Wat, Did You Say? 5 Must-Do’s of Siem Reap

By Perrin


1. Wake with the paper boy.

The curtain rises on Angkor Wat.

When sunrise hits the shadows of Angkor Wat, it’s curtain rise on opening night.

An early start is your ticket to the light show, and also your first defense against an equatorial climate. If you start midday, you will sweat through two outfits in under two hours. Fact.

2. Get in with the out crowd.

The tourist-free entrance to Banteay Srei.

Cambodian government surveys estimate that 57% of all visitors to the country tour Anchor Wat during their stay. Its neighbor, Ta Prohm, has seen similar crowds ever since Angelina Jolie staged a showdown there in Tomb Raider in 2001.

Though those two sanctuaries are highlights, there are over thirty other temples that welcome visitors. These less-frequently others are more likely to provide adventure. Off the beaten track, we stumbled upon deserted temples that looked like they had not been touched for centuries:

Mossy, crumbling temples tower as high as the centuries-old trees that shroud them. Peaceful faces of Hindu and Buddhist deities, carved from stone panels the size of a Wal-Mart, watch overhead. Sculpted elephant tusks jab from walls. It’s easy to imagine how explorers must have felt when happening upon the temples for the first time. I pretended I was Indiana Jones all day.

3. Ditch your guide.

Climbing a Banyan tree that is swallowing a doorway.

Spend at least one day to explore sans guidance. Climb refrigerator-sized blocks that have fallen from temple walls. Sniff the fig trees. Lick up the sugary candy that the local children convince you to buy.

4. Enjoy a day off.

Getting groovy with the Apsara dancers.

The wats are large. Even with a tuk tuk to convey you from one to the next, trekking within the buildings is literally breathtaking. Take a day in Siem Reap city to leisurely explore the artisan markets and silk-making factories and enjoy $3 massages.

5. Listen.

Two little locals couldn’t resist creeping in for a look as our guide Munny sketched Khmer symbols.

The more famous wats have seen enough action to inspire many a Hollywood mega series. Let a personal guide tell you about it. Angkor’s certified tour guides attend 3 months of preparatory schooling and pass a series of rigorous exams, yet they charge only about $20/day.

Traveling in a small group (2-3 people) makes a huge difference. While large tours stick to wide passageways, our pack of three was able poke into munchkin-size rooms and sidle down shoulder-width alleys.

Our guide Munny (that’s Cambodian for “smart”) stood my height at 5’2” and smiled more than Mr. Rogers.  He sported a starched yellow shirt and trim black visor and slacks. He reminded me of the Cheerio’s bee.

Within 5 minutes with Munny, we learned that he was in the midst of reading a book on the history of rice patties, just for fun.  He’s the type of guy you wish you hadn’t asked about rice patties.  But he’s also the type of guy you want to take you to Angkor Wat.

For reflection
Scores female sculptures throughout the temples stand in perfectly in tact – except for the fact that their breasts have gone missing. Gaping holes and indentations indicate that the mounds have been carefully removed.

…Are statue boobs good luck?

A full set! Two uniquely intact Apsara dancer figurines at Banteay Srei.

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About sistersbailey

We are Perrin and Sarah Bailey, collectively known as “The Sisters Bailey”. The moniker was born out of a crazy weekend at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz Fest and it was the first time we had ever been referred to as one unit. We grew up in Alexandria, VA together and then separated for college - Perrin to The University of Pennsylvania and Sarah to Northwestern University – and somehow landed together in New York after graduation. It was in the midst of the hustle of Manhattan that we became friends for the first time in years. Somehow we landed jobs in the same industry - Sarah worked in marketing at HBO and Perrin managed creative digital promotions for her media agency’s main client, Disney - just three blocks from one another. One day we decided to leave our jobs, sell our belongings and travel abroad with a backpack and a collective savings of $10K. The stories of our continuing adventures and those of other fearless travelers are here to inspire you.
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One Response to Wat, Did You Say? 5 Must-Do’s of Siem Reap

  1. A nice little re-cap of your trip but great to hear that you recommend travelling in small groups. It is definitely the way to get that intimate and adventurous feeling.

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