Angkor Wat is top of the list for most visitors to Cambodia, and with good reason. But, as Ian Ford well knows, the best experiences are often to be had away from the crowds and beyond the main site.
Majestic Angkor, capital of the Khmer Empire
The Khmer Empire created fabulous wealth from the ninth century onwards, using hydraulic engineering to capture the monsoon rains and provide water for irrigation throughout the hot but dry season that followed. As with other such elites, the successive rulers chose to spend public funds on vanity projects, eventually constructing the biggest religious complex on Earth. Angkor Wat is just one of the temples in this, originally urban, area.
Climate change at a time of poor maintenance saw the systems fail and Angkor was abandoned during the 15th century. The buildings were then engulfed by the surrounding forest only to be rediscovered by a French explorer, Henri Mouhot, late in the 19th century. The rest is, as we say, history.
After visiting the Angkor attractions you can then:
Seek out other temples
If you find the inevitable crowds at Angkor Wat frustrating then you just need to explore other lesser-known buildings. Use the UNESCO galleries to help you discover appealing monuments to seek out, and use the maps to help you plan out an efficient route. Allow plenty of time to be distracted too.
Better still, travel a bit further from Siem Reap. The archaeological sites at Roluos and Banteay Srei are both underrated. Beng Mealea lies about 70km away and offers more of a sense of discovery. You will find less visitors waiting at the gates and, with private transport, would be free to stop at villages en route.
Koh Ker and Preah Vihear are even more remote, and with a bit of research you will find even less well-known sites. At this point you would be well advised to book through a local agency and take a guide along, to make the most of your visit as well as for added personal security.
Include other activities
To break that feeling of being ‘templed out’, break up the excursion days with something more active. Siem Reap offers:
Bike- and horse-riding
An excellent way to explore and make new friends is to take a group excursion. The sites are close enough to Siem Reap to make bike and horseback options viable and the reviews are invariably positive. If you fancy something a bit different, why not give it a go?
Yoga can be practised anywhere, but surely takes on another dimension when surrounded by nature. Retreats in and around Siem Reap offer yoga tuition as well as related studies such as meditation, massage and reiki.
Special meal options and cooking classes offer you a way to satisfy your appetite as well as add to your list of cultural experiences. Get as adventurous as your nature permits – taking in street food, alcoholic beverages, even insects – in order to create memorable moments and tales for folks back home.
Explore Tonlé Sap
Tonlé Sap is a lake to the south of Siem Reap. Generally water flows out from it along the Tonlé Sap River to join the Mekong River at Phnom Penh, now the capital of Cambodia. However, during the monsoonal floods, this flow is reversed and the lake becomes a huge reservoir.
Visitors can enjoy a day trip to one of the ‘floating villages’ such as Kompong Khleang from Siem Reap. For a more complete exploration consider one of the top-end cruises to Phnom Penh. There are three-day options with comfortable cabins and excursions along the way, converting an otherwise dull road trip into a classic mini-journey in its own right.
by Ian Ford
These concepts are suggested by Ian Ford of Photo Tours Abroad LLC. They are not fully developed plans, but half of the fun is taking them and making them your own.
Ian is Operations Manager for Photo Tours Abroad and is responsible for ensuring that its programmes are optimised for the best possible photography. Working closely with local agents, Ian selects interesting photographic excursions and schedules these for the hours of best light before considering other services. Photo Tours Abroad has evolved from a China tours origin and now offers photography workshops and tours around the world. The team retains exceptional contacts in Asia allowing for even more creative itineraries and cost-savings. Workshops include instruction from world-class Guest Artists.