In March 2015, Siem Reap Angkor was voted number 1 and 2 as the best destination in Asia and the world respectively by Trip Advisor. Not so long after this in June, Siem Reap Angkor was crowned number 1 landmark in the world by Trip Advisor again. Not yet enough in August, Siem Reap Angkor continues to impress the world by grabbing another number 1 spot as top destination in the world by the Lonely Planet. Not once, not twice, but thrice. So there’s no debate that this UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cambodia is the best place to visit.
When coming to Siem Reap Angkor, you should never expect to see jungles of skyscrapers, complicated infrastructures or giant brand shopping malls that other modern cities in this 21st century have. It’s not dubbed as the best destination or best landmark for its moderness or fast-growing development but the long and rich history of cultural heritage, with thousands of ancient temples, shrines and tombs have harmoniously stood with the surrounding forests for almost a thousand years. Being in the land of Angkor will give you 12th century vibe, making you feel like you are in the lost Kingdom, where the majestic Angkor complex and the beauty of nature are sources of peace and happiness.
Not different from other proud Cambodians, I’m a regular visitor of Angkor and never get bored of going there again and again. Each time I go, there are always new things to try and see. It’s said that, “As a Cambodian, dying without seeing the Angkor Wat is the most regrettable thing that would ever happen to you.” Blessed enough, I’ve been to Siem Reap and seen Angkor Wat multiple times through family trips, school trips and volunteer programmes. Truthfully speaking, there’s nothing that makes me proud standing in front of Angkor Wat Temple and being astonished by the greatness, elegance and originality of this lotus-shaped architecture that my ancestors had sweated and shed bloods to build, and that’s very reassuring that this temple is perfectly well preserved by Cambodian government and international partners. So when is the best time to see Angkor Wat Temple? Sunrise would be the answer. The rising sun behind the temple and its reflection in the pond there will make you believe in miracle and understand what it means by “heaven on earth”.
Angkor isn’t only about Angkor Wat which is the biggest religious monument in the world, but it is a complex of hundreds of ancient temples that were built between 9-12 century. So to visit them all thoroughly, you need to spend at least two weeks, I think. Due to the time constraint of each of my trips, I usually took Motor Kong Bey, a three-wheeled vehicle, or rented a bicycle to ride around this historical city, which is one of the must-to-do things when visiting Angkor. The memorable experience about cycling in Angkor land is being able to feel the fresh air, getting tanned by the sunlight, listening to the music of the nature from singing birds and insects, and most importantly exploring hidden temples in the jungles. So what temples should be visited aside from Angkor Wat? Bayon, the multi-faced temple, Ta Pruhm, the jungle temple where the movie Tomb Raider starred by Angelina Julie took place, Bakheng, the hill temple famous for sunset sighting, and Bonteay Srey, the most beautifully-carved temple should be on the list. If those temples weren’t closely located to each other, they would claim the UNESCO World Heritage Sites on their own since they all are unique and outstanding, to my belief. However, there are more temples to see, and of course, each one of those is unique and majestic in its own way.
More than temples, the natural attractions make Siem Reap Angkor even more diverse. Kulen Mountain, believed to be the sacred mount by Cambodian people, has beautiful waterfalls, mysterious jungles and the stone carvings under the water. Same goes to Kbal Spean, the mountain that is less visited but equally beautiful as Kulen Mountain. Nothing makes me feel better than traveling to these mountains, being able to see clusters of butterflies, bathing in the cold and clean waterfall and getting cooled down by the mountainous temperature. Moreover, Tonle Sap Biodiversity Lake which is the freshwater fish habitat during the breeding season should never be ignored too. It’s the biggest lake in Southeast Asia where you would see the sky meets the water in every direction as if you were in the middle of the ocean. Floating villages and restaurants are there waiting for you.
Cultural and natural attractions are famously known to make Siem Reap Angkor the best destination, but the people also play a very important role in providing the unforgettable experience to the visitors. Welcoming smiles, helpful and easy-going nature of Cambodian people never fail to warm travelers’ hearts. No doubt, a lot of foreign friends and travelers I know keep saying Cambodians are ones of the friendliest and kindest people in the world. You’ll be likely treated like a king, queen or celebrity since most of Cambodian people do like foreigners. What can be better than visiting the world’s top destination, meeting and making new friends with the friendliest people on earth? Of course, a trip to Siem Reap Angkor, Cambodia, Kingdom of Wonder.
By CHEAB Puthika, ASEAN Correspondent from Cambodia