The Everyday Magic in Siem Reap

Every place we visit, I take photos of what I think captures the everyday magic of the place.  Here are my picks for Siem Reap.  Enjoy!

Running Around the Temples


Touring Monks at Banteay Srei
Driving the Cows Home
Ant Leaf-House


Temple Nap Time
Count It, That's SIX on the Motorbike


Amazing Wedding Photo Location

Siem Reap: All You Can Eat BBQ, Cambodian Style

Our last night in Siem Reap, we tried one of the many BBQ places that you see everywhere.  They are down on Pub Street as well, but we tried the one next door to our hotel as it’s usually packed with locals.  Yep, we were the only tourists there, always a good sign.  It’s more expensive than your usual local fare at $5/person, but it’s all you can eat.

The BBQ places in Cambodia are actually kind of a mix between hot pot and Korean BBQ.  Over your table’s burner, you have a large bowl with a raised dome.  You grill meats on the raised dome, but you pour water around the side where you can cook vegetables and noodles.  Each bowl comes with a healthy chunk of lard on top for meat grilling. =)

Adventures in Cambodian BBQ'ing

There was a huge long table filled with trays of meat and vegetables.  We didn’t know what a lot of the things were, so we got some help from the wait staff.  Meat was…interesting.  It was really soft, but not in a good way.  Lots of organ meat too.  Kind of like it had all been very treated with a lot of cornstarch to tenderize it.  The one good meat was the pork (of course) and pork belly (pretty much slices of pork fat, delicious).  Shrimp was good and we got napa cabbage, tofu, and rice noodles to round it out.  The dipping sauces were mostly sweet chili type sauces—I think I prefer the Chinese hot pot sauces.  We were stuffed by the end.  Great to try, but I think I would have preferred either straight meat grilling or hot pot versus a combination of the two.  And poor Mike still doesn’t like hot pot. =)

Siem Reap: Sugar Palm Restaurant

After eating so-so street food the night before, we went high-end and tried Sugar Palm Restaurant, famed for a Gordon Ramsay visit.  They’re known for their amok fish, which takes 40 minutes to prepare.  Their version is slightly different from Red Piano’s, it comes out steamed in a soufflé-like texture in a coconut bowl.  It was very tasty, but we felt that at twice the price of Red Piano’s, we’d probably rate Red Piano over Palm Sugar.  Great ambience and a good pick if you’re looking for finer dining though!

Souffle-Like Amok Fish

Siem Reap: Red Piano Restaurant

In downtown Siem Reap, there is one street block that is essentially composed of tourist restaurants called Pub Street.  Fitting name, huh?  It’s a lively scene, with strung up lights and music blasting.  Our first night, we ventured down to check it out and ate at Red Piano, which was a recommendation from a friend.

Pub Street

Cambodia is known for their amok fish dish, which is white fish cooked in a curry sauce with what tasted like kaffir lime leaf.  It has a hint of sweet to it and tasted very similar to the fish paste dish we had in Thailand with the Chungs.  The dish did not disappoint!  Great flavor and the fish was perfectly cooked.  We also got a beef dish, but it was only average.

Amok Fish

Siem Reap: Banteay Srei and Ruolos Group

After the main circuit, there are many other temple groups to see that are outside of the main Angkor Wat/Angkor Thom complexes.  On our second day, we went to Banteay Srei, which is a 45 minute tuk tuk ride northeast of Siem Reap.  Banteay Srei is the oldest temple we visited, built in the 10th century.  It’s unique because it was built using red sandstone, most of the other temples were built using neutral sandstone, laterite, or brick.  It’s a small temple, but it makes up for it in the intricacy and detail of the Hindu carvings (this is pre-Buddhism era).  Since this temple is further and we went first thing in the morning, we had the temple to ourselves for most of the time.

Rose Colored Sandstone
Detailed Carvings

This shot is from East Mebon temple on the way back from Banteay Srei, north of Angkor Thom.  It was hard to keep track of all the temple names, there are so many and some of the smaller ones don’t even have signs out front.

East Mebon
East Mebon

On the third day, we felt like we had done mostly everything, so we went to Ruolos group, which are really two temples about 10 minutes east of Siem Reap.  The structures are mostly brick since they were built earlier.  I would say if you’re short on time, you can skip the Ruolos group, but the weather was great, so we got some great shots out there.  The other benefit is that there are very few tourists there.

We Had the Temple To Ourselves

We saw all these tiny frogs in the grass and they’re really easy to catch!  This one was super tiny, the size of the tip of my pinky finger.

Tiniest Frog Ever

Of course, Mike went back to his teasing animal ways, so I had to include this shot.  Poor guy was so calm, didn’t even flinch or struggle.  I don’t think he gets picked up often…

Mr. Frog

Siem Reap: Ta Prohm aka Tomb Raider Temple

Ta Prohm was probably our favorite temple!  It’s famous for being the temple featured in Tomb Raider, where Angelina Jolie weaves through the temple overgrown with huge trees.  Ta Prohm was one of the few temples where they left the trees alone during restoration.  The trees have grown so large over the centuries that some of them look as if they just came and sat on top of a tower or doorway.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Gigantic Tree Roots Over a Covered Passageway
Gigantic Tree Roots Over a Covered Passageway

Other smaller temples nearby, Ta Som and Preah Khan, also had a great tree growing over a doorway so I’m going to lump into this tree-and-temple themed post. =)

Web of Roots Over a Doorway
Finger-like Trunk

Siem Reap: Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, the mother of all temples in Siem Reap.  This is what people come to see.  We went to Angkor Wat every single day we went temple viewing.  Day 1 to see it in the afternoon, Day 2 for sunrise, and Day 3 for sunset.  All spectacular!  What was a bummer was that there was green scaffolding on the left side of the temple which kind of ruined your photos.  But the temple was still magnificent.  Built in the early 12th century, it’s the largest temple complex and known for its intricate detail.

Because we went so many times to Angkor Wat, we got some great sunset and rainbow shots.  Yes, there was a double rainbow over Angkor Wat!  It was one of those insanely magical moments when the rainbow swept across in a wide arc above the temple.  Surreal.

Angkor Wat Rainbow
Amazing Rainbow Over Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat Clouds
Reflecting Clouds at Dusk
Angkor Wat
View of Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakheng
Intricate Symmetrical Towers
Bas Relief Dancers - The Faces Are So Expressive

Around sunset, we saw some Chinese tourists endlessly taking shots of each other (I think one guy took about 500 shots of his girlfriend within a half hour) so we decided to have a little fun ourselves outside of Angkor Wat.  The sunset made a great reflection on the moat surrounding the temple.

Sunset Over Angkor Wat Moat

Well worth the 3 trips we made to Angkor Wat!  It was the closest temple to town, so it was super easy to either go on the way to or from other temples.  Never gets old.

Siem Reap: Ankor Thom and Bayon Temple

Day 1, we started off with Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom.  Angkor Thom is a relatively large complex of temples and Bayon is the main attraction.  On our way to the Angkor Thom in the morning, we came across a large group of monkeys in the road.  What’s sad is other tourists were feeding them white bread which makes them more aggressive towards tourists.  At the end, the American woman feeding the monkey bread was getting her skirt tugged on by several monkeys.  Tsk tsk.

Monkey-ing Around

Bayon Temple is known as the Temple of Many Faces, and there are large Buddha faces carved into the temple.  The earlier temples of Siem Reap are mainly Hindu, while the later ones are Buddhist, signifying the shift in religions in the kingdom.  When the shift to Buddhism happened, many of the Hindu symbols were taken down and converted to Buddhas.

We got to the temple relatively early in the day, so luckily we got to enjoy the temple relatively tour group-free for a few minutes before they swarmed our photos. =)  The tour groups are everywhere!  Loud and large.  Actually, we were surprised by how many Asian tourists there were—mostly from China, but also Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.  Here was probably one of the few international historical destinations where Asian tourists outnumbered Western tourists (besides attractions in China).  It was funny to have some Chinese tourists come up to me to speak Chinese and was nice to practice my Chinese a bit.


Bayon Temple
Serene Buddhas
Bayon Towers

Outside of Bayon Temple, there are a few other smaller temples to visit and the Elephant Terrace, which has tons of bas relief carvings along the wall.  Since the tour groups only hit up the main temples, we got these smaller ones to ourselves.  We came across a temple that had three huge tree trunks growing on top the stairs.  It looked like the trees were sawed off but the trunks were left behind.  During the restoration of these temples, most of the trees were removed.  But the ones left behind are a reminder of the ruin of this once great capital and how neglected they were to have so many trees take seed and essentially grow into the temple.

Mike Climbing the Overgrown Stairs


Cambodia: 3 Days of Temple Mania in Siem Reap

From Bangkok, we took the government bus to the Thailand-Cambodia border.  It was only 200 baht and takes you to Rong Kluea market where you take a quick tuk tuk ride to the border.  Our tuk tuk driver dropped us off at a scam visa place, but Mike smelled a rat and quickly got us out of there.  There is a lot of scamming going on at the border, so you have to be on your guard.  It helps to know exactly how much the visa costs and always look out for government-looking buildings.  We finally got through to the other side where a driver from our hotel was waiting for us.  Our hotel, Motherhome Inn (which is great btw!), arranged for someone to pick us up since they get customers who get scammed all the time and then never show up to the hotel.  Crazy!  Not cheap though, $40 for the ride from the Poipet border to Siem Reap.

We drove for 2 hours in a torrential downpour and finally got to Siem Reap.  Angkor Wat and all the other temple complexes are close by (around 15 minutes away for most of them).  We hired a tuk tuk driver for 3 days ($13-22 a day depending on how far you’re going) out of the 4 we spent there.  It’s $40 for a 3 day park pass.  It’s pretty amazing since you hire the driver for the day and he’s yours from sunrise until sunset.  Luckily for Samol, our driver, we knew better than to go see temples in the dead heat of the afternoon.  Usually we were back at the hotel by noon and didn’t go out until 4 or 5pm to catch the sunset.  Even then, it’s still insanely hot at 8am in the morning!

Mike in our Tuk Tuk

I’ve broken up the recap into the main temples:

Angkor Wat

Angkor Thom/Bayon Temple

Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider temple)

Banteay Srei and Ruolos Group

And, check out The Everyday Magic photos for Siem Reap!