Cambodia…what a magical place that’s filled with kind people, rich culture and beautiful cities. We were planning to fly from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat, but realized we wanted to experience more of Cambodia, so decided to drive instead. We are so grateful we drove. We saw parts of Cambodia we would have never seen from a plane. We passed through flooded rice paddies, houses standing precariously on stilts, and insect markets. You can read about the drive from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap here.
After an 8 hour journey, we pulled into Siem Reap. Siem Reap is a fascinating blend of beauty and culture, yet it’s clear you are in a developing country when you see the potted dirt roads, dust, non-existent sidewalks, and regular power outages. Siem Reap receives millions of visitors each year and is home to one of the amazing wonders of the world: Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat is the largest and most well-known of all Angkor temples. It’s on every traveler’s bucket list and is so special it’s even featured on Cambodia’s flag!
We woke at sunrise to take our tuk tuk to visit Angkor Watt. The first glimpse of Angkor Wat is simply breathtaking! As we approached the temple complex, the iconic spires emerged above the trees. The morning mist and sunrise were mystical and we felt like we were transported back in time. There’s a bit of walking and climbing involved to fully explore the temples, but it’s worth every step.
Our local guide explained the history and various carvings in the stonework, and it was incredibly helpful as we wandered around the different temples.
It’s important to bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat when you visit Angkor Wat. There is typically a long wait to climb to the very top temple (the steepest, but a must-do for the views), as only a limited number of people are allowed up at one time.
Also important to note that you must wear clothing that covers your shoulders, and skirts and shorts must reach the knees, otherwise you may be refused entry. So be sure to dress appropriately to avoid disappointment.
Along with tourists, the temples are filled with wild monkeys roaming around the ruins, and we saw many groups of monks on spiritual retreats.
The Tomb Raider Temple or Ta Prohm is located close to the main Angkor Wat temples.
To find Ta Prohm, we first wandered through narrow uneven walkways and over tree roots. It can get crowded so it’s better to visit earlier in the day, and I’d definitely recommend you use a local guide.
Ta Prohm was built in the Khmer style in 1187 AD, and what is amazing about this temple complex, is seeing the jungle completely growing into the temple. Huge trees have invaded the temple and seem to be swallowing the temple back into the jungle. It’s quite an incredible sight.
Ta Prohm was made famous by the popular movie ‘Tomb Raider’. It’s amazing to see the power of nature!
Taking an elephant around the temples when you visit Angkor Wat is a great way to catch a different perspective of the temples.
Elephants have served many kings and queens when traveling to and from the temples, and they even helped construct the temples.
The boys loved every minute. The view from up high was incredible, we saw lots of monkeys, and to their delight, they were even able to spot humping monkeys! 😉
The Terrace of the elephants is located in the Royal Square of Angkor Thom.
The Terrace of Elephants was used as a giant viewing stand for public ceremonies and served as a base for the king’s grand audience hall. As the name suggests, The Terrace of the Elephants is carved with lots of beautiful elephants.
Siem Reap is filled with tuk tuks, waiting to take you from point A to point B. They are open air, noisy, exciting and a little scary, however it’s the preferred method of transportation. Don’t worry about getting lost, the tuk tuk drivers know the roads inside and out!
The Angkor night market is an area filled with stalls, handicrafts, fake watches, local food, pubs and Cambodian souvenirs. This is THE place to shop for all souvenirs, but remember to haggle.
We decided to get a family massage, the boys were giddy as it was their first ever massage. At $3 per person which included a beer (score! Hot Hubby and I drank theirs too!) we figured it was worth the splurge.
The poverty in Cambodia is truly heartbreaking, but there are many ways you can help and giveback. We were honored to visit an orphanage school that is operated by one of our friends.
Many orphanages in Cambodia are tourist traps and money-makers, swindling well-meaning tourists, so it’s important to do your research before you go.
We were fortunate to spend a day with these gorgeous children at their orphanage school and we sat in classes, taught them English, and fed them lunch. It was pure luck my children were born into a wealthy western country, and it’s important to us they understand that. All children and people matter, regardless of where they live. These children are in need of educational tools and other material items, but most of all they are in need of care, smiles, friendship and compassion. This was truly one of the best days ever for our family.
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat offer a unique opportunity to explore one of the most impressive and extensive temple complexes in the world. The temples are steeped in history and provide an incredible glimpse into ancient Khmer culture. Additionally, the town of Siem Reap offers a lively atmosphere, delicious cuisine, and plenty of cultural experiences
I’m a travel and health writer, digital and brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two active boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising teenage boys, family life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.