When I was putting together ideas for my honeymoon, I wanted to include an iconic sight -a destination that we would both remember from our trip.
When looking at Cambodia, it’s obvious that the temples of Angkor should be part of an itinerary – but I wasn’t sure how to really make this trip different – something more than a self-guided, slightly hot and sweaty couple of days! Here’s what we ended up with – a completely relaxing two days spent discovering this marvellous part of Cambodia, in luxury.
We were looking for a comfortable, stylish hotel that didn’t break the bank (having spent a lot of the honeymoon budget on our first hotel in Thailand!), so we booked into the Lynnaya Urban River Resort & Spa, about a 15 minute walk from central Siem Reap. It has a lovely pool and an even lovelier rooftop bar that overlooks the river.
Throughout this Asian honeymoon we’d been treating ourselves, so it seemed right to book in for a massage after our journey over from Thailand, to bring us right back to a state of peacefulness before the next part of our trip.
Our hotel offered traditional Khmer massage amongst other treatments. Khmer massage happens whilst you’re clothed and doesn’t involve oils and is an ideal way to relax. Many of the hotels in Siem Reap have their own spa, or we can arrange for this to be added on. If you’re just looking for a quick, cheap fix – get on down to the centre of town where you can get a 30-minute foot massage for just a couple of pounds – we did that later on!
Having been greeted by our guide and driver as soon as we landed in Siem Reap, we were all set and ready to head to the temples on our first morning. She took us to sort out our entry passes (which we’d pre-paid) and she translated what was going on to make things easier.
To be a registered guide for this World Heritage Site takes years of training, and once you start your visit, you realise you have so many questions – a guide is in valuable in my opinion!
Our first stop was Ta Prom – so our driver dropped us and our guide at the entrance so we could take leisurely stroll around the complex. And Lara Croft fans will recognise this temple as the setting for Tomb Raider – where enormous tree roots have grown over the buildings, drawing them beneath an enormous, leafy canopy. After a few posy photos (taken for us by our guide – no selfie sticks required), we wandered around and explored some more in the shade before being collected by our driver in the air-conditioned car, complete with ice cold water – much appreciated after a hot walk!
Next stop was a much smaller temple. The whole Angkor complex is a combination of Hindu and Buddhist temples, with a long history of the two faiths competing for recognition, but this complex is Hindu in origin. The soft pink stone of Banteay Srei is unique amongst the temples and it’s like an incredible, miniaturised version of Khmer art – super photogenic!
In the afternoon of our first day, we visited the complex at Bayon – the temple of many faces. This was one of the most amazingly sculpted places I’ve ever seen; each pillar is comprised of face-like faces. We spent some time wandering around before our guide found the best face for us to pose next to for a nose-to-nose photo – fun!
On our second day with the guide we were driven to Angkor Wat to start exploring this legendary complex. As we visited in January, the temperature was in the mid-30s celsius, which slows you down. If you’re thinking of cramming as many sights into one day, don’t under estimate how heat slows you down. Taking your time to wander through the cooler colonnades at a slow pace is a little easier to deal with, plus you have more time for the guide to explain the details.
To visit the holiest, top part of Angkor Wat, remember your shoulders and knees need to be respectfully covered. A wrap scarf is not enough (as I found out and had to borrow a t shirt) – it needs to be at least a short-sleeved T shirt, so bring one with you to fling on just for this part.
Moving through to the centre of Angkor, you’ll see several shrines bedecked with bunting, cloth and flowers in familiar orangey hues, similar to the monks own clothing. We stopped beside one of the Buddhist monks who was sat cross-legged on the floor, perfumed by burning incense as our guide arrange for him to give us a blessing for luck and prosperity.
Sitting down on a mat before the monk, our guide told us how to put our palms together to receive the blessing. The monk wrapped in swathes of orange cloth sprinkles water on you and chants in a sacred language (not Khmer) that our guide could translate a few words of. Finally, he ties a thing red string bracelet around your left wrist. I’ll leave it to your own guide to explain all the symbolism here!
Having entered the complex via the side entrance, our guide saved the best for last. Strolling through some shady colonnades, we then walked out to the front of the complex to look back on that majestic view of the temple frontage with its reflection shimmering in the lake in front. It’s impossible not to stand and snap photos here – its just such a beautifully designed piece of architecture.
After a wonderful day spent at Angkor Wat, our guide had a very special experience for us - a sunset cruise around the moat of Angkor Thom. This remarkably tranquil boat trip was a complete tonic and for us, one of the most memorable parts of our honeymoon time spent in Cambodia.
About an hour before sunset, we were driven to the waters edge – the water being the unusual, large square moat of Angkor Thom. Moored at the water’s edge were a few wooden gondolas, complete with your boat man – or ‘punter’ in this case. Stepping aboard, we sat beneath a canopy and were served ice cold champagne for a toast. Before us was spread a delicious array of Khmer canapes to nibble as we floated along – all we needed to do was lay back and enjoy the beautiful ride!
As were punted along the serene waterway, we passed the high walls of Angkor Thom and the leafy jungle on the other side. There were a handful of other gondolas, but certainly not enough to make you feel crowded – it felt like the moat was ours for the evening.
After some gentle gliding, we came across a little wooden jetty at the corner of Angkor Thom’s great stone walls, where we could disembark. At this point you realise the effects of the combination of heat and half a bottle of champagne – just tread carefully! The boatman helped us out, complete with the champagne and we climbed up a few steps to a lookout point at the top of the walls. Champagne in hand, we watched as the glowing, warm, red sun slipped slowly into the distance – a perfect moment.
After sundown, we were punted back to our starting point, then driven back to Siem Reap for the evening.
If you’re interested in visiting Angkor and the temples and are looking for a unique experience – we can help you explore as you choose. For luxurious experiences, you could take a sunset gondola cruise as I did, or perhaps a balloon ride! We can also arrange for you to explore by bike, and if you’re with kids – how about a little treasure hunt to keep them occupied? Simply let us know what you like, and we’ll come up with some unique ways for you to experience this Cambodian heritage site that are entirely suited to your style and budget.
For more ideas, see our Cambodia tailor-made holidays which include flights, or our trip ideas which exclude flights and can be added on to another trip. For more advice and to start planning, call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.