As a Southeast Asian history teacher, exploring the Angkor and Roluos temples was surreal. However, you can only spend so much time at ancient temples, so I also took yoga, Khmer language, and cooking classes. I got plenty of massages, sipped some coffee, and saw some modern Buddhist temples.
One cannot visit Siem Reap and not see Angkor Wat. Such an iconic temple for its size, age, and preservation, Angkor Wat is a Cambodian symbol and is even on the national flag. Angkor Wa served as the seat of the Khmer Empire until the 15th century. Originally, the temple was built as a Hindu temple honoring the god Vishnu, but was later transformed into a Buddhist temple in the 12th century. When I visited the temple, it was during the Water Festival, so there were monks tying strings on people’s wrists and blessing them. The temple was packed with Cambodians celebrating the holiday, but I still felt immersed in the intricate figures, grandiose towers, and expansive courtyards. You can see remnants of designs that used to cover the walls of the temple, and I tried imagining the extravagance of the temple during its prime years throughout the Khmer Empire.
Other Angkor Temples
There are some many temples in the Angkor complex that it would takes days and days to fully explore and enjoy them. Surprisingly, I found many of them to be quite different. Bayon has massive pillars with Buddha faces carved into them, which gives a little bit of a trippy experience when you are walking on the top of the temple. Ta Som is a large temple with trees growing around the temple structures. You can see the roots and crazy shapes that the trees have grown into over hundreds of years. Preah Khan was my favorite temple because it’s less traveled by tourists and has many courtyards filled with ruins and ornate carvings. Neak Pean is an amazing temple in the middle of water, and you have to walk on this wooden bridge to get to the temple. I can only imagine the serenity of the temple during the Khmer Empire; I wouldn’t mind meditating there without all the tourists.
This temple was built in the 10th century in honor of the Hindu god, Shiva. Unlike the Angkor temples, Banteay Srei is built of red sandstone and has far more intricate carvings. It looks very different than the Angkor temples, and I marveled at the carvings for quite some time. It took a while to get there by tuk tuk, but I got to feel the wind on my skin and see houses, rice paddy fields, and shops on the drive. Also made of the red sandstone is the temple, Banteay Samre. This temple is fairly large and parts of the rooms have not been preserved/reconstructed so it is interesting to see the piles of stones and disheveled walls that have been completely left to ruins.
Roluos Group Temples
On my last day of exploring temples in Siem Reap, I drove further away from the Angkor temples in a tuk tuk to see the Roluos Group of temples, which were built before the Angkor temples in the 9th century. They mostly consist of three temples, Bakong, Lolei, and Preah Ko. These temples were mostly made of brick, and Lolei was under renovation when I visited. There’s also a modern monastery at Lolei.
I spent almost an entire day at the Peace Cafe. This place is a must visit for tourists in Siem Reap. I took a traditional Indian yoga class, a Cambodian cooking class, and a free Khmer language class. In the cooking class, I made spring rolls, papaya salad, and tofu amok, which is a yellow, coconut curry. Since I am learning Burmese, I wanted to take the Khmer language class to see the differences between the two languages; there’s a lot. In between the classes, I spent time reading outside. I cannot highlight enough how this cafe made my experience in Siem Reap so much better.
Modern Buddhist Temples
On my last day before catching my flight back to Yangon, I wandered around Siem Reap visiting the modern temples throughout the city. The contrast between the modern and ancient temples is clear and prominent, and I enjoyed seeing the temples that are currently active and comparing and contrasting them with other Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia. They’re definitely colorful!
There are so many markets, the old market, night market, art market, etc., in Siem Reap. They’re all very close to each other so it’s easy to check them all out, although they sell essentially the same thing. If you’re looking for a very cheap foot massage, go to the night market where places will have chairs basically on the street and massages are about 1USD!
Coffee and Hipster Cafes
Coffee is everywhere in Siem Reap! You can get a coffee to go from various coffee stands or indulge in the hipster, westernized cafes. Either choice is easy to find and inexpensive.