Angkor, the Capital City of the Khmer Empire
Each year, the small town of Siem Reap welcomes more than 2 million tourists from all over the world, mostly from Asia. Most agencies and tour operators recommend only the winter months (from November to March), which are literally overrun with tourists. I discussed with expatriates on site who told me that the most enjoyable months are the summer months (July August), and that it is at this time where they bring your families! Indeed, it is raining a little every day, nothing comparable with the Indian monsoon, and the temples become mysterious and peaceful, much more conducive to the visit … I made the oath to return with family During this “Green Season” (as the Ministry of Tourism likes to call it)!
If you visit Angkor during the winter months, you will have no choice but to get up very early, as I did, in order to enjoy some quiet moments before the invasion … The good rhythm is that of the local people (“When in Rome …”); Get up early, visit at the coolest when the light is the most beautiful and the tourists fewer (the inertia of big groups makes them arrive only after 9am on the sites), come back to your hotel at the end of the morning and relax by the pool, book a traditional Khmer massage or just take time to read …
The locals are masters in the art of siesta and you will see amazing scenes during the warmest hours. The smallest corner serves to hoist his hammock!
Then take a walk in the late afternoon when the temperature and the frequentation are more bearable. The official pass is rather well done since it allows, for example for the pass 3 days, to use it on a week by doing poses. You can for example make a day on Lake Tonle Sap (see below for its description) and resume your visits the next day. This formula will be very appreciated by the youngsters in order to vary the visits!
The guides and the drivers have 2 circuits imposed, the small and the big, according to the number of days of visit that you have. They are not very flexible and I had a lot of trouble getting out of the imposed circuit! Do not hesitate to ask to return to this or that temple at the end of the day or vice versa in the early morning, because the photos are sometimes much more beautiful when changing exhibitions. Try to complete your visit to the great temples by one or two smaller ones, they are much less crowded and allow you to enjoy the atmosphere of the surrounding jungle. I had the opportunity to visit the Banteay Srei alone in the morning at the opening, and I must say it was pure happiness!
A friend gave me a little secret that allowed her to have fantastic pictures of her trip; She visited a small monastery just in front of of her hotel and asked one of the monks to be her guide, for a donation for his monastery. The latter lent himself willingly to the game, showing her his favorite temples as a priority (and not the most visited), and took the pose in front of most of the monuments visited …
I found on the spot in the boutique of a hotel, a very interesting little book (The Angkor Guidebook) that allows to imagine what might have been the ruins of Angkor in the time of their splendor. By means of layers that overlap with the existing one, one can discover what the archaeologists were able to collect as details thanks to the excavations and also thanks to the local legends.
Visit on Lake Tonle Sap
There again everything is planned and little room left to the unexpected … Your driver will drop you at the wharf of the village you have chosen. I opted for the Kampong Khleang village, which is the furthest from the three villages usually offered from Siem Reap. So I can only tell you about this one (the others being referred to as a tourist factory by the travel guides, I preferred to avoid …). It allows to make a nice trip on the lake, to see some fishermen and to observe scenes of daily life of the village on stilts. No interaction with the locals, you sometimes feel a little voyeur and the basic boat ride does not allow you to stop at the market for example (unless you negotiate with your travel agency if you have one!) .
For shopping, an interesting workshop not to be missed; Theam’s, for its superb lacquered clay elephants! It is a gallery and workshop which aims to show the Khmer’s art and craft. you will find traditional object side by side with more contemporary ones. We loved it!
Finally, I would like to recommend my driver, who is fully devoted and stayed with me for the whole trip, with a brand new Lexus Rx300 (Peng Khun email: firstname.lastname@example.org , Phone : +855 099485481). He can drive you on short distance, as well as far destination. Give him a description of your needs and he will send you a quotation. A free ad, as he deserve it ;-).