- DO VISIT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM. The National Museum opened in November 2007 is perhaps the greatest pride of the Siem Reap cultural life of today. It is a new and modern building designed in keeping with the traditions of Khmer architecture; an excellent permanent exhibition, including a great video that tells the story of Angkor with all the effects provided by the latest technologies and a room with a thousand Buddhas. This actually is the place from which you should start your visit to Angkor - as opposed to falling prey to a sort-of-English-speaking guide; only a few of those who will offer their services are really qualified to do their job.
Road to Angkor
- A VISIT TO THE 12TH CENTURY TEMPLE CITY OF ANGKOR IS A MUST! Why, that's actually what you have come to Cambodia for, isn't it? It's impossible to see everything during just one visit: the territory of Angkor covers 20 000 hectares (that's almost 50 000 acres), and it's really easy to become quite jaded. The following is a sort of a minimal itinerary:
Angkor Thom, one of the most majestic cities of the Khmer Empire and its capital up to, it is presumed, 15th century. The centre is occupied by the Bayon temple with 54 Gothic-looking towers and 216 gigantic stone faces which accompany you wherever you go from all possible points of vantage. The visages are quite hypnotic in their realistic grandeur against the backdrop of the hazy skies. They are at their most impressive around the sundown when the warm light of the setting sun casts eerie shadows on the features. You lose any concept of time and your gaze gets lost in the filigree of stone lacework which endows the figures of apsaras - dancing Khmer nymphs - with an almost tangible fragility.
Angkor Wat, the most popular of the Angkor temples, the largest religious building in the world - a dedication to Hindu gods. The temple was built in the 12th century and, according to the conjectures of historians, it took 30 years for it to be completed.
Ta Prohm, the Buddhist temple built by King Jayavarman VII for his mother. The countless mazes and gigantic tree roots which cover some of the time-worn temple walls like enormous tentacles are an obvious sign of the jungle gradually encroaching on the city. You feel a bit like Hansel and Gretel in the enchanted forest - particularly if you are lucky enough to catch a moment when picture taking happy armadas of tourists are not spoiling the magic ambience. Although there are quite a few shady nooks, the best time for a visit is at sunset when most tourists in their search for picture postcard views head for Angkor Wat or Bakheng Hill. The latter - a temple on the top of a 60-metre hill - offers a fabulous view of the province of Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Don't be lazy and go up there at sunset!
- DO EXPERIENCE A SUNSET ON LAKE TONLÉ SAP. Tonlé Sap is the largest freshwater body in South Asia and the main fish source in Cambodia. Twice a year the lake changes its size: during the monsoon season when it receives the waters of the Mekong, it expands up to 16 000 km², shrinking to 3000 km² during the dry season. One of the phenomena unique to Tonlé Sap is the floating villages (the closest to Siem Reap is Chong Kneas); the inhabitants have to mend or rebuild their houses after each monsoon. But when the boat escapes the rushes and reaches the "open water", there is nothing around, just a few fishermen's boats, the silence of the lake and the horizon. The setting sun is like a huge red ball; the moment it finally disappears behind the horizon, the famous green ray flashes in the sundown skies. Or perhaps that was just an illusion?
- IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO EXPERIENCE A DIFFERENT CAMBODIA, anothertravelguide.com suggests contacting the Heritage Adventures tailor-made travel agency (www.heritage-adventures.com). You won't find many people who know Cambodia as well as the agency's owner Frenchman Didier Faraud. The routes offered by Heritage Adventures include trips to remote and hard to reach temples usually not even mentioned in the traditional travel guides (and some of them give Angkor a run for its money) and located in places that can be reached only by a 4x4, and even then a considerable distance has to be walked on foot.
Also worth considering: jungle trips that involve sleeping in luxury tents (or hammocks) and gourmet dinners (you are accompanied by a personal chef); bird watching on lake Tonlé Sap; going for a ride in the Cambodian countryside in a bamboo carriage using the old railway track. Regardless of which of the Heritage Adventures routes you choose, it will be an unforgettable experience.
Keywords: Siemreap, museum, Angkor