Author: Amelia Hesson
Date of Trip: January 2015
We just got back from a 4-day/4 night stay in Siem Reap where we visited the many temples around Angkor Wat, including the main one which is very close to the hotel. Adding on a land tour to Angkor was worth the time and effort, the company we used was very good (see below). We landed in SR just as the sun was setting, I could feel the energy of this place immediately. By the time I got here, my passport was out of spaces (surprise) and the man at immigration gave me a hard time, but it turned out that he was just pulling my leg. I thought he wanted a bribe, and I started to cry and that was enough to elicit my entry.
We had left most of our cruise luggage in Singapore (easy storage at the airport, although we used the Crown Plaza connected to Changi Airport for this purpose) so all we had was carry on pieces, that made it easier to get out of the airport once we found our guide, who had sent a stand in because he was ill. We were assured our guide would be with us the following day, and off we went to our hotel, the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort in Siem Reap. It was a lovely place, we were met with gracious folks offering us non-alcoholic drinks and escorted into the seating area where the front desk came to us and checked us in! I was shocked at this luxurious treatment, and as I looked around I was pleased to see greenery everywhere, and lots of smiling faces. I’ve never checked into a hotel quite like this!
Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort
This hotel was lovely, an elegant and organic place with an “old school” feel that evokes peaceful contemplation and is a perfect compliment to the emotional impact of Cambodia, the people, and temples. The location was perfect, slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap but close enough to experience everything the city had to offer.
The gardens and setting of this hotel were lush and inviting. The people who work at the hotel were delightful; everybody so kind and mindful of my requests and needs at all times. From my first encounters with the various people working here, such as in the shop keeper and at the front desk folks, every aspect of my stay was attended to, they were one step ahead of me at all times when it came to anticipating my needs. I can’t say enough about the incredible service here!
My room was beautiful, every imaginable luxury was available to me, the amenities were top quality (Lavin) and there was always a basket of fresh fruit for me. They provided free Internet so I could keep in touch with my friends and family. The beds were humungous, the pillows and sheets/towels were very luxurious as well. The TV was large, lots of English channels, and just about everything you could want in a room was there. They even sent me home with lovely cotton scarves as a memento of my stay.
The food was fantastic; the breakfast buffet had everything including fresh juice, fresh omelets, any type of tea or coffee I wanted, delicious breads and so much more. If I wanted it and didn’t see it in the buffet it was brought to me immediately. The bar for late afternoon snacks was fantastic too; the sandwiches and Ice creams were the best. What more can I say? I can’t wait to come back to Angkor Wat/Siem Reap and stay here again!
Visiting the Temples
The following morning after a wonderful breakfast, we were picked up by our guide Ny, who would spend the entire time here with us. After introductions, and lots of bowing, we were off to see Angkor Thom, one of the largest temples.
Angkor Thom is very close to Angkor Wat, and in my opinion it really displays the essence of how these temples were built and what the symbols of the statues mean. We entered one gate and an incredible world of differing temples was contained within the walls of this place including the Elephant Terraces, and different symbolic temples. We rode Elephants here, a lovely experience and something that really evokes the feeling of what it must have been like living like royalty here! All that is contained with in the decorated walls of Angkor Thom were quite beautiful and worth a day of exploration. Don’t miss this.
This is an incredible place, one that I could have spent days and days at. We did a sunset here and it was beautiful and quite thought provoking. While I sat in awe of this magnificent place, I found myself surrounded with Monkeys. What a delight to experience them in their natural habitat, I sat quietly and videoed them, much to my delight. The sunset was amazing, I was able to sit quietly and contemplate the magnificence of this place. Sunrise was another incredible experience, although many people come here to witness the sunrise over Angkor, I found a quite place where I was able to meditate and take in the Majesty of this temple as the sun illuminated it. This was a once in a lifetime moment that I shared with many others but somehow felt a peaceful solitude that comes from being connected to earphones playing my favorite music on my cell phone! This is when technology really enhances my experiences.
Angkor Wat was built first as a Hindu temple than later converted to a Buddhist temple and was completely awe inspiring. Surrounded by a moat, this is the largest religious temple in the world and it is a working temple filled with orange clad Buddhist monks. I had never been to such a place in my life; this evoked such deep contemplation and meditation I did not want to leave. A day was not enough time to see it all, a week would not be enough either, but this a personal depending on how much time you have and want to spend here. I must return here someday, 5 days was not enough time!
This Temple was quite magnificent, surrounded by lush vegetation that at times overtook parts of the temple. I found a lovely lady (the first of several) who was making prayer strings and was able to purchase one for a small donation and she blessed me and boy did I feel this blessing! Bayon Temple was located in the exact center of the walled city of Angkor Thom and one of the highlights of our 5 days in Siem Reap. It contained many smiling faces in the statues adorning this temple, it is called the Mona Lisa of all temples because of these smiling faces. The temple was surrounded by amazing bas-relief scenes of legends and historical events, these stone stories reminded me of ancient Egyptian story reliefs called standards. I found myself saying what an incredible temple this was over and over as I described each of the temples, such is the feelings evoked in each place I visited.
We visited this temple early in the morning before any other tourists visited, making it the most serene of all temples for us. It is called the King of Trees because it is in pristine untouched condition, covered with crumbling stones and over powering trees. This was a very large temple, almost as large as Angkor Wat, and has not been repaired at all. The only thing done to this magnificent temple has been to build wooden stairs around the temple, as well as stairs climbing up to the top and down to the depths of this most sacred place. We were blown away by its majesty and loved seeing it in its natural state of crumbling and dis-repair. Do not miss this temple; try to see it as early as you can for the most perceptual impact.
This is a beautiful temple, which is striking in its long corridors where one can see door after door going into the temple. There are many rooms connected to this temple, one can explore for a long time and barely see anybody else. I came upon an old lady making prayer ties and she blessed me with a beautiful red prayer tie, which was quite a touching experience. I was practically in tears at the intensity of vibrations throughout this sacred place. There are many statues intact here, it requires at least a full morning to explore and if you are lucky enough to meet the beautiful old woman, give her a donation and take her blessings. This is a great place to meditate and contemplate.
Bakong is yet another beautiful temple close to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. This temple has a library connected to it, as most of them do, and is easy to access. The temple itself is very high, you can climb the stairs up to the top and the reward is a beautiful Buddha statue. The stairs are steep, but definitely doable if you take your time and wear proper shoes that grab onto the rocks. Do not wear flip-flops unless you don’t want to climb to the top. Although this is not a huge temple, its tallness is striking and the assent is well worth it. Across the street from this temple are a group of miniatures of many of the temples in this area, it is a great place to orient yourself with these temples and see the big picture. This would certainly be on my must see list!
We ate at a restaurant connected to this store, more on that later. The store was very reasonably priced and had some beautiful items for sale such as statues, hand painted tee shirts, silks, and silver. I bought several items and all were of very high quality.
Angkor Wat was profound for me, it evoked such deep feelings in me and only one other place in this world evokes these deep spiritual feelings, The Redwoods! I wish I had more than 4 days to visit this area with all the surrounding temples, there are so many that we did not visit. My biggest regret is that I did not spend more time visiting the temple of Angkor Wat, I should have taken a full day to explore that complex fully. Cambodia is a fantastic place, the people, the food, and the sites are wonderful. Make sure to take some time to sit and reflect on the temples, they are truly magnificent.