafts and goods by local artisans are sold here.

By now you’re likely working up an appetite, head to L’Elephant Restaurant (making a reservation in advance is highly recommended) for some scrumptious Laotian and international fare. I recommend trying the Laotian tasting menu for a comprehensive sampling of what Laotian cuisine’s all about. Other restaurants to try are Coconut Garden, Tamarind and top rated, The Balcony by Lanith which I review in detail.

Luang Prabang is not a place that overly simmers with nightlife as the city does have a curfew. I do understand, however, that there are places like The Bowling Alley on the edge of town that opens late into the wee hours of the morning for those that like to keep it moving. Otherwise most restaurants and bars are open till curfew commences.

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It is a city that endlessly fascinates and begs to be explored. Grab your tix and go. You’ll love it.

Clip: Almsgiving Ceremony

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