3 Scenic Temples of Siem Reap

June 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Attractions, Exotic South East, Nature

The temples surrounding the once tiny town of Siem Reap are no longer off the beaten track. Nowadays, everybody has an acquaintance who has trekked to see the enormous towers of Angkor Wat, which has somewhat become Cambodia’s de facto flagship temple – it graces the center of the Cambodian flag and it is also on the label of the “national beer”, Angkor Beer.

But there are hundreds of temples in the Siem Reap, in various states of repair or disrepair. Unless you’re visiting for several weeks, there is no possible way to see all of them. However, here are three of my top favorites that I suggest you make time for. I’ll skip Angkor Wat for two reasons: 1) it wasn’t one of my favorites and 2) it is such a historically-significant and massive temple complex you can’t miss it anyway.

Bayon, temple of faces. Photo credit - shapeshift.

Bayon, Temple of Faces. Photo credit - shapeshift.

Bayon, temple of faces. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Bayon, Temple of Faces. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Bayon

Bayon is known as the ‘Temple of Faces,’ and once you’ve been there you’ll easily know why – as you climb the steep stone steps and make you way into the inner sanctum of the temple, looking up you are struck by the hundreds of large stone faces looking down upon you. Although they are all smiling, I felt a bit of an ominous electric buzz in the air, perhaps waiting for the builders of these stone statues to come walking in from the forest. Although much of this temple is in ruin, it is still easy to imagine what an awesome sight it would have been when initially constructed – truly an earthly home fit for the gods.

Ta Phrom. Photo credit - Chi King.

Ta Phrom. Photo credit - Chi King.

Ta Phrom. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Ta Phrom. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Ta Prohm

If you’ve seen the Tomb Raider, a handful of the temple scenes were filmed here at Ta Prohm, and it didn’t take any special effects to give the film its eerie, surreal qualities. The temple is in fairly poor shape and over the centuries trees have taken root in the temple walls. Conservationists have left the trees in place because they are in so deep they actually strengthen the temple and to remove them would destroy those remaining pieces.

Ta Prohm has a magical effect similar to Bayon in that it feels as though whomever built it or lived there might be just out for a walk and to explore the hidden spaces is a violation of trust. Find a quiet corner, relax and just soak up Ta Prohm’s mystical qualities.

Banteay Srei. Photo credit - Jon2.

Banteay Srei. Photo credit - Jon2.

Banteay Srei. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Banteay Srei. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Banteay Srei

For the first ten minutes you spend at Banteay Srei, you’ll continue to stare in awe at the elaborate carvings covering every single inch of stone, wondering if they’re actually made of wood. Even with today’s technology it is almost unbelievable that such precise and intricate patterns and sculpture can be made from stone. This temple, unlike many of the others, is made red sandstone that is easier to carve and gives the complex a wonderfully golden-reddish hue.

Many of the entrances and towers of the temple are well preserved and still intact (watch your head – the doorways are quite short!) but some of the statues alongside the stairways are actually replicas, the originals stolen or in museums. If there were an art contest, Banteay Srei would win hands down for originality and attention to detail.

If You Go

You’ll need a ticket to get into any of the temples themselves. You can find more information about the ticketing process over on the APSARA Authority website, which manages temples. Bayon and Ta Prohm are in the nearby vicinity of Angkor Wat, whereas Banteay Srei is about half an hour’s ride along bumpy roads out of Siem Reap.

If you book a personal guide (which I recommend), you will likely travel via air conditioned private car. Other options include hiring a tuk-tuk driver for the day (have your hotel book this for you to get a reputable driver) or cycling the entire route (not recommended in extremely hot weather).

About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Experiences.

The Best of Khmer Cuisines

April 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Exotic South East, Feature Highlights, Gourmet

One of the highlights of any trip to Cambodia is the food, which often surprises many. The country’s range of dishes can loosely be called ‘Khmer Cuisine’ – and although it is similar to food found in neighboring Laos, Thailand, or Vietnam, it is less spicy and has its own special touches.

The plethora of curries, spring rolls, and rice accompaniments are easily accessible to foreign palates; indeed, most Cambodians are very helpful to suggest dishes and it is always a safe bet to go with the “house recommendation.” Here are a few of the most popular and tasty dishes to get you started, but don’t be afraid to explore the menu and try something new.

Amok Fish. Photo credit - Fotoosvanrobin.

Amok Fish. Photo credit - Fotoosvanrobin.

Amok Fish

Many Cambodians call this the national dish, and the first time I had it I was so enthused by the wonderful flavors that I even forgot for a minute it was a fish. It is cooked in a thick and creamy coconut sauce, flavored with kroeung (a combination of spices, including lemongrass, saffron, and garlic). The delicious combination is wrapped up in a cute banana leaf bowl and served with plain white rice. Once you taste amok fish, you’ll quickly realize why the locals eat this so often.

Cambodian Curry. Photo credit - hn.

Cambodian Curry. Photo credit - hn.

Khmer Curry

As I’m a huge Indian curry fan, it is no surprise that I love Khmer curry. It is not spicy at all, and in fact can be just a touch sweet. It is bursting with flavor – the base sauce includes turmeric, garlic, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves. But that’s not all; the chef will also throw in sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, onion, carrots, and some coconut milk. The result is stupendous, and suits well with tofu, chicken, beef or just more vegetables. It comes with white rice, naturally.

Palm Sugar Candy. Photo credit - kleinmatt66.

Palm Sugar Candy. Photo credit - kleinmatt66.

Palm Sugar

At any of the market stalls or alongside many of the roadways, you’ll see stands full of these little palm leave packets. At first, I thought they might just be spices or some unmentionable, unpalatable snack. But as our guide kindly explained, these are palm sugar – a tasty sweet made by many of the housewives by boiling down the juices from the palm, resulting in a crunchy sugary snack which has a wonderfully rich flavor. Best of all, they are preservative free (so you have to eat them quickly!) and the sugar is natural, not refined, so you will not have that sugar rush and subsequent low after eating them. They make a great souvenir for friends back home.

Cambodian BBQ. Photo credit - Kathy Jaucian.

Cambodian BBQ. Photo credit - Kathy Jaucian.

Cambodian Barbeque

Just the words ‘Cambodian Barbeque’ conjure up a juxtaposition of expansive Australian backyards against the dusty lanes of Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. But a Cambodian BBQ is neither of these things; it’s a unique meal preparation and one you should try if you can find a BBQ restaurant nearby.

The meal is centered around a heavy pot filled with burning coals; on top is a metal dome which is rubbed down with butter and fat. You first must choose from a list of many meats and fishes, including such eccentricities as kangaroo or crocodile. Your choices will then be placed on the grill to cook; around the dome is a reservoir filled with broth in which fresh vegetables and noodles are seeped. The meats and fish are covered in egg, spices, and other sauces that fry up wonderfully.

As with most service in Cambodia, you’ll be helped along the way if you need it, but don’t be afraid to throw something onto the grill yourself or to put more vegetables in the broth. Just be careful – the coals are quite hot so the slim cuts cook in no time. The whole outfit is served with plain rice and is a fun experience in itself.

Photo credits – Stuck in CustomsFotoosvanrobin

About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Experiences.

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