Every year over 6 millions tourists swarm the lands of Cambodia to get awed by the archaeological beauty of AngKor Wat. For us, Cambodia was more than that.
It is not long ago that Cambodia freed itself from the tyrannical rule of Pol Pot & Khmer Rouge. Every Khmer we spoke to, right from our taxi drivers, to restaurant owners to receptionist at hotels had dark stories about the rough times during the dictatorial occupancy. Cambodia also has one of the highest casualties in the world due to landmines that were laid all over the country during Civil War. Millions of landmines still exist in the country in rural areas despite heroic efforts of government in Cambodia over the last many years. It was really heart-warming to see how the country is coping up and has become so safe and secure despite difficult times 20 years ago. The love and care showered upon us by Khmer people in and around Seam Reap is also something that would remain in our hearts for a very long time. Over the 6 days in Cambodia, we immersed ourselves with different experiences. Exploring UNESCO sites, learning about sustainable cooking oil recycling operations, supporting women empowerment, educating ourselves with local lifestyle and training on a shooting range were some of the many things we indulged in during our holidays.
- Day 1: Old Market>River Walk> Preah Ang Check and Preah Ang Chom
- Day 2: Angkor Archaeological Park > Night Market
- Day 3: Bantey Srei> Phnom Kulen> River of a Thousand Lingas> Cambodia Landmine Museum
- Day 4: Gecko Central> RehashTrash> NagaEarth Project
- Day 5: Beng Melea & Koh Ker temples
- Day 6: Kompong Phluk > War Museum
Guided Tour Operators to Choose From:
Day 1: Old Market > River Walk > Preah Ang Check and Preah Ang Chom
We landed in Seam Reap in afternoon and it was already 3 PM by the time we checked into the hotel. We spent our evening wandering on the streets to find ourselves in Old Market. It is a great place to get your taste buds activated with different locally produced foods. Also recommend you to check out Smateria. The store sells creative souvenir bags and accessories hand made from recycled materials in Cambodia.
Seam Reap river divides the eastern and western sides of the town. Behind the Old Market, we walked on the paved footpaths by the river side to enjoy the evening hustle of the city. We reached Old French Quarter which is a colonial district and has a unique architecture, quite different from the rest of Seam Reap. As we continued our walks, we found ourselves in front of Preah Ang Check and Preah Ang Chom. These temples cannot be missed as they are intricately carved and flocked by numerous visitors.
We managed to find our way to the Pub Street with bars and restaurants on either side of the street. The street gets a life as the night grows with loud music and happening crowd. There are various spa treatment shops which are extremely cheap. We got a massage done almost everyday of our trip. We spent 4-5 hours till midnight on that street. Tip: Do book a personal tour for Ankor Wat when you land into Seam Reap. Sunrise tour is advisable as there will be lot less tourists in the morning. We book our tour with Happy Angkor Tour and it was a great experience.
Day 2: Angkor Archaeological Park > Night Market
Angkor Wat is a symbol in Cambodia, so much so that it is on the Cambodian National Flag. This 400 square kilometer site is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered the largest pre-industrial city in the world.
There are many tours available to see Angkor Wat: Sunrise tours, sunset tours and sunrise to sunset tours. We are photography buff and we wanted to avoid floods of tourists, and hence we chose Sunrise tour. This also meant we had to wake up at 4 AM in the morning. Our private tour guide was on time to receive us at the hotel at 5 AM. Tip: All UNESCO sites in Cambodia need a park ticket. We made a mistake by taking 1 day pass ticket, only to realize that we would be needing tickets for visiting Bantey Srei as well. We recommend to take atleast 3 day pass so that you can truly enjoy all the sites at your own pace.
Tip: Request your hotel staff to pack breakfast for sunrise tour. Most tourists come back to the city right after sunrise for breakfast. If you have bites in your bag, you can save time and you can see large parts of AngKor Wat in peace with most of the crowd retreating for breakfast. By 9:30 AM, there are large hoards of tourists and it gets pretty noisy.
Our guide was a great photographer himself and took us to a great spot to see the sunrise. I was mesmerized by the beauty of AngWat during sunrise. The sky was orange and the yellow light made the architecture glow. I was so consumed by the experience that I couldn’t hear anything else in my surroundings. Right after sunrise, we spent about 45 mins educating ourselves with the history of AngKor and its importance in Cambodian culture. We took the small circuit route and hopped on and off our taxi to see various temples. AngKor Wat, Bayon Temple, Ta Phrom (Tomb Raider temple) were my favorite temples and very different from each other. Ta Phrom left me in awe of how nature and architecture could blend to create something so extraordinary. Other noteworthy temples that you must see include Banteay Kdei, Ta Keo Temple, Ta Nei Temple and Preah Khan temple.
Tip: Dress responsibly as it is a site of religious importance. Shorts should cover the knees and sleeves tops, and dresses must be avoided.
We reached hotel at about 5 PM. After a bit of relaxation, we set out to see the Night Market, followed by foot reflexology and dinner at Pub Street.
Check out the Genevieve’s Fair Trade Village en-route to Night Market. It offers creative crafts from marginalized Khmer people and is built on the foundation of equality, inclusion, and empowerment. This is a great place to buy clothing and accessories that make an impact.
Day 3: Bantey Srei> Phnom Kulen> River of a Thousand Lingas> Cambodia Landmine Museum
Bantey Srei pre-dominently represents Hindu influence and is an exemplary 10th Century temple dedicated to the goddesses. It is a Citadel of Women. The carvings are intricate and looks so new. It was preserved for many years under dense forests and was discovered not until long ago.
We spent a couple of hours at this temple and then went straight to Phnom Kulen. This is the first time when I saw a riverbed carved with over a thousand Lingas. Since we went in the dry season, we were fortunate to see the carvings on the riverbed. It was extraordinary.On our way back to Seam Reap, we stopped at a heart-wrenching Cambodian Landmine Museum. We spent over an hour in the museum. There is a free audio guided tour at the museum to appreciate the context of the artifacts displayed in the museum.
Day 4: Gecko Central> RehashTrash> NagaEarth Project
We dedicated a day to learn about social projects and contribute to the economy of Cambodia. We heard a lot about Green Gecko Project and wanted to contribute to the project. The visiting hours of Green Gecko Project is 9:30 AM – 10:30 AM. We highly recommend you to buy some of the things from their wishlist as they are not a funded organization. It was an immense pleasure to listen to the stories of children who were begging on the street and are now working in medical institutions and government organizations.
Shortly after the visit, we visited Rehash Trash. Rehash Trash came about as an offshoot of Gecko Project to support mothers of the children with employment opportunities. It is phenomenal to see how these women have grown over time, have a voice of their own and are earning their livelihoods. The confidence that these women have today because they could stand on their feet, can be experienced for real.
We visited another great social project for local communities upliftment, called NagaEarth. There is a huge problem of reused cooking oil that is not healthy but is being used by street vendors. NagaEarth is running a project to convert re-used cooking oil to biofuels in a sustainable way.
Akshat and I spent a lot of time in the evening, thinking about how privileged we are and how much more fortunate individuals like us can contribute to the society.
Day 5: Beng Melea & Koh Ker temples
We got lucky on this day with great weather. It also drizzled a bit and made the overall experience very memorable. This was also our longest day as Koh Ker temple is quite far away from Seam Reap. We took stop overs at various smaller temples as well. There were very few tourists on this route and we absolutely loved the “lone traveller” experience.
Tip: Since we didn’t take 3-day pass, we couldn’t see Roluos Group of temples. It is a group of 4 AngKor temples in remote location and is recommended by many tourists. You can include this with Beng Melea.
Day 6: Kompong Phluk & War Museum
Tonle Sap Lake is a UNESCO biosphere and is the largest fresh-water lake in southeast Asia. Kompong Phluk is a floating village about 16 km outside of town. It is a fishing village and gives a sneakpeak into the countryside lifestyle of Cambodians.
Tip: Chong Kneas tour is a tourist trap and looks very artificial. It is also the closest from SeamReap. Do specify a visit to Kompong Phluk or Kompong Khleang if you’re interested in seeing authentic village life.
We visited the War Museum in the afternoon. It is an old landmine field full of war-vehicles and weapons. There are guides tours in batches that offers insight into the terrorizing occupation of the Khmer Rouge. In the evening we visited the Made in Cambodia Market market. Unique thing about this market is it is entirely plastic-free and vendors are encouraged to make their own paper bags. Every Saturday, from 6PM – 7PM there is a traditional dance performance which is a must watch.
I left Seam Reap with more than I had imagined. It was an impromptu trip, and now that I have been there, I only wonder, how we missed it for so long…