Friday, December 31, 2010

Shopping and Food in Siem Reap

We did some shopping in Siem Reap, and found just a handful of places to go- Angkor Night Market, Central Market, Pub Streets, Lucky Mall, and Angkor Shopping Centre. We hunted for souvenirs at Central Market and Night Market, and we learnt through our experience that we could bargain all the way down to 1/5 of the original price of the item. For instance, fridge magnet (with single colour), the price could go all the way down from one for USD 2 to four for USD 1. The scarf, at the beginning, one for USD 5. After a few attempts, we bought with four for USD 8.  We also bought the two wooden frogs (with a scrolling stick that helps to generate the sound that mimicry the sound that make by frogs) with USD 6. The price was 1/2 of what we can get in our country.

 Photos show the various products available in Central Market, Siem Reap. As we can see, the items on sale are more or less similiar to what we can get in other places in South East Asia. Some of the items are comparatively cheaper to what we can get from Malaysia. Central Market is strategically located beside Sivatha Road, with Public Bank and Advanced Bank at the both sides. 

Photos show the scenes of the main street of Siem Reap. Lucky Mall is the only air conditioned shopping mall in Siem Reap (lower left). All the shops inside the mall have the word "Luck" within their names. Angkor Shopping Center, located beside the Royal Garden, just around three hundred meters from Lucky Mall (lower right). Our personal opinion- Angkor Shopping Center is somehow an overrated tourists' trap. Central Market, Lucky Mall, and Angkor Shopping are located within walking distance from each other (from Central Market, head north for 10 minutes along Sivatha Road to reach Lucky Mall. Angkor Shopping Center located at National Road 6, five minutes north with a right turn after the first traffic light from Lucky Mall).

Several advices from us, do not bargain with the shop keepers (or even ask for the price) if you have no intention to buy the item. If you are interested, then, the best way to bargain is as easy as one two three: 1. Ask for the price of the item. 2. Let them know that it’s too expensive. 3. Turn and act like you are leaving. With this “tactic”, you can always get a good bargain (at least better than the first one that you get).

While shopping around, we received an advice from a local shopkeeper. She told us that there is no real silk products around Siem Reap cheap market area. All of the products that has claimed made by silk are fakes. She told us sincerely, “How can REAL silk products, such as scarf been sold with the price of USD 10 for five?”

“That’s ridiculous,” she added. True, as the logic behind is, if Cambodian can produce silk with that kind of price, then, the world’s silk market will definitely dominated by the country. How could we get the story from the insider? Perhaps you can try to be more friendly and talkative next time.

The signs to Angkor Night Market can be seen around the main streets. Angkor Night Market is not very big. Most of the items on sale are similiar to what we can get from Central Market. 

Please be aware that, the banks, hotels, supermarkets, and some local restaurants are not accepting USD notes that are scratched, stained, or looked old. However, we did received several such notes from Siem Reap's market. The shopkeepers and the banks always appear with the same phrase,” We in Siem Reap are not accepting this type of notes”. But that doesn't mean that they won't give it away. So, beware.

USD is almost everywhere in Siem Reap, to an extent that we felt that Riel (Cambodian currency) doesn't exist at all. Anyway, hawkers and some of the shops do accept Riel. They will convert the stated price in USD to Riel. The photo shows the food prices in USD. (Updated on 1 Sept 2011)

The pricing for tourist is done in USD- Three day visit U$ 40.00 (upper left), US$ 929k for phase II funding (upper right), only 7$/day for full day use (lower left), and bike $ 1.50/day for rent. Frankly, we use Riel only when we paid for using the toilets (200 - 500 Riels per person per usage). (Updated on 1 Sept 2011)

Then, talk about food, that’s really delighting! The local food at Siem Reap was really good, or in another way, met our tastes. We really felt that, eating local food in Siem Reap was an enjoyable experience. Starting from the first lunch at Tany Khmer Family Kitchen at Siem Reap, to the buffet dinner with traditional dances at Mondial Restaurant; from the restaurants beside Sras Srang to the eateries at Pub Street, all of them were good. Well, that’s 100% consistency and accuracy of good taste for local food. How about the fast food? We tried some fast food and ice cream in Lucky Mall, and to be frank… no more next time.

Okay, so, all of them were good. How about the price? For us, the food at Siem Reap was reasonably priced.  Tany Khmer in Siem Reap is comparatively higher in price, with average of USD 7 per person per meal. In Sras Srang area (Sras Srang is a reservoir east to Angkor Thom), we tried two. Khmer Village Restaurant  and another new one without the sign board yet. Both with an average of USD 2 – 4.5 per person per meal.

The buffet dinner with traditional dances at Mondial Restaurant cost USD 12 per person.  We tried several different Cambodian traditional food there, with very interesting dances performance. Buffet starts at 6:30 – 9:00 pm, while the performance is 7:30 – 8:30 pm. The buffet with traditional dances is available in several other restaurants too.

Must try dishes? Please refer to the photos below.

Food available in Siem Reap. These are some of the very traditional Cambodian food. Bahut is a mixture of raw veges and fried food, with pork and salted fish sauce (upper left). Teyo is some sort wrapped of fresh veges and spices (upper middle). Lola is a dish with fried egg and beef (or chicken), cooked together with local spices (upper right). Amok is something that you should try (lower left). The dish contains fresh vegetables and meat cooked in amok spices. Fried veges and meat with cashew nut is quite popular in Siem Reap (lower middle). While the Cambodian curry, not hot at all for us (it's quite sweet in taste). All the local food are quite reasonably price. All the food mentioned above were below USD 2.50 per serving. 

Streamboat with vegetables, beef, chicken, and egg. It was around USD 4 per set.

With USD 0.75 per coconut, we really enjoyed our time with lots and lots of coconuts.

The best place to stay awake at night in Siem Reap is the Pub Streets. Pub streets consist of few streets around Pub Street Alley at the old town area. Pub streets are the most happening place at night. We stayed around the area until 11 pm, with none of the shops showed the intention to end their business for the day.

Night at Pub Streets, Siem Reap.

Alley in Pub Streets.

To move around at Siem Reap, we have several options- by foot, bicycle, motorbike, tuk-tuk, saloon, van, or bus. For our whole family, we opt to rent air cond minibus on our trip to Angkor area. The rental was USD 35 per day (we gave away USD 5 as tips for the excellent service). We tried tuk-tuk as well, when we were roaming around the town area. The charge for tuk-tuk is around USD 1 - 2 per trip. However, tuk-tuk can be rented with USD 15 per day. Bicycle, yes, USD 2 per day, car, USD 30 per day. The price for the transportation is subjected to negotiation. However, a big difference shouldn't be expected.

Bicycles and motorbike on rental, are available almost on every street in Siem Reap.

Tuk-tuk for USD 1 from Lucky Mall to our hotel.

We stayed in Central Boutique Angkor Hotel at Tapoul Road. The hotel was good. The room for the hotel was clean, well designed, and the whole area for the hotel was well shrubed. The hotel has a nice pool, a bar, and the restaurant, hmm, with nice food as well. For our opinion, that three stars hotel is much more nicer than the one we got in our Bali trip.

About the service, well, the room service was excellent, and the maintenance worker came within minutes after been summoned to fix our bath tub. The cooks were willing to go extra miles by packing the breakfast for us in 5:30 am, when we needed to depart early to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. The downside, the workers (receptionist) was not so fluent in English (but still communicable), and, accept no "handicapped" USD notes.

Room for two (left), inside the bathroom (middle), and the resting table set outside each of the room.

The hotel has a nice swimming pool, which always full with people in late afternoon. The beautifully landscaped walkway to the lobby of the hotel.

A trip to Siem Reap was really a great experience for all of us. The friendly locals, with great and magnificent monuments from the ancient empire, and the food. It is indeed a good place for us to revisit in future :-)

High resolution Travel Photos of Siem Reap is available at Our Travel Photo Gallery. Back to All Our Destinations.

[Preah Khan and Ta Prohm] [Shopping and Food in Siem Reap]
[All Our Destinations]

Preah Khan and Ta Prohm

We continued to visit Preah Khan after stayed for about one hour at Baphuon and the surrounding area. We headed north and drove for ten minutes to reach the temple. Preah Khan and Ta Prohm both were built by Jayavarman VII, in order to honour his father and mother respectively. 

For the name translated as "Sacred Sword", Preah Khan was a unique temple, dedicated not only to Hinduism gods such as Shiva and Vishnu, but to Buddhist and local deities. Built 40 years after Angkor Wat, the compound of the temple reached an incredible area of 700 x 800 m, surrounded by 100 m wide moat. The temple was crowned with 102 prasats (towers) and stone edifices. The temple attracted as many as 100,000 people to stay at the surrounding area at its peak.

The grandness of the temple could be felt far away, by the pillars placed on both side of the road that lead to the temple. Approached from west, the center gopura for the fourth enclosure had collapsed. We went through the enclosure through engineer-reinforced side entrance. From west to east, we took a cut through the temple. Claimed much by the nature, the temple was more or less a ruin. Most of the roofs were missing, and many paths, inaccessible.

The west entrance of Preah Khan under construction (left). Many of the area are still in laterite ruins (middle). However, we could see that the restoration is in progress. One of the prasat in Preah Khan is consumed by Kapok Tree.

Preah Khan is one of the most least restored temple in Angkor Archaeology Park. No roof can be seen for most of the structures (left and middle). Many of the walls fell.

From westernmost of the third enclosure, we went through the temple of Vishnu. We reached the second enclosure through gopura, and lastly, the middle enclosure with center prasat. Beneath the prasat, stood the stupa. We continued to move east till we passed through Hall of Dancers, and rested for a while at the platform at the fourth enclosure. Within the third enclosure, from side to side, roughly counted, 150 m in distance, 15 minutes by feet. The eastern wall of the third enclosure has a spectacular view of a big kapok tree grows above it.

The sole double storey building in Preah Khan, located beside Hall of Dancers. The real function of the building is still under debate. Some said, it carries religious purposes, while some, it might be a store room. The round pillar used for that structure was the very first could be found in Khmer architectural history.

Kapok overgrown the eastern wall of Preah Khan. From this photo, Bryant could be seen standing at the center platform, taking the photo of the temple, and he was just nice to be a good reference to show the size of the temple.

Close up of the root of the Kapok.

The sculptures in the temple were detailed, especially for apsaras. As long as we had noticed, all the apsara sculptures were different from each other, either in postures, or the objects carried in their hands. The sculptures on gopuras and above the doors were in great details.

Stupa at the middle of Preah Khan, showing Buddhism was the strongest influential religion during the reign of Jayavarman VII. 

Ta Prohm, or "Ancestor of Brahma", is magnificent and emotional arousing. The laterite enclosure that last until today is 1000 x 600 m. According to the inscription, the temple had 39 prasats, 566 stone houses (stone house was rare during that time), and 260 divine images. The temple once accommodated 12,000 people and the mother of the King Jayavarman VII. The temple was built in 1186 A.D., 36 years after Angkor Wat.

The temple once was abandoned and left to be claimed by overgrown forest. As discovered, the temple was severely damaged with many kapok and fig trees grown on the top of the temple’s structure. The root of the trees grown through the wall, and reach the ground for nutrients and water. The structure versus the trees, a slow wrestling which the nature own the advantage.

We entered the outermost enclosure of Ta Prohm via the east gate to avoid congesting crowd (most visitors enter through the west gate). From the gopura till the first sight of the temple, around 400 m. The temple is huge, with some path for us, some for the workers on restoration, and others, inaccessible.

A long walk to Ta Prohm, after we entered the first enclosure.

Group photo at the second enclosure of Ta Prohm. We were standing on the platform leading to the gopura for the second enclosure.

From the east, we horded through the gopura of the fourth enclosure, crossed beside Hall of Dancers, then enter another enclosure (horded because there were really a lot of visitors). The deeper we went, the lesser the ability to get the right direction. At last, we decided to let go by simply follow the path that has been prepared by the authority. Anyway, we successfully identified several hot spots for the postcards and publications. We spent around one and a half hours in the temple.

Gopura for the second enclosure (left) and the sculpture on the wall of Ta Prohm.

Can you see the tree overgrowing the temple? Then you can surely see the visitors there. So, please don't be imaginative that you are alone in the ancient ruins that the spirit of the old will somehow pops up and scared you.

We are so proud of this photo. Why? This is the place where the cover photo of an issue for Nat Geo was taken.

Ta Prohm is a temple that is hard to describe with words and photos. The best way to get the feeling of perfect blend of nature with one of the greatest manmade structure of its time… venture into it and take it by yourself. Extra information, Ta Prohm was a shooting site for the movie “Tomb Raider”.

Doorway lead by the walkway, built for leading the visitors to the right way (left). A block on the walkway might mean a turn is necessary. 

A scene in the second enclosure of the east entrance.

Ta Prohm is huge and rich in bas-reliefs. The nagas showed the strong influence from Hinduism and Buddhism (middle). Sculptures of deva with different poses were available at almost all the entrance to the building.

We visited Ta Keo, by just looking at it from the main road, on our way from Angkor Thom to Sras Srang for lunch. Ta Keo is a prominent edifice that we will never miss, if we take the main road from the east gate of Angkor Thom to Sras Srang. The construction of the temple started around 985 A.D. (165 years before Angkor Wat). It is an incomplete masterpiece of two kings- Jayavarman V and Jayaviravarman. The construction halted after Jayaviravarman, the successor of Jayavarman V, was defeated by Suryavarman I. Ta Keo is 45 m high (height of 15 storeys building), with the outermost enclosure of 120 x 106 m.

Ta Keo from the roadside.

The middle prasats of Ta Keo. Can you see the visitors entering the left prasat? From there, you might be able to imagine the size of the whole temple.

We finished our third day by the marathon that ended on Ta Prohm. We rested, then, we were off again to visit Siem Reap Night Market and Pub Street. We roamed around Siem Reap for food and shopping for our fourth day in Siem Reap.

Phnom Bakheng and Baphuon

Third day in Siem Reap, we should proclaim it as the marathon through Angkor Archaeology Park. We started around 8:30 am. The first stop, Phnom Bakheng.  Then, a better look on the South Entrance of Angkor Thom, followed by Baphuan, Terrace of Elephant, Terrace of Leper King, and the Royal Palace. We headed north to Preah Khan and  east to Ta Keo before we stopped for lunch, again beside Sras Srang. Ta Prohm was our last stop of our marathon, and we ended our quest around 4 pm. By the way, with all the information gathered from the first two days, we went through our third day without tour guide. The rental of the minibus was still USD 35 per day.
Phnom Bakheng temple was once enclosed inside the great city of Yashodharapura, the capital found by Yashovarman I. Crowned  in 889 A.D., the king built the largest enclosed city with the wall of 4 km long, surrounded by 200 m wide moat. It was the greatest city of the world during that era. As the city was west to Angkor Wat, it might be one of the very reason why Angkor Wat, which was built around 250 years later faces west, instead of east (not a good idea to show the backside of the glorious wat to the glorious city). 
Phnom Bakheng temple was a very first of its type- the mountain temple. Phnom Bakheng means Strong Hill. The compound of the pyramid temple is around 60 m x 90 m. The 5 level square temple has the size of 76 m per side at the base and 47 m per side on the top, with two libraries situated on both sides of the walkway from the main entrance. The ground level of the pyramid is surrounded by 44 brick prasats (most of them were severely damaged by natural forces). Each level of the pyramid contains 12 sandstone prasats-four at each of the edges, and two flank the steep steps. Most of the sandstone prasats are well preserved. At the top of the pyramid is a crown with 4 corner and a center prasat.

The original staircase used by ancient temple was inaccessible (left). So, we took the elephant route, left to the original staircase to the temple. The whole journey took us around 15 minutes. As the path through the forest is quiet, a walk with partner or in group is advised. 

Two libraries built by sandstones flanking the pathway from the main entrance to the temple.

Group photo at Phnom Bakheng temple, a temple that stood firm and tall for more than a thousand years.

LS's sister, Kelly and Betty on their quest to the top of the temple from eastern staircase, an easier route compares to the southern stairs (left). Bryant and Livien at the top of the temple- a place that once only the king and the high priests could access.

At the top of the temple, wall scupture with apsara can be seen at the center prasat (left). Center prasat on the crown of the pyramid (middle). Tea, coffee, or chess? The restorers really utilise the resource well here by making a coffee table with seats on the top of the temple.

We took a little bit more effort to climb to the top of the temple with 13 m high from the top of the hill (we were about 83 m from the foot of the hill). From the top of the temple, we had a nice view over the area to the west of the Angkor Archaeology Park. The West Baray cannot be seen clearly due to the haze. We spent around an hour at Phnom Bakheng.

Phnom Bakheng alludes Mount Meru. The 108 prasats (44 at the base, 60 on terrace, and 4 at the summit) represent the totality of universe in Hinduism. 108 also represents the total principle names of Shiva. Some believe that the 12 prasats of each level of pyramid have connection with 12 signs of zodiac in Indian tradition and 12 animals in the Chinese astrological cycle. With a total of five cycles, 60 years on earth is the duration for Jupiter to complete a single solar year (look complicated, isn't it? That’s a part of the wisdom of the past, hopefully).

Phnom Bakheng, on the top of the Bakheng Hill, is located a few hundred meters from Angkor Wat. It is a great place for sunrise and sunset.

From Phnom Bakheng, we entered Angkor Thom for the second time, and again, through the South Gate. We took a closer look on the gate. The city, with 3 km on each side, was once protected by 100 m wide moat, and an enclosure wall of 8 m high and 15 m wide. What we discovered, the moat and the gate were remained, while no sign of the wall. Well, it might had been destroyed by the enemy.

The gate of Angkor Thom is around 14 m high (a height of 5 storeys building). The main road from Siem Reap to Angkor Thom was built right through South Gate. So, from the photo, you can see a lot of people moving through the gate. South Gate is the most well preserved.

 A hundred meters wide moat.

A closer look on the gate. South Gate contains a turreted structure with four faces of the King Jaryavarman VII. The side of the gate is well carved with many patterns.
Terrace of Elephants gets its name because of the statues of elephants carved on the terrace, while Terrace of the Leper King gets it name because it was built by a king with skin disease. There was another stream of saying that Terrace of the Leper King named because of the fungus and algae infestation make the statues mimicry some sort of skin disease. Both of the terraces are linked to each other, and serves as the “corridor” to Baphuon, the Royal Palace, and some other edifices, as well as the stage for royal occasions. Terrace of elephants and the Leper extended 300 m and 25 m long respectively, and are believed to be built by Jayavarman VII and Jayavarman VIII respectively. Khleang and Prasat Suor Prat are located just opposite the terraces. 
The terrace of Elephants with a total length of 300 m.

The bas-reliefs on the wall of the terrace of the Leper King. The statue of the king is no more there on its original place. It is kept in National Museum in Phnom Penh.

Baphuon was under heavy restoration during our visit. The upper part of the temple collapsed, because the basement of the temple cannot support the weight of the whole temple. The temple was built around 1060 A.D., one hundred years before Angkor Wat was built. The temple, said, measured 50 m high and 130 x 103 m on the base, with 420 x 125 m enclosure. A 200 m long causeway was built to connect the temple from the entrance gopura. We didn’t enter the temple due to the heavy construction. For the Royal Palace, we again, just “touch and go” without going in for a detailed look on it.

Baphuon from the entrance gopura. The center prasat on the top level of the temple had collapsed and now under serious restoration (left). The elevated causeway to Baphuon.

One of the gopuras of the Royal Palace.

We scouted through the area for one and a half hour. Our jouney continue with Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, and took a brief stop at Ta Keo.

[Bayon and Surrounding Area] [Phnom Bakheng and Baphuon]

Bayon and Surrounding Area

After we paid a long tribute to Angkor Wat, we entered Angkor Thom through South Gate. "Thom" in Khmer term means "large". So, Angkor Thom mean Large City. We visited  Bayon in the middle of Angkor Thom. Bayon, or Prasat Bayon consists of 54 towers with more than 200 giant faces carved on each side of the towers.

Bayon is the second largest temple in Angkor Archaeology Park. Again, the temple has three levels, with the entrance terrace flanked by two ponds, one on each side of the terrace. During our visit, the pond was not so obvious with very less water. The center prasat is 43 m above ground level (about the height for 14 storeys building). For two and a half hours at Angkor Wat, Bayon took us around an hour.

Photo at the front terrace at Bayon (left). The terrace elevated few feet from the ground, connected by stairs.

A closer look on Boyon revealed giant faces on the towers. Photo taken from the broken wall of first gallery.
We grab opportunity to get loose our tiring feet while our tour guide is pressing us on the history lesson.

Doorway to the first level of Bayon (left). The first level of the temple lead to the enclosure of second level of the temple. The enclosure of second level of the temple is more "open" in the sense that contains more passages.

Staircase to the second level of Bayon, after we enter the second level enclosure.

On the second level, we can see the giant faces clearly. The king Jayavarman VII proclaimed himself the incarnation of "Bodhisattva Lokeshvara", and the giant faces are claimed to be "Bodhisattva Lokeshvara". So, we guess, the faces at Bayon are faces of the king, Jayavarman IIV.

Faces of the king from second level of Bayon.

A closer look on the faces.

Prasat Suor Prat is a series of twelve separated towers, connected by a terrace. The edifices are believed serve entertainment purposes, by pointing to its modern name- Towers of the Rope Dancers. However, official from China, Zhou Daguan depicted the towers as a place to keep the litigants. No matter what the actual usage were, the bright laterite towers built by Indravarman II (around first half of the 13th century) were eyes catchers in the middle of the green and stony surrounding.

Khleang, just behind Prasat Suor Prat, is believe to be the store house in old days. Some controversially claim that the twin edifices might be the residences for the very important guests. Khleang was built 200 years earlier than Prasat Suor Prat.

Prasat Suor Prat from the roadside.

Photo of Khleang and Prasat Suor Prat.

We didn’t take a very close look on both of the edifices, but just “touch and go” on our way from Bayon to Sras Srang. We took our lunch at Sras Srang. Carried the exhaustion from the previous day, we decided to go back early for a rest. We reached our hotel around 3 pm, took rest and prepared ourselves for the great marathon on the next day, which started with Phnom Bakheng and Baphuon.

[Bayon and Surrounding Area] [Phnom Bakheng and Baphuon]