An amazing tour of the Angkor Temples!
This is Part 8 of a multi-part series detailing my trip to Hong Kong and Cambodia, flying First Class and attempting to stay within a $350 budget for ALL expenses. If you haven’t read the first 7 parts yet, please check them out:
Part Four: Cathay Pacific 777 First Class Review
The ultimate goal of this trip was to spend a day touring Angkor Wat and the other Angkor temples. To that end, I wanted to hire a knowledgable tour guide to really have the best experience possible. Prior to departing on this trip I did some research online in order to find a well-reviewed tour guide service that would fit my needs. Luckily, my tour guide easily ended up meeting my high expectations and the day I spent touring Angkor was something I will remember for the rest of my life!
Finding the right Tour Guide for Angkor Wat
No surprise here–I started my search for information on Angkor Wat and available tours with Google. After reading more about the temples themselves I found myself on TripAdvisor, and started my search for tours. After reading the reviews for Angkor Guide Sam, I sent them a message to inquire about availability and pricing. I also sent messages to a couple of other well-reviewed tour guides in case my first choice was not available.\
Within 12 hours, Sam had responded to my initial message. He had a tour guide available, sent me a detailed itinerary, and a price of $70 for the tour plus $20 for admission to the park for the 1-day tour. The tour would include the following:
- Air conditioned car or van
- Cold Water and Cold Towels
- English speaking guide
- All parking fees and tolls
- Pick-up from my hotel at 7:30am
- Ta Prohm (the temple in the Tomb Raider movie)
- Ta Nei (located offroad, deeply in jungle, quiet and peaceful)
- Angkor Wat (the largest religious monument in the world, only 35 years to be built)
- Angkor Thom (the big walled city to be built by Buddhist King Jayavarman VII)
- Lunch break in a restaurant inside Angkor Archeological Parks–food and drink cost not included in tour price
…and much more! Although there were less expensive options available, including paying a tuc-tuc driver about $15 for all-day transportation (but not much in the way of actually tour-guiding), I decided that based on the numerous 5-star reviews for Sam’s tour service I would pay a little more and really enjoy a great cultural experience. I e-mailed back to confirm the tour.
Sam reminded me to bring US Dollars to pay for the tour and the entry fee. Somewhat surprisingly even ATMs in Cambodia dispense US dollars, even though Cambodia also has their own National currency that really doesn’t appear to be used much.
Touring the Angkor Temples
I had arrived in Siem Reap the previous afternoon and spent the evening walking around the town, eating dinner, and enjoying the sites of the Cambodian culture. The people were all extremely friendly. I talked to a few travelers that had been exploring Angkor and it only got me more excited for the tour!
Promptly at 7:30am, I met my tour guide, Sokoeurn in the lobby of Le Meridien. He walked me outside and introduced me to our driver, offered me cold water, and we set off on our journey. Since I had decided on a private tour, it made perfect sense to use a car for the day and it was a well maintained Toyota Camry with cold air conditioning that would be a welcome respite later in the day. The weather forecast indicated that it would be about 98 degrees with almost 90% humidity by noon!
After a short 10 minute drive, we stopped briefly at the park entrance so I could purchase my $20 entry pass, which I had to keep with me all day.
After getting the ticket, our first stop was Angkor Thom, built in the last 12th Century by King Jayavarman VII. The city covers an area of about 9 square km, or about 5.5 square miles and was the last capital of the Khmer Empire. At the center of Angkor Thom is the King’s Temple, Bayon.
I was absolutely amazed at the scale and scope of Angkor Thom! Like almost all the temples in this region, the city had been abandoned in the early 1600s, and the jungle had basically swallowed it until it was rediscovered in the late 1800s. Much work had gone into restoring the temples and the city walls, yet the ruins still retained a sense of peacefulness and serenity.
Sokoeurn was a wealth of knowledge and he explained the carvings, what the faces meant, how both Hindu and Buddhist figures and culture had inter-mixed, and so much more! As we moved through Angkor Thom and on to the other temples, I found myself enriched with more and more knowledge on a culture I knew so little about.
In many places the jungle had grown over, up, and through the stone walls, which created really interesting parallels between man and nature!
We toured several different temples in the morning, including Ta Prohm, of Tomb Raider movie fame. This was one of the more crowded temples.
Both Sokoeurn and driver were excellent at providing cold water throughout the day from a cooler in the trunk of the Toyota. Every time we drove to a different temple area I received another history lesson on the culture, the temples, Cambodia, etc. This was a much more personalized tour experience than riding around in the heat all day in the back of a tuc-tuc–and well worth the cost.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that obviously catered to tourists. This was actually my only slight disappointment for the day. Sokoeurn and our driver dropped me off and then went somewhere else for lunch. In retrospect, I think I would have preferred to have eaten with them at a local hole in the wall kind of place rather than a tourist restaurant. Either way, the food was ok and relatively cheap. I spent $10 on lunch which included a cold drink.
After lunch I met my guide outside and took a short 5-minute rest in some hammocks with the other guides.
Finally, after lunch it was time to explore Angkor Wat. This complex is the largest religious monument in the world and was actually originally a Hindu temple, which was converted into a Buddhist temple later. This was a common theme throughout the day, where it was possible to see Buddha carvings on the walls which had been converted to Hindu gods and vice versa through some creative new carving. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture.
This was certainly the busiest of the temples I toured, but even with the heat, humidity, and some areas with crowds it was still absolutely amazing! As you can probably tell from the pictures, it is the most well-preserved of the temples as well.
We spent about 1.5 hours touring Angkor Wat, both outside and inside. Sokoeurn also provided me with several great stories!
Perhaps not surprisingly, my guide did not offer to go up to the top of the temple, which was quite a hike on very steep steps. He told me about it, then let me explore that on my own!
After finishing the tour of Angkor Wat, I was ready to get back to the hotel and take a shower and a nap! It was a long day, the humidity had drained me, and we had probably walked several miles.
Overall the tour was excellent! I could not recommend it higher. I thought that Sokoeurn did a fantastic job explaining the history of the temples and the culture to me in a limited amount of time. I felt that the choices of what to see at what time was perfect, since we missed most of the crowds at some of the sights due to expert timing. He was able to answer all of my questions, and it was clear that he absolutely enjoyed his job!
If you are looking for amazing tour of Angkor, I would highly recommend contacting Sam, who manages several different expert guides at firstname.lastname@example.org or checking out his website, www.angkorguidesam.com. I would not hesitate to book a tour through Sam again–and I would personally recommend requesting Sokoeurn based on his professionalism and expertise.
Although I wish I had more time in Siem Reap and Angkor, this was a journey that I will never forget.
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