As planned I get up at 4am and start at 4:30am with a Tuk-Tuk to Angkor Wat. I arrive there so early that it is still closed when I am at the entrance so that I am literally the first one in the temple area. Thus, I can even take a long exposure of the main entrance without any people on it.
So I can also station my tripod in the first row. I am bit scared because there are a lot of clouds again…
But my persistency should be rewarded and I get some amazing shots. Finally.
I’m already back in the hostel shortly after 8am so that I have time to take a 30min nap before I check out. At 11am I get picked up by the driver of the Yoga retreat “Angkor Zen Gardens” I will spent the next 6 days at. I will talk more about this in the next post. 🙂
In the morning I take the bus back to Siem Reap. This time, the stop we do is not as annoying as the one on the way to Battambang. After arrival in Siem Reap I have lunch the Christa Restaurant which is very empty despite its high TripAdvisor rating. I think the rating is right though, the food is both very cheap and delicious.
I don’t have a real plan for the day so I just stroll over the Old Market, buy a shirt and some souvenirs and look around in the city. As I decide that I want to have one last try to get a nice sunrise shot of Angkor Wat, I have a early dinner and go to bed before 8pm because I will have to get up at 4am again.
I get up at 7 again because today I always meet at 8:30 am with another Tuk-Tuk driver. For today I made an appointment with the Tuk-Tuk driver who annoyed me so much on the day I arrived in Battambang. However, he seems a lot more motivation than yesterday’s driver and puts a lot more effort into his tour. Our plan is to do the sight in the North I did not go to yet.
At first we stop at the market where the real Cambodian people buy there stuff and there are indeed no other tourists. The areas where fish and meat are sold do not match European standards at all and I doubt that I could handle this meat if it is not cooked through really really well. No cooling is used at all for the meat, the fish is at least lying on ice. They have a lot of things on sale you could not find in Europe or Australia, for example, mice, snakes or insects. My guide explains that none of this was typical food before the time of the Khmer Rouge but during this time food was so rare that people started to eat everything. And as some things did actually taste quite good they kept eating it until today.
Our second stop is a lotus farm where I cannot only see heaps of beautiful lotus flowers but also try a lotus fruit. I did not know before that you can it the fruit of this flower, but apparently it tastes really delicious, a bit like peanut. The farm also has a really nice garden area where couples come when they get married to get nice photos taken.
The next stop is the killing field of Wat Samrong Kong. On the way there we stop at a spot where a woman sells bamboo sticky rice, one of my favourite Cambodian dishes. This time it is prepared with black beans instead of cashews though.
Next to the killing field memorial there are two temples. An old one that served as a torture prison for the Khmer Rouge and a new temple for worshipping. The memorial is not part of museum as in Phnom Phen but it surrounded by stone carvings of the different cruelities of the Khmer Rouge. For example, that they sometimes even ate the inner organs of their victims…
The following stops are at different smaller houses in the countryside producing different things. First, we stop at a shack where rice paper for spring rolls is produced. It is a lot easier than I expected.
We also have a look at another house where bananas are cut and dried to produce those delicious Cambodian banana chips.
The last stop of today’s tour is Ek Phnom, probably the most famous temple close to Battambang. I am a bit disappointed by it though, because it is very small and not in a particular good shape. I enjoyed the banan temple a lot more because of the great view and the fact that you have to do some work to get there.
Around lunchtime I am back at the hostel so that I can go to the Kinyei cafe again and have a brunch. Then, I go for a walk around the city without a real destination. I have a look at some temples, but nothing really special.
In the evening I visit Battambangs other Spa and get a oil massage. It is very relaxing and not painful at all, but I also think that that’s why the Khmer massage is more effective.
For dinner I check out ne of the streetfood kitchens at the riverside and have to say that the quality of the food is actually really satisfying.
The next morning up at 7am although I have plenty of time until I get picked up at 11am by the Tuk-Tuk driver I found on TripAdvisor. Thus, I dedicate the first hour of the day to a ROMWOD Warrior Routine because I feel very tight from the uncomfortable Mekong Express Bus. Afterwards, I get a coffee at the Kinyei Café that is supposed to be one of the best cafés in Cambodia. I’m not sure, if I like the coffee that much, but the location is very lovely and the stuff friendly.
Then I explore Battambang on foot. At first I walk to the old train station of Battambang. There should be some really nice old train shacks from French times. However, there are a lot of stray dogs around the area so that I cannot really get to the buildings to take proper photos. So, I just decide to move on and visit the White Elephant Pagoda, Wat Damrei Sor, It has the statues of white Elephants in the front, obviously, but it is closed for public visit.
I walk further in direction of the governor’s house, however, on the way I pass the Naga park. In the middle of the park there is a huge statue (that’s obviously where the name is coming from). Special about this popular motive is, that it is entirely built from metal of the weapons used in the civil war against the Khmer Rouge and therefore represents the way to piece.
The governor’s house is a nice colonial building that does not really fit into the Cambodian buildings around. Besides from those main stops, I enjoy the walk a lot. Battambang feels really modern and western with a lot of fancy cafes, boutiques and Tuk-Tuk drivers who speak really good English. Of course, it is also enjoyable to be a bit aside the tourist masses.
For breakfast I go to the Choco L’Art Cafe which is one of those fancy cafes mentioned before.
At 11am I get picked up by my Tuk-Tuk driver who tells me that this is his last job as a Tuk-Tuk driver because he got a new job as a professional tour guide for a larger tour company.
Our first stop is a local countryside market were the Cambodian people can buy food and clothes. In the trees there we can see fruit bats. They are significantly larger than the common insect eating bats. Sometimes they are caught and eaten by the locals. There blood is supposed to be good for the health of the eyes.
Then, we stop at the Banan temple, my highlight for today. The temple is located at the top of a rewarding 350+ staircase and consists of 5 towers which all ruined. Only the larger tower in the middle is in a better shape. The temple is definetly not comparable with Angkor Wat at all, but the location and the view over the surrounding countryside is magnificent. Downstairs I am looking for a cave that I read about on the Internet. I takes me quite a while to find the entrance, but once I arrive there, a Cambodian woman shows me around in the huge cave system. There is also one stalaktite from which holy water is dropping with which I get a blessing.
Not far from the banan temple there is a modern version of the famous bamboo train. I do take a ride, but I think it’s way too touristic. The track is not traditional at all and in the end you have to wait for 20min in the middle of nowhere next to some guys trying to sell you drinks and souvenirs…
Our last stop of the day is Sampov mountain which contains several things to see. The main sight is the killing cave. It is another witness of the cruelitis of the Khmer Rouge. At the top of the cave they killed their victims so that they could just drop the bodies into the cave. Right next to the cave there are several statues depicting the punishments of hell you get for certain crimes.
Further up the mountain there is another cave containing a temple. There are also heaps of aggressive monkey what is very annoying.
At the top of the mountain you can find another Pagoda but the actual highlight is the great view over the surrounding countryside.
Half an hour before sunset I have to be back at the bottom because the bats come out of their cave at sunset. It’s incredible to watch. Millions and millions of bats come out of the cave and form a long road in the sky. It takes over 40min for all bats to leave the cave. I don’t stay that long though, but come back to the hostel around 7pm.
For dinner I go to La Casa and get the best Pizza I have eaten in Cambodia. It is run by some Italian Expats.
In the morning I take the Mekong Express Bus to Battambang because there is no Giant Ibis connection. I know why I usually use the Giant Ibis, it is a lot more comfortable. After arrival I actually want to walk to the Royal Hotel I’m staying in, but somehow the hotel figured out when I arrive and sent a Tuk-Tuk to pick me up. After the 30s drive he tells me about the tours he can do, for example that he has to other people for a tour at 2pm I could share a Tuk-Tuk with, but because I had a very short night I just wanna sleep.
After I got rid of him I check into my amazing hotel room. It is crazy big, has an amazing bathroom and both aircon and fan. One of the reasons for me to go to Battambang is that I can get such a hotel for a very cheap price because not many tourists are coming to Battambang.
I have a great brunch at Café Eden and afterwards I go to bed. At 2 pm the Tuk-Tuk knocks at my door and I tell him that I am not interested. 5 min later he is back because he didn’t get it and I get very annoyed. Luckily he understands it and I can finally sleep for a while.
In the evening I have a look at Psar Nat, the main market of Battambang, and stroll a bit through the city. It is a lot less touristic than all the places I have been to before. You cannot buy souvenirs anywhere.
I enjoy the atmosphere lot. There are heaps of nice small cafés reminding me a bit of Australia. Although Battambang sees so few tourists, it feels very western as the cafe and breakfast places look my like the hipster cafes you would find in Europe or Australia than what I have seen in other parts of Cambodia. The restaurants look really appealing without being expensive and the riverside adds a nice feature to the city.
Finally, I have time for my first massage and go to Hope of Blind a massage center where you get a massage by a blind person. It is a Khmer massage which is done with the elbows and is quite painful. It is hard to relax during the massage but afterwards you feel a lot better.
For dinner I go to Coconut Lyly that serves typical Khmer food. Then, I go to bed early to be fit on the next day.
At 9am we get picked up by the taxi the couple has organized for us. We are lucky and the driver is the company’s boss who can also serve as our tour guide. He has a huge lexus and seems to be quite wealthy.
He tells us that he was very poor as a child but at some point he met an American guy who sponsored his education so that he could study English and IT. As he could not find a job in IT he switched to tourism and obviously it seems to work quite well for him.
At first, he stops for us at one of the places where the sandstone blocks used for the Angkorian temples where cut out of the ground. You can still see some unfinished blocks and cuts in the ground where blocks have been taken out. Considering the fact that they didn’t have access to machines the cuts are surprisingly straight.
From there, we drive all the way to Koh Ker. Koh Ker is not one specific temple but a group of many different temples that has been the capital of the Khmer empire at some point. We stop at the Pram Temple first which consists of 5 towers, 2 of them having trees growing around their entrances. There is literally no one else.
Only a few meters further is the Black Lady Temple, Neang Kharrw. It has not always been black though, but got the color only because of bush fires. I think the temple looks beautiful.
Another few meters further there is the Chen Temple, which I do not find to interesting.
When we arrive at the main temple, Thom Temple, you will find on all pictures showing “Koh Ker”, we have lunch first. Then we enter the temple and climb up to the top. The temple reminds a bit of Machu Picchu in Peru. From the feeling I would say, that it is higher than Angkor Wat, but I might be wrong.
There are also several temples dedicates to the Shiva Linga in Koh Ker. In fact, there are so many of them, that they only got numbers. We visit the Linga 4 temple. In ceremonies, water is poured onto the linga and leaves the temple than through a hole in the wall as holy water.
Afterwards, we stop at 3 more temples, non of them very special:
- Kra Chab
- Damrei Kandoeng
Then, it is late enough to go to Beng Mealea so that we arrive after all the tour groups have left. Beng Mealea is known as the jungle temple and this is pretty accurate. Nature has completely taken over and none of the entrances can be used today. We just climb over one of the walls when no one looks but unfortunately some policeman notices it and we have to leave. However, we do find an official path in, although you have to follow an official boardwalk and cannot go wherever you want. At some point decide to leave the official path again for a photo, this time without anyone noticing.
All of us enjoy the temple a lot, it’s definetly the highlight of the day. It just looks like a movie set, tomb raider was also partly filmed over here.
Around sunset we drive back towards town. On the way we stop to try bamboo sticky rice. Every stand sells a different version, ours is with cashews. It tastes amazing, one of my favorite Khmer foods!😍
Back in town, we say goodbye to the couple we went with and meet again with our friends to have dinner close to the old market.
As I did not enjoy the guided tour of the hostel too much because we could only spent very few time in each temple and I could not see the sunrise because of the clouds I decide to do the small circuit again, this time on my own.
Thus, I have to get up at 4am again just to figure out that it is to cloudy for the sunrise yet another time…
Anyways, I can at least stay inside Angkor Wat as long as I wish. With my travel book I have a close look at the huge carvings surrounding the inner temple and try to understand the stories they are telling. It is amazing how you can read the carvings, it is nearly like an ancient book. I can also climb up to the top of the central tower because the queue is not too long yet. Most people prefer to sleep in and after getting up at 6am 2 times I can understand that. I find Angkor Wat impressive again and it is truly the king of the temples.
From Angkor Wat my Tuk-Tuk driver brings me to the small temple of Baksei Chamrong which looks a bit like a pyramid with very steep stairs to climb up. As most people are only interested in the famous temples you “have to see”, it is very quiet and great for pictures despite the small distance to Angkor Wat.
Afterwards, I even walk to the 2 very small temples north of Baksei Chamrong.
As next I go to Bayon, the most famous temple within Angkor Thom. Instead of visiting only Bayon as on my last trip I only use it as a starting point and visit also all the small temples in Angkor Thom.
After Bayon I walk to the Baphuon temple. I really like the entrance which is a long stone path. It has the form of pyramid you can climb up on a very steep staircase. From the top you have an amazing view. On the backside you should be able to see a huge three-dimensional buddha head within the back wall, but I really cannot see it, even after trying for 5 minutes.
Next to Baphuon in the North is the Royal Enclosure with the very small temple Phimeanakas in the middle. In difference to the information of the lonely planet it is not possible to climb up to its top though. The temple is not in a good shape and therefore not too spectacular in comparison to the previous ones.
Further to the north, reachable over a small path through the jungle, there is Preah Palilay. It is s chilled out. the temple has completely been covered by nature and no one else is there. It is a great place to sit down, rest and enjoy the view of the temple.
Leaving to the West you get to Tep Pranam where you cannot see anything else than a Buddha statue.
I walked South to get to the Terrace of Elephants which which has statues of Garudas and Lions at the entrances. Crossing the main street I reach South Kleang which is not too special and quite destroyed. To the North there are 12 towers known as Prasat Suor Prat.
By than it is nearly dinner time so that I meet with my Tuk-Tuk driver at the opposite of the terrace of the Leper King and let him recommend a restaurant for me. Indeed, I cannot complain over their food and the prices are just as high as everywhere else in the Angkor area.
After lunch I buy one of those magnificent paintings for my apartment and visit the terrace of the Leper king. From above or outside it does not look special at all. However, there is small space between the inner and the outer wall you can go in. From the inside, the walls are covered with carvings of very well preserved Asparas with heaps of different haircuts.
I go back to my Tuk-Tuk and let the driver bring me to the Western gate to take a few pictures. The next stop is the space between Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda. Both temples contain nice carvings and are really calmas most tourists skip them.
The next temple, Ta Keo, was skipped by the hostel’s tour because “it is under construction”. You can still go in, the only thing is that there is a crane in the way of your pictures. Ta Keo is impressive just because of it’s huge dimensions. Not only does it cover a large area, but you also climb to the top on a steep staircase and enjoy the great view.
After Ta Keo, I am back on the normal track and I visit Ta Prom, the Tomb raider temple, next. When I went there with the group I had the impression that the temple is quite small, but it absolutely isn’t. It is huge and due to the state of destruction you cannot take any path that should be there. I get lost in the temple 3 times and it takes me ages to get out. Now, I have time to really appreciate this temple and I can understand why it is most people’s favorite. The trees growing through the walls are just stunning. And the small paths make it a real experience. Only minus is that there is no way you could take a picture without other tourists, even that late in the day.
The last temple of the day is Banteay Kdei. After visiting temples for 11h already and seeing some of the most popular ones before it cannot really catch me anymore as I am just tired. However, the artificial lake on the other side, Sra Srang, seems to be a great spot for the sunset. So I ask my driver if that would be possible. He is a bit shocked that I still don’t want to go home, but for 5$ he agrees. So I watch the sun setting over the lake and in my opinion it is a lot better than the both famous sunset spot I visited before.
As a coincidence I meet my friends from the previous day at the lake who have done the Grand Circuit today and came also to the lake to watch the sunset. Thus, we plan to have dinner together.
I arrive in the hostel at 7pm, so I spent over 14h in the temple area. Accordingly, I am absolutely crushed but I still go to have dinner with my friends. Afterwards, it turns out that my Chinese roommate has found a couple that would go to the other temples that are further away, Koh Ker and Beng Mealea, with us on the next day, so that we can split the costs again.
When I wanted to go to bed on the previous night it turned out that my chinese room mate would like to join as well so that the trip gets a lot cheaper for us. When we wanna start, a Brazilian guy asks if he can join as well so that we can divide the 60$ for the car by 4 instead of by 2.
Our first stop is the landmine museum. It tells the story of a Cambodian hero who dedicated his life to the clearance of Cambodia from landmines. He has cleared several thousand mines without any accidents, although he neither has any education in this area nor professional equipment. To open the mines he just used hammer and chisel. Unfortunately, not everyone was that lucky and a lot of people died or got seriously wounded trying to destroy mines.
The museum is very interesting and offers a great audioguide. We stay for approx. 2h before we drive to Kbal Spean, the river of 1000 Lingas, next.
There, we have to climb up a small mountain to get to the sight. There are different carvings for example of Asparas and Vishnu. However, the main feature are 1000 Lingas. The special thing about the Lingas and the carvings is the fact that they are all covered by a river.
A bit downstream from the carvings, there is a small waterfall that doesn’t carry too much water as we are at the end of the rain season.
Once we arrive back at the bottom of the mountain, we are driven to a restaurant where we have lunch.
Then, we stop at Banteay Srey, the lady temple. It is called like that because it has the finest carvings of all temples which cannot be produced by a mans hand. Furthermore, a different kind of stone is used that gives the temple a pinkish touch. All of us enjoy the temple a lot. It is quite small compared to the huge temples in the Angkor area, however, it is very beautiful. The carvings are filigran and show a lot of detail. The temple is also in a very good state. As it slowly getting to the evening the light is very nice for pictures.
When we had seen enough of the lady temple we drove off and had one more temple to see. Our last stop is Banteay Samre that is not visited by a lot of people because it is not in the main area and does not have any very special feature. However, this is exactly why it is so nice to visit. We have the temple nearly for ourself so that we can take a few very nice photos without any other people in the background. Also, we are allowed to stay a bit longer than 5:30pm so that it is possible for us to take some nice photos of the sunset behind Banteay Samre. I think it was a great idea to stop here.
On the way back we pass the pool Sra Srang and see a beautiful sunset with a great red sun.
Back in the hostel we go to have dinner together in a cheap restaurant not far from pub street.
Finally, I can sleep in a bit. Sleeping in is 7am in this case though. Afterwards, I get picked up by a young Khmer guy who is working for Countryside Cooking Classes (http://www.countrysidecookingclass.com/) because I am doing a Khmer cooking class today.
Once everyone else has been picked up as well, we make our way to a local market in the countryside. We do not buy anything because the organizers get the ingredients straight from local farmers, but we get a few explanations to the stuff that is on offer. There are heaps of different fruit on display that I have never seen before. Additionally, we see how coconut milk is produced. I only know the version of going to the supermarket and buying a can, but here they produce the milk by hand from fresh coconuts. For the busy Khmer you can buy curry or amok paste to accelerate the cooking process. The areas where they sell fish and raw meat without any cooling is quite taxing for the European nose and I can imagine that this has the potential to make me really sick if ot is not cooked very well before eating.
The probably worst thing for someone who isn’t used to the Khmer cusine is the fish paste. Fish is mixed with rice flour and salt in big containers. Then, it is kept open to the heat and air for month to years. It is really hard for me that this can be healthy. The guide explains that it is usually for the famous Khmer dish Amok, but they replace it in the cooking class because Western tourists usually get sick after eating it. Well, I believe this without any doubts…
They only thing we can really try on the market are insects. The guide buys us a bag with crickets, bugs and flour larvae. My favourite are probably the crickets as they taste the most like grilled chicken.
From market we drive to the place where we are going to prepare the food. We start with the dessert. My group does a pumpkin custard while the others produce banana sticky rice. Afterwards, we do fresh spring rolls as starter while the other group prepares a banana flour salad.
Once the starter is finished we get together to eat it. The spring rolls taste good, but the salad is absolutely amazing! I love it.
Then, we all prepare chicken amok for the main dish. The main difference to curry is that amok leaves are used which only grow in Cambodia. Of course, also the spices used for the amok paste (we are preparing freshly) differ.
Once the amok is ready, we continue to eat. It tastes better than all amoks I have had before. 🙂
Afterwards, the dessert is served. The banana custard is nice but super sweet. I prefer the banana sticky rice. I think this is the first Cambodian dessert I enjoy a lot because it is not too sweet.
Once, we had enough food, we are brought back to the hostel. There, I meet a girl that had tried to contact me because I hung a sign next to the reception to look for fellow travelers joining me on a trip to Banteay Srey, but somehow she could not reach me. Thus, I’m very lucky to meet here and we agree to go together on the next day.
After a short nap I leave with a bus to the floating village of Kampong Phluk. After arrival we move onto a boat that brings us to a restaurant on the water. The floating village is built on stilts because the water is meter high in the wet season so that there are no streets. They even have to high and one primary School that can only be reached by boat during this time.
From the restaurant, I drive with a small boat through the mangroves which is a great experience as the area looks picture-perfect. For the sunset we get out on the lake Tonle Sap. Then, we head home.