Crossing borders between two countries isn’t new to me, I’ve done it with my past travels in Singapore (to Malaysia), and Hong Kong (to Macau). After all, as I’ve mentioned before, isn’t it gratifying to be able to hit two birds with one stone?
Initially, my friends and I planned to have an Indochina tour, but then we decided to just settle for Thailand and Cambodia. Honestly, prior to the plan of crossing the border, I was quite anxious and scared because of the scams that run rampant in the area based on the articles or posts I’ve read online. But I could attest that it was not that terrifying; you just have to be vigilant.
So here, let me share with you how we were able to safely cross from Bangkok to Siem Reap. There are actually many ways to get to Siem Reap– by direct/regular bus, by plane or by train. We opted to take the direct bus because it’s cheaper.
Here are some legit and hassle-free direct bus companies you can avail:
Transport Co. (Nattakan)
Terminal: Morchit (Mo Chit) a.k.a North Terminal (We took a Grab car for this!)
Pick-up time: 8am and 9am
Fare: THB 750 ($22) via terminal; THB 870 ($26) via online
Terminal: Khao San Giant Ibis
Pick-up time: 7:45am
Fare: THB 1091 ($32) via online
We opted for Nattakan, and ticket buses can be bought through the terminal itself or online on BookMeBus, in which it allows you to reserve a seat in advance. (TIP: Make sure you arrive at the terminal early as the bus leaves on time!)
Direct buses are those that would take you straight to Siem Reap from Bangkok in approximately 9 hours without switching to another mode of transportation. Although you will still need to get off and go through the Immigration counters on your own, the advantage on this is that you don’t need to bring your luggage or bag with you, and you have co-passengers you can follow through wearing the same ID provided by the bus personnel. You may just leave your bags on the bus, go through Immigration, and then the same bus will wait and meet you on the other side. Worry not, as they will instruct you where exactly they will stand by to meet you.
Mind you, there are a lot of touts swarming around the immigration building, just ignore them, and go through the Immigration process as quickly as you can. The bus will wait for you so don’t worry, but of course, be mindful of other people’s time too.
A visit to Siem Reap wouldn’t be complete without exploring their temples. We chose the Small Circuit tour that is doable in one day. The tour consists of visits to several of the major and minor temples in the area. On the other hand, if you’ve got a lot of money to shell out and days to spend in Siem Reap, you may avail of the Grand Circuit tour.
Anyway, we rented a tuktuk (for around $12) that we got from the villa we’re staying in. The tuktuk driver took us to get our 1-day Angkor pass ($37) in Angkor Enterprise in Street 60, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia. Make sure that your shoulders and knees are covered or else, you’ll might get into trouble and not be able to purchase a ticket. Surprisingly, a photo of each person is taken at the counter, indicating that the Angkor pass is not transferable to another person. Be careful not to lose your Angkor Pass whilst you are on the Angkor site as they usually ask for it especially on the entrance. The penalties are severe as well! If you lose a 1-day ticket, the penalty is $100. The loss of a 3-day ticket will cost you $200, and a 7-day ticket costs $300.
Angkor is composed of grand temple ruins dating between the 9th to the 15th centuries. Located just outside the bustling city of Siem Reap, it is one of the most visited religious sites in the world. Aside from being an archaeological wonder, it is also a bewildering ordeal. Nevertheless, we were astounded to be able to set foot on these remarkable sites:
Our first stop is at Srah Srang, a baray or artificial water reservoir located south of the East Baray and east of Banteay Kdei.
Touted as “The Royal bathing pool”, it has a large pond that was dug out during the reign of the late King Rajendravarman II in the 10th century. It was considered as an ablution pool, a pond used for ritual washings. Although it was said to be for the benefit of all people, there’s a carving or inscription that indicates that Srah Srang was for all creatures except elephants.
Our next stop is the Banteay Kdei, just nearby the Srah Srang, it is a massive Buddhist monastery built in the latter part of the 12th century under the reign of Jayavarman VII. It means “A Citadel of Chambers”, but is also popularly known as “Citadel of Monks’ cells”. The ruins are an enthralling maze of chambers, with a labyrinth of overgrown halls and courtyards.
The gate is adorned with the face towers, also known as gopuras, that historians theorized as Jayavarman VII’s signature which represents both himself and the god Lokesvara (or Avalokiteshvara).
A Buddhist monk or nun guards a small shrine located near the entrance. Since we’re clueless, we asked for a blessing and she wrapped our wrist with a yard string of sort, however we were shocked that she asked for a donation, so we gave her $1 each.
One of the most popular temples in Angkor is the Ta Phrom. It is famous because it is the so-called “Tomb Raider Temple”. It has crumbling towers and walls locked in the slow muscular embrace of enormous root systems. It was said to be built during the late 12th and early 13th centuries and was originally called Rajavihara.
In 1992, UNESCO inscribed Ta Prohm on the World Heritage List, and now, is considered as one of the most visited complexes in Angkor.
This probably is one of the most crowded place we’ve been to, and a lot of people are taking their photos on the stone pillars and structures that were mostly covered by gigantic roots of fig, banyan and kapok trees.
Although it was intentionally left in much the same way as it was before, a number of trees have been cut off as its growing roots damage some structures, thus a few restoration works have been carried out, too.
Located in the center of the city of Angkor Thom, Bayon is a well-known and richly decorated Khmer temple that was constructed in the late 12th century. Its most distinctive feature are the towers sculpted with an abundant of serene and smiling stone faces of Avalokiteshvara which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak.
Unlike most Khmer temples like the Banteay Kdei, Bayon is not surrounded by a moat and walls with gopura entrance gates.
Angkor Thom is the last ancient capital of the Khmer Empire. Dubbed as “The Great City”, it boasts of a whole host of temples & sites of historical interest.
Inside Angkor Thom are some of the most impressive temples of the Angkorian period. This vast monument was also built in a nearly perfect square that has five monumental gates decorated with stone elephant trunks and Angkor’s greatest king, Jayavarman VII’s favorite motif, the four faces of Avalokiteshvara.
Built in the mid-11th century, Baphuon is a three-tiered temple mountain built as the state temple of Udayadityavarman II and is dedicated to the Hindu God, Shiva.
The most significant spot here can be found on its western side as it has an enormous reclining Buddha image. Most people may have overlooked it, but we were able to see it.
Check it out!
The temple of Baksei Chamkrong can be seen on the left side when entering Angkor Thom at the southern gate. It was dedicated to Yasovarman by his son, King Harshavarman I. Its name means “The Bird Who Shelters Under Its Wings”.
Interestingly, it was connected to a certain context back then when the king tried to flee Angkor during a siege and then a huge bird landed and sheltered him under its wings.
Terrace of the Elephants
Spanning the front of Baphuon, Phimeanakas and the Royal Palace area at the heart of Angkor Thom, Terrace of the Elephants is an impressive, two and a half-meter tall, 300 meter-long terrace wall adorned with carved elephants and garudas.
Terrace of the Leper King
Just nearby the Terrance of the Elephants, the Terrace of the Leper King, is in the northwest corner of the Royal Square of Angkor Thom.
This statue was called the “Leper King”. Due to its discoloration and the moss growing on it, it was said to be a of a person with leprosy. Aside from that, they’ve also connected it with a specific Cambodian legend of an Angkorian king Yasovarman I who had leprosy. However, some Cambodians refer to it as Dharmaraja, as this is what was etched at the bottom of the original statue.
This U-shaped structure is thought by a few to have been used as a royal cremation site. *stoked*
The most spectacular, Angkor Wat, is arguably the world’s most famous temple ruin in Siem Reap. In Khmer, it means “Temple City” or “City of Temples”. Structure wise, it is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture, or the Angkor Wat style.
The iconic temple was built during the first half of the 12th century with an estimated construction time of 30 years by King Suryavarman II. It is also widely accepted that it was a funerary temple for the late King and oriented to the west, conforms to the symbolism between the setting sun and death.
There was a flock of people when we arrived in here and upon entering we’ve noticed also that there were a lot of monkeys in the area. Someone even got attacked by this creature and scratched his face. So, just a gentle reminder, don’t play with them and hide your water bottles as most of them are trying to steal it.
Truly, a visit to Cambodia isn’t noteworthy without going to this most renowned and awe-inspiring temple that is stunning in both its grand scale and its intricate details.