There are so many amazing temples in Siem Reap that creating a game plan can be overwhelming. We dedicated three days to seeing the temples of the Angkor region. For two people, the most convenient and cost-effective way to get around is by tuk-tuk. We hired a driver for two full days to cover the highlights on our first two days.
We began our first day at the south gate of Angkor Thom. There are two rows of figures representing gods on the right and demons on the left.
Angkor Thom was once the capital city of the Khmer empire. It’s a massive complex with lots to see.
Along the way, we came across a group of children collecting items from tourists. One of the little girls asked for our empty water bottle. We handed her the bottle and had the chance to play with the kids for a while.
After lunch, we went to see Ta Prohm, a temple located in a dense forest. Over the years, the tree growth has left a great deal of the temple in ruins and have become an integral part of the temple’s structure. Ta Prohm has become very popular because it was used as a location set for the movie Tomb Raider.
Beng Mealea was built as a Hindu temple but also contains Buddhist scriptures. We enjoyed exploring the carvings and exploring the ruins.
We ended the day at Pre Rup just in time for sunset. Pre Rup is a temple mountain built of a combination of sandstone, brick and laterite that gives the ancient structure a pink hue especially at sunset
We started the next day extra early to see the beauty of Angkor Wat during sunrise. It is most breathtaking on a clear, sunny day. Angkor Wat means “city of temples” and is not only the most symbolic structure in Cambodia but the largest religious structure in the world.
The bas-relief style temple was designed after Mount Meru, an important place in Hindu mythology.
Pre Rup, A Hindu Temple dedicated to the god of Shiva is 20 minutes north of the city center.
We spent our third day biking around the area and re-visiting our favorite spots at Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat. During the day we got a flat tire, but luckily we found a man living nearby nice enough to help us out.
Along the way, we met two young girls selling souvenirs at one of the temples we visited. Like most of the children who hang out at the temples, they tried to sell us post cards or collect donations to go to school. We spent some time at a local NGO, reading literature with suggestions for interacting with “street children” so we told the girls we weren’t interested in postcards and already learned that school is free for children, but they had an answer for everything. They told us school is free but they needed money for books and pens.
The girls had an amazing level of fluency in English. Although schools in Cambodia do teach English, these girls have learned an incredible amount just speaking with tourists. We tried to steer the conversation towards games they liked to play, food they enjoyed, and their favorite parts of school. They carried on an entire conversation in English and as we continued to ask them more questions about their life and their family they warmed up even more. We never ended up giving them anything and instead hung out with them for a while, played hand games and swung on branches together. Many Cambodian children are forced to work or beg at a very young age and when tourists give them money, it teaches their parents that they are more valuable out of school. In all of our interactions with children, we tried to move their focus away from money towards the fun parts of being a kid. It is very difficult to make an impact in such a brief interaction, but we felt very fortunate to meet such intelligent girls who hopefully have a bright future ahead of them.