In part 2 of my article on Siem Reap, I will explore the attractions outside of the city. A private car is necessary to get to the attractions as tut tut will not make the trek outside of the city area. It is also a wonderful way to see the Cambodian countryside and the locals’ daily lives. For the trip to Koulen Mountain, you will need to pack your swimsuit and a towel so you can swim under a waterfall.
Surrounding Area of Siem Reap
Day 3: Banteay Srei, Koulen Mountain, Banteay Samre and sunset at Phnom Bakheng
Start the day at 9:00 am and head to Banteay Srei. This temple complex is also known as the “Citadel of Women” or “Citadel of Beauty”, presumably referring to its size and delicate carvings. Unlike the major sites of Angkor, Banteay Srei was not a royal temple. It was built not by kings, but by Brahmin priests. The temple is significantly smaller than the temples at Angkor, but the decorations on the outside are much more detailed. This site will only need 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete the visit.
Afterward, head to Koulen Mountain to see the famous sleeping Buddha and swim under a beautiful waterfall. The ticket is $20 per person to enter the mountain. From the base of Koulen Mountain to Preah Ang Thom, a 16th-century Buddhist monastery with Cambodia’s largest sleeping Buddha, requires 45 minutes of driving on a terrible bumpy dirt road filled with pot holes. The Buddha is housed in a temple high up the mountain and is a serene sight to see. Light some incenses and offer some prayers. Don’t forget to leave a small donation for the monastery as it is a proper thing to do.
After visiting the small monastery, head over to Kbal Spean. You will only need 15 minutes to see the sight. Kbal Spean is an area referred to as the valley of a 1,000 Lingas (phallic symbol of Hindu god Shiva) depicted as neatly arranged bumps that cover the surface of a sandstone bed rock, and lingam-yoni designs. It is an interesting sight to see the carvings lying at the bottom of the river bed.
Next, head over to the two waterfalls on Koulen Mountain. The first is between four and five meters high and 20 to 25 meters wide. The second waterfall is 15 to 20 meters high and 10 to 15 meters wide. Head to the second waterfall to swim in the refreshing water underneath the waterfall. There are chests that you can rent to lock your belongings for a small fee and a small shack to change. The swim is the highlight of the trip to Koulen Mountain, especially on a hot day.
After spending time on Koulen Mountain, take a lunch break at a nearby restaurant that your driver can take you. Head back to Angkor to visit Banteay Samre. This is a small temple complex that is also one of the most complete complexes at Angkor and was restored using the archaeological method. The method entails complete deconstruction of the building, numbering all of its components and then painstakingly reconstructing and reinforcing the temples. After seeing all the temples, this one only requires a short visit as temples starts looking alike. If you are short on time, you can skip this temple.
End the day with sunset at Phom Bakheng. You will need to have your shoulders and knees covered otherwise you will not be let up to the temple. The important thing is to get to bottom of the hill by 4:00 pm and be one of the first 50 to be able to go to the top of the temple. You will have to walk up a path for 15 minutes to the temple. Phom Bakheng is a very popular spot with Chinese tour groups. The sunset was beautiful as it sets over the temple, but you will have to deal with unruly tourists. The alternative is to go to Pre Rup which I did on Day 4. Sunset is around 5:30 in the winter. Head back to the hotel to be refreshed after.
The Lotus Blanc Resort concierge recommended visiting Changreash, a popular local eatery, after I insisted on not eating at touristy places. The waiters had very limited English but the menu had pictures and English descriptions. The food was delicious, cheap and it was nice not to be surrounded by tour groups.
Day 4: Chong Khneas Floating Village, Beng Mealea, Roulous Group and Pre Rup
Head out at 9:00 am to Chong Khneas, a famous floating village at the edge of Tonle Sap Lake. The lake is located at the southern part of Siem Reap town about 15 Km, and takes approximately 30 minutes by vehicles to the boat dock. You will need to buy a ticket to go on a boat tour for $30 per person. The boat trip through the floating village takes approximately two hours. You will explore the different of Khmer, Muslim and Vietnamese floating households and the floating markets, fisheries, clinics, schools, basketball course, pigsty and other boatloads of tourists. If you have never seen a floating village, this will be an interesting experience.
I had visited the Mekhong Delta in Vietnam and that was a much more interesting and authentic experience. Beware that the boat captain may take you to a “store” to buy overpriced gifts for the school children if you want to visit the school. My driver warned me that not all of the gifts that are bought will make it to the children and a lot of time, the store is owned by the boat captain. I did that and my boat captain refused to let me visit the school. In addition, he also suggested I give him an outrageous tip which is not normal. You can tip the captain for his service if it was good but generally they won’t suggest a certain dollar amount.
After the boat tour, head to Beng Mealea, also known as the jungle temple. The entrance fee for this temple is $5. This temple was built in mid-12th century, with later additions in the ring of the Suryavarman II. The temple is in a ruinous state and is not over run by tourists. You can actually climb on parts of the ruins and it is a different look at an unrestored temple and the power of nature taking over it.
If you are not sick of temples at this point, visit Roulous Group. This is a collection of monuments representing the remains of the Hariharalaya, the first major capital of the Angkoreian-era Khmer empire. There weren’t many things to see after 3 days of visiting different temples at this particular complex.
For a different sunset viewing, head to Prasat Pre Rub. This is a smaller temple and more favored by western tourists for sunset viewing. It is still crowded but everyone is respectful of the temple and fellow tourists. I had a much better time at this venue than at Phom Bakheng. You will also not need to have your shoulders or knees covered at this temple.
For the last night, I chose to have an upscale dinner and attend an apsaras dance performance. There are a few options out there and this site has a good list. I went with an upscale dinner and dance performance at the Borei Angkor Resort for $36 per person. This includes a 30 minute cocktail session with soft drinks, chilled juices and beer and a set meal with the apsara dance performance. The performance that night had about 10 guests total so it was very intimate. The food and service were good. However, wear pants or bring a lot of bug sprays. I spent the whole time wiping off bugs that were falling from the trees onto the table and spraying myself with bug spray. The staff was nice enough to light an incense under my table and to give me a bottle of bug spray.
A negative for me was the misleading pricing for drinks when you are at the performance. Be warned that there are no complementary drinks included with your meal beside tap water. I was unaware of this and the Borei Angkor charged me $20 for a bottle of sparkling water! If they have made it known that drinks were not included in the dinner, then I would not felt like I got ripped off. When you are paying $20 bottle of water for a $36 cocktail, meal and dance, it becomes outrageous. Other than the surprise bill at the end, the overall experience was good.
I had a wonderful time in Siem Reap. The locals are the nicest and most helpful people you can meet on your travels. I was glad to have the opportunity to visit history and to be in awe of what people and nature can do together.
My driver, Sophal, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for his chauffeur services.
Link for part 1 of my adventures in Cambodia.
For more articles, visit the TRAVEL page.
*Special thanks to Lotus Blanc Resort for the very comprehensive itinerary that became the basis of this article.