Angkor Wat Tours:
- Introduction, Positioning Flight to New York, and the Hilton JFK
- British Airways First Class Lounge, New York JFK
- Cathay Pacific First Class, New York JFK – Hong Kong
- The Pier First Class Lounge and Cathay Pacific Business Class, Hong Kong – Ho Chi Minh City
- Park Hyatt Saigon
- Lunch at Pho Hoa, Ho Chi Minh City
- Vietnam Airlines Business Class, Ho Chi Minh City – Danang
- Hyatt Regency Danang Resort & Spa
- Vietnam Airlines Economy, Danang – Siem Reap
- Park Hyatt Siem Reap
- Angkor Wat and Other Temples
- Dragonair Business Class, Siem Reap – Hong Kong
- Turbojet, Hong Kong Airport – Macau and the Sheraton Macao Hotel
- The Venetian, Fernando’s, and the Ferry to Hong Kong
- Grand Hyatt Hong Kong Harbor View Suite
- Bo Innovation, Hong Kong
- Amber Restaurant, Hong Kong
- Cathay Pacific The Wing First Class Lounge, Hong Kong
- Cathay Pacific First Class, Hong Kong – New York JFK
- American Airlines JFK Flagship Lounge and New York – Washington National
I don’t really have travel ‘bucket lists’ but there are certainly places and things that catch my imagination, and Angkor Wat has been one of those places for a long time. I’m not sure why exactly, but I had a certain mental image of the place — because it was nearly 1000 years old, so majestic, so religious and because it was in a country in Southeast Asia that I hadn’t yet visitied perhaps. So I was really excited to see the temples outside of Siem Reap.
Because I had been so busy, as I relayed in previous posts, I didn’t do a lot of advance planning. I knew that the cost of visiting the temples was going to consist of:
- Tickets, you have to pay $20 per person.
- A guide. This isn’t required of course but I wanted someone who was familiar with the area and its history, and the specific meaning of each thing we were seeing, who could offer their perspective. Once I was flying all the way to Siem Reap it seemed an inexpensive investment.
- A driver. Also not strictly speaking necessary, you can make your own way to the parks and even hire a guide there or so it seemed or meet up with one. But an easy mode of transportation, and one who had bottles of water and towels to wipe off after walking around in the heat, made the sightseeing much more pleasant.
I shot off an email to the Park Hyatt and managed to arrange something for $150. That included the tickets (2 x $20), guide for the day (I’ve seen guides listed online for ~ $30), and car and driver as well. I could have gotten it cheaper piecemeal, but it was easy and seamless.
Our guide picked us up from the hotel and our first stop was tickets to enter the temple complex, then on to Angkor Wat. The drive is a quick one, it’s only a few miles outside of the center of town.
On arrival at Angkor Wat I was immediately impressed.
Certain parts of the temple were very busy with visitors. Most were wandering around on their own without a guide. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and personable. Whenever something was surprising or impressive he had this funny saying, “Oh my Buddha!”
The temple was constructed as Hindu, of course, but as the ruler of Cambodia became a Buddhist the temple’s statues and carvings were modified as well so that it would be appropriately a Buddhist temple. Built in the 12th century, it’s the largest religious monument in the world.
There are three levels to the temple. As we ascended each, there were fewer tourists. I suppose they didn’t want to walk.
I was surprised, though, by the number of people immodestly dressed inside a religious site. Out of respect, it seems to me, that one should be covered. Shorts and tank tops just didn’t seem appropriate attire, even though it’s certainly hot there.
The back side of the temple is stunning as well, and on that side there are plenty of hawkers selling souvenirs which I suppose some might consider equally inappropriate although there are plenty of tourists to provide services to.
While we stopped along the way between major sites and saw some of the less majestic ones, the next significant temple was Angkor Thom.
Far more popular, though, and especially so with Cambodians visiting Siem Reap was Ta Prohm which our guide described simply as “Angelina Jolie temple” because of its prominence in the film Tomb Raider.
After visiting these major sites, we were hungry for lunch, and asked our guide to pick a place to eat — we asked him for his favorite and not what he thinks we’d like, we asked him what place did he think was best?
The strategy didn’t quite work out the way I had hoped, often times asking someone where they like to go and they go most often when they can is a great way to find real local food and to avoid tourist traps. Asking someone at such a restaurant what food they like best, or would serve to their own mother, can be a way of getting the best out of a restaurant.
Here, giving our guide the choice, he did pick a restaurant nearby that was visited mostly by Cambodians and other Southeast Asians.. but regional tourists.. and a restaurant that it runs out is owned by the family of his boss at the tour company. It wasn’t bad at all, in fact it was quite good, but impossibly pricey for the food served.
Here’s the menu (click to enlarge):
We asked our guide and driver to join us for the meal, and they at first resisted. They insisted that usually the guide and driver would be fed a different meal, outside of the restaurant, when they bring guests. That alone told me that this was a tourist establishment, which gives kickbacks for bringing in patrons (at least in food, but perhaps also more?). Our guide asked permission of the restaurant if they might join us and they were told it was ok.
One of the servers that day, it turns out, was our guide’s boss which seemed as though it was a little awkward but I didn’t understand the language when they spoke. It did seem like he won points by bringing business to his boss’ family, but the awkwardness may have been in his boss having to serve him at the table.
Nonetheless, it was a good meal and in a pretty environment – even if it did cost me $36.