Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia: Yummy Amoks, Tomb Raider & Khmer Rouge

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Almost every country claims to have grown out from the depths of pessimism and torment in one form or another. But, Cambodians had a special raw deal meted out to them at the depths of hell by the villainous Khmer Rouge only to have grown now into the most optimistic and cheerful place I have been to.

They don’t just show off their optimism, it kinda rubs off on you and stays there.

Don’t trust me, well here are a few examples.

If the Khmer orchestrated genocide killed millions in your country just a few years ago, would you ponder on whether to add two stems of the lemongrass or Kaffir lime leaves into your Amok recipe?

If your poverty index is where it stands, would you use all your imagination(and money) to decorate your roadside eatery?

If you are constantly cursed by one dictatorial ruler after another, would you go this far to preserve your national heritage by meticulously protecting the Angkor?

I guess not…

But they do and with a smile no less.

Those are reasons enough that make Cambodia a must-see for any self-respecting traveler.

The temples, Angkor Wat, Bayon, Preah Khan, Banteay Srei, and others are unmissable and are conveniently located fairly close to each other. People interested in Hindu mythology will find it difficult to peel their eyes off the reliefs. They depict scenes from Ramayana, Mahabharata and various other mythologies with a Khmer twist.

Example: Here is a depiction of Bheeshma sleeping on a bed of arrows during the Kurukshetra battle. Many of us would be familiar with the scenes from the famous 90s TV serial.Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Pan your cameras the other way. You will get an idea why everyone crams for the same spot at sunrise at the Angkor Wat.

Then there is the Ta Prohm temple made famous by Angelia Jolie’s Tomb Raider movies. This temple is partly swallowed by the gigantic trees which actually support the structure. Hence the archeologists don’t want to mess around with the trees.

jolie_angkor - Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Must See:

  1. Angkor Wat: The pinnacle of Khmer architecture and its Mount Meru symbolism is what draws the crowds every day. The sunrise is the peak time. linger a little longer to have the place to yourself (well almost). Most just stroll through to the center. But along the outer walls lie the elaborate bas-reliefs depicting various scenes from Hindu mythology. It’s conveniently altered to include the Khmer kings amongst the deities. All said it’s a revelation in the detail and artistry of the Khmer times. You will need 4-6 hours to do it any kind of justice. Buy a three-day pass for 62$ (cash only). It will be worth it.
  2. Bayon: It’s part of the Angkor Thom temple complex and is wildly famous for its 216 eerie stone faces. The Bas-reliefs here depict the everyday life and true historic events. Check oot the video here of my feeble attempt to Pano-Video the Bayon.

3. Ta Prohm: The winding tree branches coalesce with the boulders that make the temple walls. In some areas, you’d struggle to tell which is which. It was partly renovated and then left as such both to maintain its integrity and peculiarity. It is a definite photo-op.

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
See the Buddha statue hiding in the tree trunk?

4. Banteay Srei: This beautiful temple has many synonyms. “The lady temple”, “the tiny temple”, “the pink temple”; Banteay Srei goes by many nicknames, an indication of the distinctiveness of this little gem of a temple, which feels so different to the imposing grandeur of the main Angkorian complex.

Originally called Tribhuvanamahesvara, the name Banteay Srei (or Banteay Srey) is a modern one, meaning “citadel of the women” or, “citadel of beauty”. People speculate that this is due to its miniature scale, the pink color of the limestone, and the elaborate decorative carvings of many devatas (minor female deities) that grace its walls.


5. Phnom Bakheng: It is a temple mountain in honor of the Hindu god Shiva and one of the oldest temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Thanks to its location on a 60-meter high hill, Phnom Bakheng became a very popular tourist spot for its magnificent sunset views over Angkor Wat.


Practical Tips

  1. Carry USD. You don’t really have to change it. Works everywhere. You will, however, get the small change in Cambodian Riel. Check exchange rates.
  2. The taxis are fairly cheap and can be booked for day trips. Negotiate.
  3. VISA: Indians and most nationals get a visa on arrival for USD 20. or you can apply for an e-visa here.
  4. Embassy Alert: Royal Embassy of Cambodia in India, W-112, Greater Kailash Part-II, New Delhi, 110048, India. Tel: (91-11) 292 144 35, Fax: (91-11) 292 144 38, E-Mail: Embassy in Cambodia, No.50, Street No. 214, Samdech Pan Ave., Sangkat Boeung Raing, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh, Tel No.: (+855-23) 210912 / 210913, Fax No. (+855-23) 213640 / 210914, website
  5. Eat local food. Not just for the taste.
    Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

    It’s usually fresh from the sea or farms and low on the hardcore spices. Very palatable and smooth on the intestines.

  6. While you are at it, try the Crickets, Spiders, Snake or Crocs. If you are game enough.Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
  7. You will need a minimum of three full days at Siem Reap to do the temples any justice.
  8. Go to the local boutique hotels. They are reasonable, come with a decent attached spa and pack your big breakfast box for those sunrise trips.
  9. While at it,. also try to catch a cultural show (with buffet dinner) in one of the many places in Siem Reap. We went to the Apsara Terrace. It showcases traditional Khmer dance and performances.
  10. What’s more. the Cambodians are very child-friendly and so are the temples. They will love spotting various animals and stories on the bas-reliefs.

Check out the video here 

10. What I Read:  Lonely Planet Cambodia & Ancient Angkor, by Michael Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, CambodiaFreeman & Claude Jacques. The one by Micheal Freeman was a good guide especially detailing the bas-reliefs.

11. What I saw: The Killing Fields (Movie), A gut-wrenching tale on Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodiathe tyranny of Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge.

Related Posts:

Tonle Sap, Siem Reap: Dead Crocs, Floating Villages & Orphanages

Ten Interesting things about Cambodia

  1. Cambodia doesn’t have a McDonald’s, they do have a substitute: Lucky Burger. Pretty good
  2. The Cambodian flag is the only one in the world with a building depicted on it. And of course, it’s the Angkor Wat
  3. You will find Lexuses, Mercedes, and other luxury cars as regular taxis. Most of them have been imported second hand from the US or Europe. Still, the rides are pretty good.
  4. The main language and ethnicity are the Khmer.
  5. Their main religion historically has oscillated between Hinduism and Buddhism depending on the whims of the ruler. For now, it’s Buddhism that rules,…literally.
  6. Their local music is pretty awesome. Sin Sisamouth is an icon. Click here for a sample.
  7. The death of their dictator Pol Pot is still a mystery with rumors ranging from heart attack to suicide. Read this if he interests you
  8. Pradal Serey is the Cambodian version of kickboxing and is pretty intense.khmer-kickboxing-siem - Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
  9. The Angkor was originally planned to be an accurate astronomical tool as well. However, a 0.5 degree deviation spoiled the perfection. Read more here.
  10. Cambodia officially declared independence from France in 1953. Read more…

Suggested Three Day Itinerary at Siem Reap/ Angkor Wat

34 thoughts on “Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia: Yummy Amoks, Tomb Raider & Khmer Rouge

  1. I loved my visit to Cambodia. The Khmer people are so friendly and welcoming! I definitely agree with you on your listed places to visit. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to see the famous Ta Prohm and live out my Tomb Raider fantasies because I ran out of time there! It’s very interesting that Cambodia doesn’t have a Mcdonald’s and is the only country to have a flag with a building on it! Thanks for the interesting post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Long time back I had read a biography of a sex worker in Cambodia that paints a very gory picture of the place, at least from a sex worker’s perspective. Later, when I spoke to people about it – most people said she is the creation of western media, and things are much better in Cambodia. Your post also gives me the same sense.

    Ankor Wat is a place where I can spend at least couple of weeks – as and when I get to go there.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with your comment about the optimism in Cambodia. It was something that I also felt and often speak about when I talk about Cambodia. I tried the crocodile, not for the first time, but a smoked version and it was delicious.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree that you should do at least 3 days in the Angkor Complex. It’s such a gorgeous archaeological site. I had no idea that there was a Buddha head in a root there! So cool! I found it strange that they use USD so much. I took cash out at an ATM (I’m from the U.S.) and cracked up when it spit out USD and still charged a foreign transaction fee! Haha Great tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a thorough post! I’ve never been so all this info about Cambodia has really sparked a stronger interest in visiting. It’s good to know you need at least three days to make the temple justice. Also the practical tips and things to know were super useful particularly about the currency! I’ll have to get ahold of the movie the Killing Fields too. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Looks like quite the journey! Angkor Wat is definitely on my list as I only had the chance to go to Phnom Penh so far. How is the tourist situation over there? I always see beautiful pictures that showcase the area so well, but I am afraid to be disappointed by a number of tourists and not be able to enjoy it fully. Thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Although I want to visit Angkor Wat one day, I have not read much about until I came across your article. Now I know what to look out for and the tips will surely come in handy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It is my dream to go to Cambodia. Khmer Rouge has indeed wrecked havoc on the people on Cambodia. It is commendable that the locals have been able to bounce back. The resilience is awe inspiring. I would love to visit all the places of importance in Siem Riep and beyond. I am sure it’s a moving experience to visit Cambodia. Yours is a very different blog on the country.


  9. Great information about seeing all the temples from a base at Siemens Reap. Angkor Wat has been on my bucket list for decades. I love visiting countries through their food and agree that it’s usually so fresh. One step closer to fulfilling this bucket list item!


  10. Angkor Wat is in wishlist since long and thanks for sharing all the details about what to do here. Sunrise point is must for me too, and I loved how it is crowded and people get up so early to take that divine glimpse. Also watching out Bheesma on the bed or arrows sculpture would be great and that was my favorite part of Mahabharata too. Good to know about female temple too.


  11. I have travelled the South Easten region quite extensively but not managed to touch Combodia and really want to visit it. The sunset points surely one of the focus with the angor wat at the backdrop a photographers paradise. I m keen on trying out the food as well and the art. Thanks for sharing this post which only inspires me to pack and leave.


  12. I love reading your post, a very informative one with practical tips and advices – inc your Embassy Alert. Have learned something again about the death of their dictator – mmmm such an interesting rumour (or fact).


  13. Excellent guide. I think about how much we learn about WW1 and WW2 in school history – and yes, it is important, but I think what happened in Cambodia is so heinous that it should be taught more in schools. It is far more recent too. Especially for us in NZ – in recent years the NZ brother of a torture victim of the Khmer Rouge regime has been fighting for justice, with one of the commanders only being charged in 2015.


  14. Very interesting and informative post! Ankor Wat is on my bucket list and I’m glad I came across this post before visiting the place. Thanks for sharing all the details about the complex and the important spots to visit. I like how the tree branches are intertwined with the temple boulders in Ta Prohm. The sunset view is a sight to behold. Great to see the scene from Mahabharata engraved on the temple walls.


  15. This is very helpful since my family and I are going to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam next month for a holiday break. We still don’t have a final itinerary so, this just saved me.

    Can’t wait to see Siem Reap and the rest of Cambodia. You just made me really excited. Thank you!


  16. Cambodia has an aura of poignancy and intrigue. It is indeed remarkable how resilient the country and the people are. Of course, the Khmer Rouge and the genocide remain a black spot on humanity, but so heartening to note the optimism of the people. The temples of Siem Reap are indeed poems in stone that have stood the test of time and are a silent testimony to the passage of history.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I studied the Khmer Rouge briefly when I was at university. It was incredible and terrifying in equal measure at what they managed to do in such a short space of time. Learning more about the Cambodian genocide, and visiting Angkor Was are things I’ve wanted to do for a while now. This guide has given me more enthusiasm to do so!


  18. Cambodia is definitely on my list of places to visit, but I admit I know very little about the awful history there – I am glad the country and its people are recovering. I also didn’t realise Ta Prohm temple was real, I thought it was just made for the movies!!


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