Now that you've done your tomb raiding in Angkor, what else is there left to do? Well, enjoying Siem Reap of course. One of the best way to do so and indulge in a little bit of local culture as well is to watch an APSARA dance.
If you've done enough tomb raiding, you would have noticed the seductive-looking nymphs on the temple walls. Now, how would you like it if those nymphs came alive and danced before you? Well, before you think I'm suggesting a script for another Tomb Raider sequel, let me just simply say that watching an APSARA dance is pretty much like that. You'd be transported back in ancient times as you watch an ancient dance that has been performed for great Angkorian kings.
Slow, deliberate and precise, the Apsara dance is the equivilent of an Asian royal ballet.
The best apsara dance in Siem Reap for me happened at an evening soiree at the Grand Hotel D'Angkor. The dance performed there was an intimate affair due to the close proximity between the guests and the dancers. All the guests, including me, was enraptured when the dancers looked at us straight in the eye continued to move enigmatically.
Yowza, I was blown away even though I'm straight as hell! Overall, it was an intimate experience compared to the apsara dance performed for masses at the buffet restaurants.
Where: Elephant Bar, Grand Hotel D'Angkor ( during the low season )
Time : 730pm , nightly
Yes, other than Angkor Wat, there are other temples to see, many temples in fact. Enough to make any monk's dream come true.
Just look at the map and you'll know what I mean.
So with so many temples to choose from , which ones should you choose? Well, to make things a little easier, I've highlighted the star temples of Angkor. These are the temples you wouldn't want to miss, even if you're not a monk. Of course, the list is subjective but these are my favs. Here they are, in descending order:
1)Angkor Wat - The biggest temple site in Siem Reap, the first must.
2)Angkor Thom - Ancient citidel, a second must. The Bayon Temple, Terrace of the Leper King and the Elephant Terrace are here.
3)Banteay Srei - The most beautiful and ornate temple in the whole of Angkor. This little, rose-coloured temple is a must do.
4)Temples with an aerial view :Phnom Bakheng , Pre Rup
5)Temples with the Jungle Feel or Tomb Raider appeal : Ta Prohm, Preah Khan
6)Temple Spas : Neak Pean and Srah Srang
Read on to see pictures of the temples and personal tips about each site.
Surprise, surprise, there are also temple spas in the Angkor region and they're a refreshing break from all those temple visits. A gd bet would be Neak Pean and Srah Srang . Unfortunately when I was there, the spas were a tad dry.
See my Angkor Wat page.
Other than my recommended list of temples, I have another list . But of course, this is meant more for fans of LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER. Yes, I've roughed it out in Siem Reap, deciphered several ancient articles circa 2001( See Asiaweek article , The Laissez Faire City Times) , watched re-runs of Tomb Raider to give you this summary.
1)Phnom Bakheng - On Croft's first day in Siem Reap, Navy Seal lookalikes drop her by parachute onto the hilltop 10th-century Hindu temple.
2)Sofitel Royal Angkor hotel - Ms Jolie stayed at the $1,900 suite here but partied at the Red Piano at night .
3)Bayon Temple - Those terrific Land Rover car stunts that you see were done in front of the sacred Bayon temple. To see a picture of Lara in the Land Rover, go to my Angkor Thom page.
4)Ta Phrom - This is where Ms Crofts stops her Land Rover and follows a flock of butterflies into a temple overgrown with trees. She later discovers an underground cavern full of warrior stone monkeys and a gigantic sword-wielding Brahma.
5)The pond at Angkor Wat - After slaying tons of stone monkey warriors at Ta Phrom, Ms Croft runs off to a faraway -Tonle Sap-lookalike water village. In actuality, Ms Jolie wasn't too far away. The film crew built a Potemkin bamboo village in the sacred pond at Angkor Wat and made poor Ms Jolie paddle around the water for hours at 35-degree! On top of that, she had a stuntman in flippers to look out for her.
6)East Gate of Angkor Thom - This is where the villians of the movie pulled down a wall with an image of an apsara.Needless to say, the wall was fake. So were the dumb Vietnamese conical hats that the village extras had to wear.
It is unlikely you’ll forget to check out Angkor Wat while in Siem Reap. In fact, you wouldn’t have come here in the first place without the World Heritage Site on its doorstep, now would you? Like most travelers, you’ll try and get there as early as possible too. The best advice I can give you is go even earlier. The earlier you get there, the more serene your experience will be. Also, try and mix up your itinerary a little. If you do everything as the book says, you might find yourself racing around with the same twenty people from one place to the next. One thing we enjoyed was Ta Phrom at sunrise. Most people go midday as it’s very shady and a nice place to escape the heat at that hour. Our driver scoffed when we said we wanted to be there before the sun came up, but he relented. We entered the lush jungle in the dark with a deafening serenade of birds, insects, and a rustling of leaves that was initially cacophonic before its obvious harmony became apparent. We sat and enjoyed the sounds of Angkor perhaps more than any one visual stimulus had impressed us. It’s always nice to take your leave as others arrive, thinking they are early too. So, by all means, go to Angkor EARLY.
So, you've finally taken the final step and bought yourself an air-ticket to Siem Reap because you want to see Angkor Wat.
Now comes the daunting task of researching . To your horror, you discover that Angkor Wat is just one of the temples there and that MANY more temples make up the site. You start to panic as you look at other temple names. All those names make no sense to you as your pitiful knowledge of Cambodia only consists of "tomb raider" and "Angelina Jolie". Well fear not, coz here's bpacker's handy, idoit-friendly guide to ANGKOR WAT. Read on to find out more...
Well, there you have it, my no-nonsense guide to Angkor and her temples. Of course, if you need more depth, details and pictures to help you decide better, visit my Angkor Wat and my Angkor Thom pages.
But above it all, remember to have fun like me. No point getting all 'templed out' by rushing from one temple to the next . Take your time and explore each place slowly. A suggestion is that you visit the nearby temples in the "small circuit" on the first day and the temples further away in the grand circuit on the next day. For a sample itinerary, look at the best guide on the web by frenchman, Maurice Glaize. Fortunately for you, the site is in English, so you'll have no prob deciphering it. For folks back in the 1940's, this was all the lonely planet they had. All in all, my friends and I visited 26 sites in all after consulting this site. Amazing, considering the heat was 43c!
Now this is where your knowledge of Tomb Raider comes in handy. Yup, Ms Jolie was in Ta Prohm. Also, the old man on the cover of Lonely Planet . As luck would have it, I had a little brush with fame and met Mr Lonely Planet Cambodia himself ! Our guide was his buddy and Mr Lonely Planet is Mr Nimh. Didn't meet Ms Jolie though.
Other than Ta Prohm, Preah Khan is another site similarly covered with centuries of jungle vegetation. See my Angkor Wat page for contacts for my guide and increase your chances of meeting Mr Lonely Planet, haha.
This ancient city site is the last bastion of the Angkor Kingdom . Yes siree, the last King, administrators, scribes, priests lived here before they were shooed-away by Siamese from the Ayuthaya Kingdom. This place is my second must-see place as it contains the Bayon, the temple with gigantic faces, the Terrace of the Leper King where gorgeous bas relief can be seen and the awesome South/East Gates, where helluva big cold, smiley faces can be seen atop giant stone gates. See my Angkor Thom page
If you don't have a vertigo and you're a sucker for aerial sights, climb up Phnom Bakheng ( a temple atop a hilltop) for awesome sunset views of Angkor Wat. Lara Croft aka Ms Angelina Jolie scoped the sunset-scene through binoculars when she was dropped by parachute on the very hill itself!
Well, since that famous show, the hill has become a circus and they're tons of folks there hoping to catch the same view. So, what can you do? Well, troop over to Pre Rup( a really tall temple of stones ), of course, for the same purpose. It's less crowded there. See my Angkor Wat page
Now, if you've done your research, you would have heard about how beautiful sunrise at Angkor Wat is and that it is a pre-requisite to wake up at an insane hour to catch it. If truth be told, I think the advice is to be taken with a giant jar of salt. Chances are, you'll be jostling for space with lots of other sunrise enthusiasts.
Since they won't be these nasties down in the guide books, let me be the one to list it down. Of course, being the gd ol' bpacker, I'll recommend some solutions as well. It's really up to you to take my advice literally..
1) You'll jostling for space with other like-minded folks and "photographers" with tiny cameras. Yes, even those with mini cell phone cameras will attempt to jostle with you like a rugby player.
Solution: Bring a Crusade-style armour along and butt your way through.
2)There'll be some rude tourists who will ask you unbashedly to butt off so that they can capture a gd shot with their mini camera. Solution :Bring ear plugs so you won't hear them or set up a tri-pod at the exact same spot.
3)It's pretty dark there and stone steps are bloody uneven.
Solution:Bring your post Star-Wars-I don't know what I was thinking- light saber along. Not only will you be able to illuminate your path, you can use it to whack tourists who ask you to butt off.
4) Angkor Wat faces the West and most artists capture the monument in sunset light.
Solution : Go back to Angkor at Sundown
Personally, I prefer the sunset views at Angkor Wat and regretted not going to the Bayon in the morning instead. I was told it was more spectacular over there..
Recognise the 3 corn-cob towers of the Angkor Wat? I suppose you do. It's easily recognisable anyway as it's in millions of poastcards and books. In any case, there are actually 5 towers but more of that later. This awesome site is the world’s largest religious monument and you'd be the world's biggest idoit to give this a miss. So that's why it's my first choice of Angkor Temples to see. Expect to spend at least half a day to look at the world’s longest bas-relief panels. See my Angkor Wat page
Chances are you won’t want to do all that much sight seeing other than your Angkor regime when in Siem Reap but one thing that is most relaxing is to hang out by the river. The Stung Siem Reap funnels right into the Tonle Sap Lake, hopefully where you arrived in town from Battambang. There has been little inroads in the way of exploiting the scenic river so as of yet there are no pubs lining its banks. Instead, you can bring a picnic lunch or just a good book and enjoy a peaceful morning away from the hectic pace of racing around to see “all” the temples.
As you can see, the monks at Wat Bo are quite friendly. We found them even more open than those at the Angkor Wat ruins. Since there are not nearly as many travelers there, they may feel more open. This particular trio was very amusing and kept poor D busy as one spoke Spanish as well as some English and another German. Since D speaks all three, she was much in demand.
I guess if there is one thing that is a must see in Siem Reap, it would be Wat Bo. Though a relative newcomer compared to the ruins of Angkor, it is one of the town’s oldest temples with intricate wall paintings dating back to the turn of the 19th century. The real attraction here is not really the architecture but the friendly monks that enjoy practicing their English with you.
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