The temples of Angkor Wat are undoubtedly one of Cambodia’s largest tourist attractions. Based in Siem Reap province, the UNESCO world heritage temple complex lies a short drive out of Siem Reap city. When I visited I was incredibly lucky because it was Khmer New Year, so the city was a hub of activity and it was incredibly exciting.
Khmer New Year is probably the biggest event in the Cambodian calendar. Although I was staying in Phnom Penh, it’s such a huge celebration that we got some time off, and everyone leaves the city and heads back to their home provinces so we decided to make the most of it. It also happened that our friend Hong was from Siem Reap so he could see his family and hang out with us at the same time.
Our hostel was pretty awesome, luckily we all managed to get together in the same room and there were quite a few of us so it was a great social atmosphere. It also had a great pool which was beautiful because Cambodia was pretty bloody hot! Siem Reap itself was a really cool city. Driving in on the coach you could really tell that that’s where the money was. When I went, it had only been a few years since the ownership of Angkor Wat had passed from Vietnamese to Cambodian ownership, and so the flow of income from this was relatively recent. It felt really different to Phnom Penh, there were big fancy hotels and better roads and you could just tell that tourism had brought a lot more money into the city. The nightlife there was awesome, with a street, aptly named ‘Pub Street’ with lots of bars lining it. At night it transformed into the place to be, full of bars blaring music and street vendors selling cheap cocktails. Because it was New Year, people were out in their masses. At New Year, they have huge water fights and throw talcum powder in your face. It doesn’t sound all that nice but I promise you when it’s boiling hot and you’re a little bit drunk it’s great fun. Talcum powder in your eyes wasn’t great but there was always someone with a water pistol nearby to wash it out for you!
Angkor Wat is such a huge temple complex, and the days so hot, that you have to get a reaaallllly early start. We agreed with a tuktuk driver to take us the night before, and all dragged ourselves out of bed at 4am to head over there. You have to go to a separate ticket office first which I think opens at 4.30 (or some other ridiculously early hour) which we had to go to first to buy tickets for the day. When we arrived, we went and got ourselves set up to get the typical sunrise photo. In front of the main Angkor Wat temple, there is a pool of water that lots of people use to take a nice picture with the reflection of the temple in it as the sun rises.
The temples themselves were amazing. After Angkor Wat, we went to some of the other main temples – Bayon Temple (one with lots of faces in the rocks), Ta Prohm (from Tomb Raiders). As it was New Year, people were singing, dancing and celebrating by the temples. It was absolutely packed with people which is not surprising as it has around 2 million visitors a year, and we went at one of the most popular times. It was also incredibly hot. I’m not kidding, the amount we were all sweating was unreal (especially because we wore modest clothing). I won’t lie, from what I remember we spent a lot of time sitting in traffic. However, we did manage to get round and see some of the smaller temples (I can’t remember what they are called sadly). There are loads of smaller temples in the complex, so once you have seen the three main ones the crowd of tourists massively reduces because different guides take people to different places.
The one downside to the temple complex we noticed was that it was quite dirty. If you do happen to visit then 1. Make sure you take loads of water and 2. Make sure you bring all your rubbish home with you. It’s such a shame to see these amazing historical sites gets messed up. I would urge anyone to visit Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. I had a truly incredible time and it’s such a cool and vibrant city.