Sunrise at Bayon.

Angkor Wat for Cambodian New Year

Siem Reap, Cambodia

April 14, 2015 – April 17, 2015

Full Siem Reap Photo Gallery Here.

After Phnom Penh we boarded a bus to Siem Reap, Cambodia, the home of Angkor Wat.  Angkor Wat is one the most recognizable archeological sites in the world, and  we would be there for the Cambodian New Years Celebration.  Cambodian New Year is a three day celebration, taking place mid April, and seems to be the biggest celebration of the year.  Siem Reap, and Angkor Wat are a popular travel destination during the celebration, and we decided to fight the crowds in order to join in the party.

Krista, Bre and I boarded a bus for the six hour trip to Siem Reap.  Traveling the roads of Cambodia are an experience of their own, over-packed vehicles, crazy loads precariously balanced, motorcycles with four or five people on them, roof passenger seating a common sight.  I expected to see some crazy sights on the road on this trip, but Cambodia by far had the most.  We also witnessed multiple motorbike accidents, thankfully all involved seemed to be okay.

Over crowded vehicles and helmet less motorcyclists were a constant.
Common sights on the roads in Cambodia.
We also saw some interesting sights at the bus stop on our way to Siem Reap, including numerous types of fried insects and spiders.
We also saw some interesting sights at the bus stop on our way to Siem Reap, including many types of fried insects like these tarantulas.   No, we did not eat any of it.
Lotus pods, they are full of green lotus seeds which are great to eat.
On the other hand, we did try some lotus fruit.  These are lotus pods, they are full of green lotus seeds which are great to eat.

Siem Reap

Siem Reap, Cambodia is popular destination in Cambodia, and not just for Angkor Wat, it has a nice downtown area full of gourmet restaurants, bars and clubs.  You could easily spend days shopping and cafe hopping, getting massages and fish pedicures and partying the nights away.  Pub Street has the most popular nightlife, and during the Cambodian New Years celebration road blocks and a stage were set up on Pub Street and it became a nightly concert with streets packed with revelers.   There are also loads of nice, budget friendly, hotels and guest houses within walking distance of downtown.

A night partying on Pub Street - Siem Reap, Cambodia.
A night partying on Pub Street for Cambodian New Year – Siem Reap, Cambodia.

siem_reap_cambodia_7Krista and Bre getting a fish pedicure.  The fish eat the dead skin on your feet.

Krista and Bre getting a fish pedicure. The fish eat the dead skin on your feet.  They are laughing because it tickles at first until you get used to it.

There are tiny fish for beginners, which you can barely feel, and much larger fish for veterans.  The larger fish tickle like crazy!
There are tiny fish for beginners, which you can barely feel, and much larger fish for veterans. The larger fish tickle like crazy!
We stayed at the Golden Butterfly Hotel.  Which had huge rooms and great service for US$25.00 a night, during the high demand new years celebration.
We stayed at the Golden Butterfly Hotel, which had stylish rooms and great service for US$25 a night, during the high demand new years celebration.  Bre enjoying our welcome drink and snack!

 

Angkor Wat for New Years

Spending some time on Pub Street was fun, but we didn’t come to Siem Reap to party, we came to see Angkor Wat.  Angkor Wat is perhaps one of the most famous and pictured temples in the world.  But it is actually a massive complex of dozens of temples, of which Angkor Wat is just one.  The area was for hundreds of years a massive religious capital where each king tried to outdo his predecessor by building more and bigger temples.  Angkor Wat, the most famous, is the largest of them.

Angkor Wat is only one of dozens of huge temples in the complex.
Angkor Wat is only one of dozens of huge temples in the complex.
Taking a tuk-tuk through the traffic to explore Angkor Wat.  A tuk-tuk can be hired for an entire day of touring the temples for $15-20, depending on your negotiating skills.  But don't pay over $20.
Taking a tuk-tuk through the traffic to explore Angkor Wat. A tuk-tuk can be hired for an entire day of touring the temples for $14-20, depending on your negotiating skills. But don’t pay over $20.

Since the complex is so huge, the park sells a range of tickets valid from one day to seven days.  If you are going to be in the area, plan on at least two days to explore the temples.  You would need a week to see them all, but two days and a fast tuk-tuk driver will allow you to see the highlights.

An entrance gate to the Angkor Wat complex.
An entrance gate to the Angkor Wat complex.  Due to heavy stop and go New Years celebration traffic, we entered Angkor Wat through this “back” entrance.
A life sized stone carving.
A life sized stone carving.

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Many of the carvings are very detailed.
Many of the carvings are very detailed.
Bre and Richard at Angkor Wat.
Bre and Richard at Angkor Wat.  After visiting Angkor Wat we noticed this style of pillar or column, everywhere in town.
One of the many towers, that you can climb up.
One of the many towers, that you can climb up.

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We spent our entire first day exploring the temples just at Angkor Wat.  Visiting during the New Years celebration in April is not just crowded but it is also the hottest, most humid month of the year with temperatures up to 100 degrees being common.  Factoring in the humidity, it made climbing over the ruins and waiting in lines with crowds of people in the sun a bit unpleasant.  From what we hear, the rest of the year, when locals are not flocking to the site for celebrations, the temples are far less crowded and easier to explore, although you will see mainly foreigners.  Still the ruins were quite impressive and it was amazing to see just how many people can fit inside them.

Temple Exploration – Day Two

Since we spent an entire sweaty day fighting the crowds exploring just  Angkor Wat, we woke up early at 5am to beat both the heat and the crowds at some of the other nearby temples.  Our first destination, just a half kilometer down the road from Angkor Wat, we found Bayon Temple.  Arriving early in the morning we found the area to be much less crowded and the temperature down to a manageable mid 80’s.  Bayon is known for its many large faces carved into the stone, and its tall jungle trees surrounding it.  It made for some great pictures, and a great place to watch the sunrise.  Bayon turned out to be my favorite temple and is definitely worth visiting.

An entrance gate to the Angkor Thom complex, of which Bayon is just one temple.
An entrance gate to the Angkor Thom complex, of which Bayon is just one temple.
Bayon Temple from outside.
Bayon Temple from outside.
Showing up early made for crowd free exploration.
Showing up early made for crowd free exploration.
Bre and Krista, under one of the many large faces.
Bre and Krista, under one of the many large faces.
Sunrise at Bayon.
Sunrise at Bayon.

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My favorite picture of Bayon, taken just after sunrise.
Bayon was my favorite temple we visited, and one of the few times I wished we had lugged around a larger camera.  Poor lighting and our iPhone do not do it justice.

After Bayon we drove by several other temples, but did not explore them all.  As I mentioned before it would take a week to properly see them all, and after the sun came up it started to get hot quickly.  So we just had our tuk-tuk drive past most of them on our way to Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom – Tomb Raider Temple

Ta Phrom, unlike most of the temples in the area, was left mostly in the state in which is was discovered, overgrown and nearly reclaimed by the surrounding jungle.   After the entire complex of temples was abandoned hundreds of years ago, the jungle began its inevitable slow march of reclaiming the land.  Many of the temples, including the famous Angkor Wat, have been cleaned of overgrowth and restored to something closer to their former glory.  However after seeing Ta Phrom with its stones covered in a mass of roots and huge trees growing out of the middle of temple, it leaves something to be said about the merits of not restoring everything and leaving nature to take its course.  Ta Phrom, also known as the Tomb Raider Temple was famously shot in the movie Tomb Raider, as a lost undiscovered and very much overgrown temple full of treasure.  While we were unsuccessful in finding any treasure, we did find the overgrown temple to be an amazing sight.

Ta Prohm, Tomb Raider Temple, overgrown with tree roots.
Ta Prohm, Tomb Raider Temple, overgrown with tree roots.

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This doorway was the most famous, it was pictured prominently in the movie Tomb Raider.
This doorway was the most famous, it was pictured prominently in the Angelina Jolie movie Tomb Raider.

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Angkor Wat and its plethora of temples are an outstanding archeological sight.  Compared to other stone ruins we have seen on our trip, the ruins at Angkor Wat have the most impressive intricate carvings still intact.

Triple A Adventures – Bicycle Tour, Towns on Stilts and Floating Villages.

If you have more than a couple days in Siem Reap, and can pull yourself away from Pub Street and Angkor Wat long enough, there is a lot to see in the surrounding countryside.  We signed up for a great three part tour which included touring several villages on bicycles, exploring a town entirely built on stilts high above a flood plain, and one village which has foregone the stilts altogether and just floats on the water.  We went with Triple A Adventures, they arranged a great small group tour for a good price, packing a lot into a single day trip and our guide spoke great English.  We definitely recommend them to anyone wanting to do any tours in the area.

We started out with a bicycle tour of some small villages outside of Siem Reap.
We started out with a bicycle tour of some small villages outside of Siem Reap.

 

We stopped at one home to see what village life was like.
We stopped at one home to see what village life was like.  This is a typical home in the area.
Local cows.
Local cows.
A banana tree, which looks like an onion inside, being sliced for pig feed.
A banana tree, which looks like an onion inside, being sliced for pig feed.  The local woman made cutting the banana tree look easy, but Krista and Bre gave it a try and it was much more difficult to cut than it looked.
We stopped by some old ruins and were surrounded by local children curious about who we were.
We stopped by some old ruins and were surrounded by local children curious about who we were.

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Posing with the local village kids.
Posing with the local village kids.
Some of them wanted a ride back to the main road on our bikes.
Some of them wanted a ride back to the main road on our bikes.
These little girls rode their own bike.  The tiny girl on the back held on with her feet.
These little girls rode their own bike. The tiny girl on the back held on with her feet.
After our bike ride we stopped to have some fresh coconut juice.  I cant get over how huge and full the coconuts are here. Each holds about 24 ounces.
After our bike ride we stopped to have some fresh coconut water. I cant get over how huge and full the coconuts are here. Each holds about 24 ounces.

After our bicycle tour we jumped back in the van and continued on to a town which is built entirely on stilts, rising up to six meters above the ground.   They aren’t competing for a view, but in fact preparing for the wet season when the low laying plain we had entered floods and turns into the largest lake in all of Southeast Asia.

We were miles and miles from any lake, but in the wet season there is so much water that the entire area rises up in one ginormous lake.
We were miles and miles from the Tonle Sap lake, but in the wet season there is so much water that the entire area rises up in one ginormous lake.
Some of the homes on stilts are built six meters above the ground.
Some of the homes on stilts are built six meters above the ground.
During the wet season, the roads are up to 30 feet below water, and the only way to get around is by boat.
During the wet season, the depth of the nearby Tonle Sap lake goes from 1 meter to 10 meters and grows to encompass this village.  At that time roads are under water and the only way to get around is by boat.

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The only buildings actually built firmly on the ground in the area were a collection of temples atop this hill.  We stopped by to check out the 'washing of the monks' part of the new years celebrations.
The only buildings actually built firmly on the ground in the area were a collection of temples atop this hill. We stopped by to check out the ‘washing of the monks’ ceremony, part of the New Years celebrations.  Everyone gets together and dumps water on the monks and scrubs them down.

After some lunch in a local home and checking out the town on stilts, which stretched for miles in every direction, we boarded a boat for a ride down the shallow river to another interesting type of village, one which floated.  While some villages, most in fact, have dealt with the raising water during the flood season by building above the ground, some have abandoned the ground entirely and just float in the lake all year round, rising and falling with the water without taking much notice.  Okay, they do take some notice and anchor their homes in different locations depending on the depth of the water.

Taking our boat into the lake we quickly saw a close collection of buildings floating in the water.  A floating village.
Taking our boat into the lake we quickly saw a close collection of buildings floating in the water. A floating village.
We arrived during the hot dry season and so the water was at its lowest of only a few feet in places.  Here children swim in the lake to cool off, they are actually standing on the bottom, despite the shore being way off in the distance.
We arrived during the hot dry season and so the water was at its lowest of only a few feet in places. Here children swim in the lake to cool off, they are actually standing on the bottom, despite the shore being way off in the distance.

The tour was great fun, and in many ways more interesting than the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.  Around Siem Reap we were not only able to see how people lived hundreds of years ago with their massive stone temples, but how they are living today in different types of villages.  Some stilt villages outside Siem Reap have reputations for being a huge rip off for tourists, but the village we visited, Kompong Khleang,  has not been spoiled by tourism yet.  In all we found Siem Reap to be a great place to visit, and perhaps our favorite in all of Cambodia.  If you are in the area only for a day or two, you should of course check out Angkor Wat, but if you have time be sure to check out the lesser visited temples and get out of town altogether and visit the surrounding villages.  It was an experience we will never forget.

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One thought on “Angkor Wat for Cambodian New Year”

  1. Beautiful photos. My favorite part of the country. I’m so glad you had a chance to experience the amazing structures.

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