Picking up from my previous post, on 20th May, Tyko and myself found ourselves on a flight to Siem Reap, home to the world famous Angkor monuments.
Quick facts - Siem Reap is a landlocked town located in a province also called Siem Reap in Cambodia. It has an international airport, and is today a town built around the tourists who flock to the Angkor monuments. There are hotels for every budget, transportation options from bicycles to 9 seater vans, food for every tastes, and enough to occupy you for a while. You'll want for nothing ...
If you're flying in from the south, check out the large body of water - Tonle Sap lake, which should come in view on your final descent - it swells to a humongous 16,000 km2 size in the rainy season! Photo on the left shows the lake at the start of the rainy season, before it swells to its fullest - but you can already see floating villages and what appears to be fish farms on the lake already - these floating villages would normally be at the edge of the lake during the dry season !
Arrival at the airport was simple and straight forward, without any fuss. Immediately after clearing immigration and customs, we got ourselves a taxi to the hotel.
We found ourselves a hotel through TripAdvisor, and booked it via Expedia. The Tara Angkor Hotel is great - 3 star price, 4 star rating, 5 star service. I truly recommend it to anyone wanting a bit of comfort in Angkor, but without paying the big bucks for it.
The rooms are clean, with your towels changed twice daily. It has a swimming pool, small gym, a restaurant, free wifi at the lobby area (it's not free in the rooms though), pleasant staff members - all of whom speak perfect english and a good location just 2km from Old Market, and just 4km or so to the temples of Angkor.
Check in was simple, and although we arrived really early, by 9am, before our check-in time, they had rooms available, so they let us into our room already. Godsent ! We decided some shuteye would be great, considering the early hour of our flight.
After that, we decided to venture out to the Old Market area. This is the center of Siem Reap's present day universe - you will find everything you need here - from restaurants, souvenir stalls, pubs, spas to pharmacies. It's not a very big area - the market itself is an interesting walk, but the streets surrounding it - Pub Street, The Alley, and Blue Pumpkin street are the ones where you'll find yourself exploring more.
After a great lunch at the Khmer Kitchen, we ventured to the Angkor National Museum. Angkor National Museum is a private venture, but it has access to some of the best artifacts from the Angkor Conservatory, and if you're trying to make sense of what you're about to see in the following days at the temples of Angkor, then you should plan on spending at least 2-3 hours there. A mix of interactive, multimedia displays coupled with beautiful artifacts will give you a crash course in Angkor appreciation. Cameras not allowed, so no photos from the inside. =( ... Would have loved to take some photos, but then again, if they let us take photos, we would never be out of the museum in time for our next stop ...
We finished the museum tour in time to catch a tuk tuk to the Angkor ticket booth. Here's the deal - you need to buy a pass to access the temples of Angkor. The pass comes in 1 day ($20), 3 days ($40) and 7 days ($60) validity, and must be used on consecutive days. If you buy the pass after 5pm, the pass will be valid from the following day - and you'll get free entrance for the day.
Our hotel bellboy negotiated a tuk tuk that would take us to the ticket booth, then take us to Angkor Wat to view the sunset, and then take us to the Old Market area after that for dinner - for $7. Good to have the locals bargain for us ...
The pass purchase itself was painless and fast. Pay up, have your digital photo taken, and you're done - in under 3 minutes.
Next stop - Angkor Wat sunset !
More photos can be found here !