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Angkor Wat

Pink purple sunrise at Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Crowd with mobile phones in the dark waiting for sunrise at Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia.

Angkor Wat has been somewhere I’ve longed to visit ever since I was a child. It always seemed like such an enchanting place, brimming with history and the promise of adventure. I dreamt of getting lost in its corridors, peering through windows, running my hands along pillars and carvings, and wondering what sights this ancient place must have witnessed over its lifetime.

I hadn’t been able to sleep that night, but it didn’t matter, the excitement of knowing I was finally going to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat had already kicked in and taken over. We set off from our hotel at 5am and headed into the night as our taxi driver sped off towards the site. Once we arrived we stumbled through the pitch black across the main bridge, guided by the light of the hundreds of phones and torches in front of us. As we approached, my eyes began to adjust and I could just make out the distinctive shape of the five towers in the distance. We settled ourselves in front of the reflection pool, and waited for morning to break.

The sky was very overcast that morning, and I admit I felt a twinge of sadness when I realised I wasn’t going to see one of those magnificent sunrises I’d seen in all of those travel photos I’d poured over. Instead, a hazy lilac pink wash enveloped us as the sky gradually faded from black. It wasn’t what I had pictured for all of those years, but the dusky colours and soft early morning light gave it a magical, otherworldly quality.
 

Early morning light sunrise at Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Steps at Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Monkey eating fruit at Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Detail of carvings at Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Stones labeled for renovation Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Details of carvings female dancers at Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Monk at Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Doorways at Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Close up detail of carving inscription Khmer script at Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Headless buddha statues at Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Doorway Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Man with horse at Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia. Hot Air Ballon over Angkor Wat temple complex Siem Reap Cambodia.

Despite the number of people crowded around the pool as the sun rose, once we were inside the temple it felt much more relaxed. This is in part because a lot of people leave after the sunrise and return later in the day, but also because of the size of the site. I knew Angkor Wat was a huge complex, but I don’t think you can truly realise quite how vast it is until you’re standing there.

I went off by myself to explore as Nat stayed by the shrine, and whilst walking through the corridors there were moments where it felt like I had the place all to myself. I stopped to take a break and sat down on top of a platform by one set of stairs, as I looked out across the grounds I couldn’t see or hear a single other person. It was so peaceful and one of my favourite moments, one I remember telling myself to really drink in and savour.

The site itself was everything I had imagined. I felt like a child again as I stood in complete awe, viewing the same sights I’d devoured photos of through my own eyes. We spent most of the morning there, but I could honestly have stayed all day. It really deserves at least half a day to properly appreciate.

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Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei Citadel of Women beautiful carved pink sandstone Hindu temple in Siem Reap Cambodia. Banteay Srei Siem Reap Cambodia beautiful forest countryside with buffalo. Banteay Srei Citadel of Women beautiful carved pink sandstone Hindu temple in Siem Reap Cambodia. Banteay Srei Citadel of Women beautiful carved pink sandstone Hindu temple in Siem Reap Cambodia. Banteay Srei Citadel of Women beautiful carved pink sandstone Hindu temple in Siem Reap Cambodia. Banteay Srei Citadel of Women beautiful carved pink sandstone Hindu temple in Siem Reap Cambodia. Banteay Srei Citadel of Women beautiful carved pink sandstone Hindu temple in Siem Reap Cambodia. Banteay Srei Citadel of Women beautiful carved pink sandstone Hindu temple in Siem Reap Cambodia. Banteay Srei Citadel of Women beautiful carved pink sandstone Hindu temple in Siem Reap Cambodia.

Banteay Srei is a small, but breathtaking 10th-century temple complex built from solid pink sandstone and nestled within the Cambodian forest. Dedicated to the Hindu goddess Shiva, it’s also known as the ‘Citadel of Women’ and is renowned for the beauty of the intricate carvings which cover the walls like a tapestry. It’s considered by many to be a jewel in the crown of Angkorian art and architecture, and features some of the most beautiful and detailed carvings from the ancient world.

As we made our way through the trees along sandy paths, we passed buffalo roaming next to the baray. We reached Banteay Srei just as the sun was beginning to descend, bathing the pink stone in a beautiful golden hour glow. We hadn’t expected it to be so small. It looked like a perfectly formed miniature of the others, as if it had come straight from a fairytale. I can only imagine how magical this place must have looked and felt as a place of worship, before it was abandoned and left to the forest.

The crumbling structure, blackened from years of weathering still holds some magic though. The delicate carvings depicting Hindu epics and tales have been so beautifully preserved, and the detail they contain is completely enchanting. It’s often said that this place was named ‘Citadel of Women’ not only for its beauty and grace, but also because these delicate carvings could only have been created by female hands.

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Motorbiking Through The Cambodian Countryside

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Sat atop my little Honda Dream, covered in dust and squinting at the sun baked road, was when I knew I’d fallen in love with Cambodia. I can’t even begin to tell you how beautiful the countryside here is. Rusty roads, lush green fields, mountains peeking up from every horizon and bright blue skies as far as you can see. We spent 8 hours on our bikes riding down dusty roads, exploring ruins and temples, and almost every moment of it took my breath away.

This was one of the highlights of our trip, and I’d even go as far as to say it’s been one of my favourite life experiences too. I’m doing a happy sigh right now just thinking about it.

We came across Khmer Ways and their moto tours a few days before we left and immediately set aside a day to get out and explore the other side of Siem Reap, away from the busy city. We emailed to book the day before and were picked up from our hotel by our guide for the day, Nee, who took us over to their office to pick up our bikes. After a quick practice in the back yard and alleyway next to the house, we were lead out onto the busy main road to make our way north. Driving in the crazy Cambodian traffic was definitely an experience, but soon we were away from it all and onto the quieter country roads winding out of town.

As we drove along, we passed by villages and local kids rushed to the side of the road to wave at us as we went past. Riding through such beauty, the wind in your hair and the sun beating down on your skin was such a strange mixture of exciting and relaxing, it was kind of blissful. I genuinely could have spent days out here on my bike. Nee took us into his own village a few hours in, where we stopped for a snack and some ice cold drinks before making our way further out towards the mountain.

After more riding we stopped by a huge restored ancient reservoir for BBQ lunch. We were welcomed into the open hut by two women and treated to such a feast! A huge platter of fresh fruit to share, rice, BBQ chicken for Nat and vegetables for me, plus lots of fizzy drinks to keep our energy up. I took a walk around the grounds and sat on the dock for a while, dipping my feet into the cool water and trying the take it all in.

After a little nap in the hut, we set off again to our next stop, the ruins of Koh Kyorng. This temple is completely in ruins, overgrown with trees and roots, with only a few doorways and windows still standing amid the rubble. Despite this, we saw offerings and piles of stacking stones scattered around, showing that it is still visited and holds some importance. After the busy main temples, it was nice to see this one with no one else around, it truly felt like we’d just stumbled upon something special.

Last of our stops was a beautiful, active temple surrounded by a moat. It was so peaceful here, with barely another person in sight. A young monk curiously followed us around, hiding around corners and peeking out at us, too shy to come over until his friend appeared and came over to talk to us. Before heading off back to town, we sat inside and had a quiet few moments, listening to the birds sing and the cloth decorations flutter in the cool breeze. It was the perfect end to such a magical day.

If you’re in Siem Reap, this is something you really need to make time to fit in. I couldn’t recommend Khmer Ways more, and Nee was such a wonderful guide and a lovely guy too, we had so much fun with him. He took us to see all of the best sights along the way, stopped to point out photo opportunities and made sure we were both well looked after with a seemingly never ending supply of water and drinks. I don’t think I’ve ever been so dirty as I was when we got back, but it was so worth it!

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Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort

Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia, tropical pool with flowers and bridge. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia, room and bed with towel swan. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia, room and bed. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort room in Siem Reap Cambodia. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort lounge area of room in Siem Reap Cambodia Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia, view from balcony terrace. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort balcony terrace in Siem Reap Cambodia. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia, pathway through the trees. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia, pool area with palm trees and flowers. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia, tropical pool area with palm trees. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia, tropical trees and flowers. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia, path through the trees. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia, pathway through the forest with tropical plants. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia, dining area next to pond with lily pads. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia, bridge over pond water with lily pads and flowers. Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort in Siem Reap Cambodia, dining area next to pond water with lily pads.

After a hectic few days battling the crowds and enjoying city life in Bangkok, arriving at Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort felt like another world. A tranquil little oasis surrounded by nature, it was exactly what our worn out bodies and minds needed. We arrived around mid-afternoon, and after sacrificing sleep to make the most of our time in Bangkok, we decided to spend the rest of the day relaxing in the sunshine and playing around in the pool to wind down properly.

Our room was so beautifully furnished and such a generous size. With gorgeous dark wood throughout, traditional textiles and a spacious open plan layout, it felt both luxurious and homely all at once. The beds here were also one of the most comfortable things I’ve ever slept on, in fact we both found ourselves reminiscing about how dreamy they were for pretty much the rest of our holiday! I don’t think I’ve ever slept so well. Our room was on the ground floor and its doors opened out onto a private terrace overlooking the pool, surrounded by greenery and tropical flowers. We couldn’t have asked for a prettier view to wake up to, especially in the early morning as the sunlight peeked through the trees and glinted off the pool.

We spent quite a few of our afternoons and evenings around the pool, even if only for an hour or so. It would have been a real shame not to take advantage of such a pretty area and it was pure bliss to jump in and cool off after spending the day getting hot, sticky and covered in dust at the temples and from walking through town.

Wandering along the the lush, tree lined pathways in the early morning light and again in the evenings as we made our way home under the lanterns and street lamps was such a wonderful way to start and finish each day. It’s rare for me not be rushing out of the hotel eager for the days adventure, but everywhere was so beautiful and relaxing here that it was hard not to slow down and take your time.

Breakfast was delicious, and there was a huge variety to choose from, all laid out buffet style in the main dining area. The staff here really deserve a special mention too, they were wonderful, especially Luy who worked in the restaurant at breakfast. He was one of the friendliest, kindest and most helpful people we have ever come across. He asked our names on our first day and said hello to us every morning. We so enjoyed talking to him about life in Cambodia and hearing his recommendations over breakfast.

One important thing to note, this resort is actually a number of separate hotels all in one place. We stayed at the Villa Resort, which is made up of the wooden villas surrounding the pool, but there are also 3 hotel blocks on site to choose from too. They all have access to the same facilities, including an indoor pool and spa inside the main hotel block. Despite this, it never felt crowded and the large grounds meant it often felt like we had the place all to ourselves.

Far enough away from the busy centre to be a relaxing and peaceful retreat, but close enough to all of the main attractions, it was the perfect base to explore Siem Reap from. The town was just a quick Tuk Tuk ride away and it took us barely 30 minutes to reach Angkor Wat. We had such a wonderful stay here, and I’ve already recommended it to almost everyone I know.

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Temples of Bangkok

Temples of Bangkok Thailand, The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew.

Even though our time here was cut short, we were able to spend one full morning and afternoon exploring the temples of Bangkok. There were a few smaller temples on our original list, but we didn’t want to rush between them and end up feeling like we hadn’t given each one enough of our time to fully appreciate, so we decided to focus on just the main three.

What I found most interesting was the way each temple had its own unique style, but yet was still unmistakably Thai. The three are all excellent examples of traditional Thai architecture. Each one has been expanded, added to and remodelled numerous times over the centuries, and the combination of different architectural styles that exist side by side is really quite charming.

One thing you need to keep in mind when visiting the temples is that you should dress respectfully. Many temples will not allow you to enter if you have your knees, shoulders or chest on show, or are wearing tight fitting or sheer clothing. I found Wat Phra Kaew to be the most strict with this, however I think even if it’s not technically enforced, it’s just polite to cover yourself up when visiting somewhere that is regarded as a highly sacred place by a lot of people.

 

The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew

Temples of Bangkok Thailand, The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, glittering gold. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, glittering gold mosaic tiles. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, gold kannari kinnon statue. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, glittering gold mosaic tiles and gold yaksha demon statue guardian at the entrance to Phra Mondop. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, colourful yaksha demon statues around gold stupa. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, glittering gold. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, girl lighting incence offering with flowers.

Temples of Bangkok Thailand, The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, glittering gold.
The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew are both housed within the same complex and are one of Bangkok’s biggest tourist attractions, drawing crowds so huge that it would be almost unbearable if the surroundings weren’t quite so breathtaking. This was the first temple we visited and it remained my favourite of the three. As far as I’m concerned it’s a must visit if you’re in the city, and somewhere that is definitely worth battling the crowds to see at least once.

Wat Phra Kaew dates from 1782 and is also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, as it houses one of Thailand’s most sacred Buddhist relics, Phra Kaew Morakot – the Emerald Buddha. Carved from flawless green jade and adorned with gleaming gold, it sits enshrined high above the altar in the main hall. Due to the treasures it holds and its links to Kings past and present, Wat Phra Kaew is considered to be Thailand’s most important and scared temple.

The complex was an awe inspiring introduction to Thai culture and a complete assault on the senses. Glittering mosaics studded with jewels adorning almost every surface, golden spires, the smell of incense, fresh flowers and candles, the bustling crowds and the sounds of thousands of excited people outside being reduced to a whisper as soon as we stepped into the main shrine. It was unlike anywhere else I’d ever been, and I felt completely awed by its scale and sheer beauty.

Whilst we were here, Thailand was still in mourning for King Bhumibol Adulyadej. As we walked into the grounds we saw thousands of Thai people, all dressed in sombre black, queuing in a snaking line around the perimeter to pay their respects to the King, whose body was lying in state in the Throne Hall. It was really quite humbling to see how much he was loved and how much he meant to the people of Thailand, with many of them waiting for hours in line just to pay their respects and say goodbye.

 

Wat Pho

Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Pho bronze lion statue. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Pho gold buddha statues. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Pho garden with statues. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Pho garden with temple. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Pho stupa mosaic details close up. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Pho gold buddha statue with flowers and mosaic stupas. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Pho gold buddha statue with offerings inside central shrine. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Pho gold reclining Buddha statue at the Temple of The Reclining Buddha.

As we walked in to Wat Pho, or the Temple of The Reclining Buddha, it immediately had a different vibe to the glitzy Wat Phra Kaew. Here the mosaics adorning the temples were more earthy and neutral toned, it was less crowded and it felt much more relaxed and in tune with its surrounding area. It was incredible to think this was just down the road from where we had been.

That all changed as we got closer to the main draw of the site, The Vihara of the Reclining Buddha. Suddenly we were right in the middle of a crowd again, and the large open spaces were now taken up with brightly coloured marquees selling water and offering prayers and blessings. The atmosphere became much livelier as people gathered around the area and excitedly queued to see the Buddha.

The 46m golden Reclining Buddha really is a spectacular sight and the scale is quite overwhelming. Honestly, it’s far bigger than the photos make it look! I spent a good few minutes just staring up in awe at the huge face looking down on me.

Wat Pho is one of the oldest temples in Bangkok, dating back to before Bangkok was established as the capital. It houses the largest collection of images of the Buddha in Thailand and is also considered to be the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t have time to get ourselves a massage, which is still practiced here, and spend a little more time in the quieter areas.

 

Wat Arun

Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Arun the Temple of Dawn. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Arun the Temple of Dawn at golden hour sunlight. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Arun the Temple of Dawn garden and close up of guardian statue. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Arun the Temple of Dawn close up of mosaic detail. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Arun the Temple of Dawn, money offerings hanging across pathway. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Arun the Temple of Dawn at dusk. Temples of Bangkok Thailand, Wat Arun the Temple of Dawn at night.

We arrived at Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, just as the very first signs of twilight were beginning to darken the sky, and found ourselves with the complex almost to ourselves. Just a handful of others, monks and members staff were still walking around. It felt much more serene here. It seemed quiet and empty in comparison, and the dying light bathed the whole area in a soft glow as it bounced off the porcelain encrusted towers.

Whilst still beautifully decorated, the style is much more paired-back here. Seashells are mixed in with china fragments to create the rustic mosaics which decorate the main stupa, and white space dominates giving it a lighter, more airy feel. It was the perfect end to our day, walking around in the twilight and taking in the view as we waited for the boat to take us back across the river.

Renovation work is currently being performed on the main stupa, so it was covered in scaffolding and we didn’t get to go to the top or see it lit up at night. It wasn’t any less incredible though, and it’s actually great to see that these wonderful pieces of history are being actively preserved for future generations to enjoy.

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