I was out of the writing groove these past few weeks and found myself busy doing other things. I think I’ve been subconsciously avoiding writing a Part 2. It’s a bit difficult to talk about what happened to me when I got back from Siem Reap because part of me wanted to keep it private. Let’s just say that I got more than just pictures and good memories from this experience.
Life came in leaps and bounds after I did this trip.
Anyway, since a part 1 needs a part 2, well, I guess this has to happen. And I think I ought to write about Siem Reap like I do with my other travels, especially since it truly felt like home to me even if I only stayed there for 4 days. So, I’ll try not to veer into the existentialthingamajig while writing this. Though I think I ought to tell you about what happened in Angkor wat and Bayon…
5 stars for female solo travel, BUT
Before taking this trip I read up on solo travel in Cambodia and got mixed reviews about Phnom Penh. I got nervous after reading about a female blogger who had a series of bad luck in some parts of the country. Despite what’s been said, Siem Reap was still consistently proclaimed a safe place for female travelers so I decided the adventure’s still worth it. But to be extra safe, I didn’t go on with my backpacking plans and just got a tour package from a hotel. I also decided to find a middle-budget hotel so I can be sure of the hotel quality. It was low-season anyway, so both my plane ticket and accommodations didn’t end up wiping out my savings.
Luckily, I found Silk D’ Angkor who also fixed the temple tours for me. They’ve been so accommodating and professional, I couldn’t say thank you enough. Check this post for more details about the awesomeness that they’re made of. I wouldn’t mind staying there again if I’m back in Siem Reap.
Travel musts while doing temple tours
So you have your ticket (20 USD for a one-day pass, 40 USD for a three-day pass) , a tour map, and a schedule. If you got yourself a tour guide, that would be better. Actually, I would recommend that you get a tour guide for a richer experience. Not only would they educate you but they’d also be your instant local friend.
Aside from these musts, here are some useful tourist must-knows too:
- Remove your hat inside the temples, especially when dropping by a Buddhist altar.
- Remove your shoes if you go inside a Buddhist altar. Ask a tour guide to teach you the proper way of praying. It’s one of the best experiences you can have while here.
- Do not touch nor sit on any part of the temples.
- Do not touch monks. They’re okay to have photos with but NEVER attempt to touch them nor shake their hands. It’s okay to talk to them, but they’re considered holy so it’s offensive to touch them. My tour guide had an outburst seeing another tourist casually drape his arm over a monk for a photo-op.
- Stay on the tourist path. Though they say Siem Reap’s been clean of landmines, it never hurts to be extra cautious.
- Do not wear strapless or sleeveless shirts, short shorts, or mini skirts. It’s hot in Siem Reap, sure, but these types of clothing are disrespectful. The entire Angkor Wat complex is also a place for local worship.
- DO NOT HOG THE VIEWS. I repeat. DO NOT INSTAGRAM TO INFINITY. Take a couple of shots then move on. Chances are, there are other tourists waiting in line too.
With all this in check, all you need to do is gear up your camera, bring cold bottled water, and enjoy the views.
I felt starstruck seeing the iconic silhouette of grandiosity for real, for the first time. It was an unbelievably jaw-dropping, chills-inducing, is-this-real-life-or-it’s-just-fantasy kind of phenomenon. Plus I had two cups of brewed coffee for breakfast so I guess that warrants my reaction too.
Angkor Wat is a vast complex with lots of smaller gems inside. It took me half a day to cover all the important parts. The carvings were so elaborate, and with the way it was built, I was so glad to have Chhayakim with me. He provided all the historical background I needed to appreciate the magnitude of what I was seeing and made sure I saw all the most important parts. It’s all amazing visually, but you get a deeper appreciation of its value when you learn how it encompassed political history and religion within the complex confines of its architecture.
At some point, I thought maybe the Khmer kings knew too much about the earth that they needed an outlet to make sense of it all. Maybe all that knowledge felt too much to contain, they needed a vessel where they could store and preserve it. And those vessels were these temples.
There are 3 special areas that were unforgettable to me here. First was this heartbeat wall, which I personally call as such because you can thump on your chest in this small space and hear the thump reverberate through the walls, echoing like a heart beat. Locals believed doing that helps you relieve all that’s been stressing your heart. Whenever you thump your chest as you lean on the wall, it’s the stress that exits out of you and absorbed by the wall ’til it’s gone. I found it fascinating that you can’t repeat the same experience with any of your other body parts.
Another personal favorite is the area where you can find a Buddha altar and a monk who offers a blessed string bracelet. It’s free, but I would encourage you to give whatever donation you can as a token of thanks.
My third personal favorite is the spot between these two Buddhas. This is where it started to get creepy/mysterious/amazing/whatdaefishappening. I sensed a different kind of power here which kind of overwhelmed me. It wasn’t horror-movie scary but I felt some sort of energy or force and it was almost tangible. I can’t really find the words to describe it but it’s like a gut-feel that someone/something huge is hovering over you (well I did check for bats on the ceiling but it was clear). I would feel that again in Bayon temple, but like 10 times more. Whatever it was that I sensed here, ironically, it felt like it was an overwhelming protective force that meant no harm. One thing I’m sure though is that it’s indescribably powerful. Is it a Jedi? Could it be Yoda? *insert Start Wars theme…*
The next temple we went to was Ta Prohm, now turned Hollywood icon thanks to Tomb Raider. But Ta Prohm’s appeal to me goes way deeper than that. I loved how it naturally blended within its environment. At some point you’d wonder if it were the trees supporting the temple or the other way around.
I also loved how cool it feels here considering how humid Siem Reap is and its temples. I also noticed lots of butterflies fluttering around which made it so much more charming. Ta Prohm’s my favorite out of all the temples I saw because of its instant good vibes. You can’t help but feel relaxed as you explore its entirety. I could see myself just staying here for hours, with a good book, soaking up all that calm.
I was told that Ta Prohm was built in reverence to the king’s mother and to Prajñāpāramitā–the Bodhisattva of wisdom, so I thought, hey maybe that explains how soothing the place is. It’s the same feeling mothers can give you–safe and calm–provided your room’s clean and your grades are okay hehe. Seriously though, the feels I got from this temple reminded me so much of my own mom.
Next stop was this temple that I actually didn’t know about. But according to my guide, this temple was supposedly a honeymoon temple where the king has to consummate with a supernatural being a.k.a. Naga. If Naga fails to meet the king here, something catastrophic will happen. Like carmadeggon on EDSA.
In front of Phimeanakas were a couple of bathing pools, for the concubines and their girlies, as well as the king’s men and the bros. I wondered how clear these pools were back in those days and how it got filled with water. Did the guys igib for them ladies? Did the ladies do their laundry here? Do they already have diving boards back then? So many questions, but the answers have no clue.
After touring Phimeanakas, I started to feel really tired so much so that my excitement transformed into exhaustion. But seeing that mind-blowing Buddha carving on Baphuon boosted my spirits a bit.
This temple was mostly popular because of the reclining Buddha scultped on its back side. Interestingly, the temple was initially built to pay homage to Shiva and later on, it was converted into a Buddhist temple which also resulted to the now popular attraction. The Buddha sculpture actually looks amazing in person, and it could be quite challenging to capture on photos.
We arrived at Baphuon around 3PM and the sun was blazing its last few bits of power before sundown. To be honest, I almost didn’t climb up Baphuon and looked at the stairs with pending doom. But when I saw people come up the stairs never to be seen again, I figured I don’t have a choice.
As I walked through its halls, I was met with mixed thoughts of wonder and my bed. I looked at the walls wondering how they reinforced the disintegrating bricks on Buddha’s face while considering what kind of Khmer dinner to order. I saw a hall inside the temple where there’s a mini podium where the king must’ve made important announcements and ate with two cups of rice, Chicken Joy, downed with a cold glass of cola. Suffice it to say my mind snowballed into disintegration the longer I walked around and explored…
So much so that Baphuon became my last temple visit before deciding to skip sunset at Phnom Bakeng.
To be continued…