For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I don’t recall when I first learned about Angkor Wat, or what drew me to it. It’s just always been THE place I wanted to go to. (For many years, Machu Picchu was right behind it on my list of places to visit, but I long since gave up on that because I would not do well at that elevation). I know I’m not alone in this desire, for many Angkor Wat tops their bucket list, my mom among them. When I moved to Japan, this dream suddenly became a reasonable possibility, and when my parents started planning a visit to see me, Cambodia was always part of the discussion.
There’s no non-stop flights from Fukuoka to Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat and the other temples are, but it’s easy to connect via Tokyo or Seoul. We opted for the latter, as it meant we could fly Korean Air for the sky partner miles. As mentioned in my previous post, this allowed us to visit Incheon and get my first taste of Korea.
An aside: I’ve always heard good things about Korean Air, but my experience was ordinary, nothing to sway me away from my adoration of ANA. I will say they were eager to feed us (in fact, fed us as we were descending into Fukuoka on the way back, something I’ve never had happen before), but the food was only so-so. And I definitely question their decision to fly a 737 from Seoul to Siem Reap. I don’t like flying 737s from Tokyo to Fukuoka because they’re so cramped.
A second aside: I’ve heard rave reviews about Incheon airport. And while it was large, clean and full of expensive stores I’ll never afford, it was sorely lacking in convenience stores or other places to pick up bottled water and snacks to take on the plane. They do have Dunkin Donuts, though, which is a plus for my plebian coffee tastes (even if I didn’t get any). I was also disappointed at the makeup stores, as I’d hoped to indulge in some purchases, but most were filled with high-end foreign brands. Only one had Korean brands (or Tony Moly, at least), so I ended up not doing any shopping.
The flight to Siem Reap is 5+ hours and gets there either in the morning or late at night. We were on the late at night flight, but get through immigration was simple, as we’d already purchased our visas, and a car sent by our hotel was waiting for us. As expected, it was hot and muggy, but not any worse than Fukuoka, really. We stayed at the Best Western Suites and Sweet, which sounds pedestrian, but was a unique little hotel. Essentially the grounds are 18 bungalows situated around a small pond filled with lotus plants and fish. Lots of cute little geckoes run around the property, inside and out. Each bungalow had a living room, bedroom and huge bathroom. Plus a deck and small private pool. It’s meant to mimic the floating villages, albeit in an upscale manner.
We’d hired a private guide and driver, who came with an air-conditioned SUV for us the next morning, after we had a huge, fantastic breakfast sitting out overlooking the pond. Our guide, Samath (Mr. Clean, as he said we could call him) and driver, Talo, came from Happy Angkor tours and we couldn’t have done the trip without them. The temples are just too spread out, and having the air conditioned car, plus ice cold drinks and towels made surviving the heat and humidity possible. Samath is very personable, and knowledgeable (and I need to go leave a review on their site and Trip Advisor, before I forget) and took good care of us. Though he didn’t quite get that we didn’t need to climb to the top of every temple or get every touristy photo-op. Still, can’t imagine having done this trip on our own, and this coming from someone who likes to run around without guides or tours.
Our first stop that first morning was Angkor Wat itself. We approached from the back side, which meant we weren’t overwhelmed by tourists at first, and could just enjoy the view. And it is magnificent. It really is. The scale of the structures is immense, on par with the Forbidden City, but the architecture and details are so very different from anything I’ve seen before. It must have been truly impressive when it was first completed. We walked around one side, and went inside the main wall to cross over to the main temple building.
Here I should interject that one of the other things atop my mom’s list of things to see was monkeys in the wild. And the local macaques obliged by sending a trio up onto the roof of the temple’s outer wall right after we’d gone in. Bingo!
Alas, the temple interior was crawling with tourists, so I have only a few pics from the inner areas. I wish we could’ve seen it a bit emptier because I would’ve taken a gazillion pictures of all the carvings. As it was, we saw just a tiny bit of the front part, around what would have been an interior pool. It’s hard to believe that (per Wikipedia), there were less than 8,000 visitors to Angkor Wat in 1993. It must get that every day now. Our guide said the top three countries the tourists come from are China, Korea and Japan. I definitely saw quite a few of the former two, and a handful of Japanese groups.
I was utterly fascinated with the Naga (serpent dieties) statues outside each entrance, and wish more were intact or restored. I was reminded of the Monster Rancher videos games, as that’s where I first learned of Naga.
It was too hot to wander much outside, but we walked to the front entrance through the rest of the complex, grabbed a cold drink, then headed on to the next temple, “the Tomb Raider” temple.
Please click the images for larger pics. And you can see my whole Cambodia gallery here (albeit unlabelled so far).