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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Aug 21, 2015

A Rewarding Six-Day Stay In Siem Reap, Cambodia To Visit Its Ancient Temples

WE'RE ON a 5-day stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia with our children and grandchildren as we write this and the first thing we notice is how clean and functional their airport is. It's also passenger-friendly as you don't have to walk long distances before you get to their immigration area. Immediately behind the immigration counters are the conveyor belts where you can quickly get your luggage. It's also very cold, unlike our airport that is so warm inside. But Siem Reap itself is much hotter than Manila. They say it gets to as high as 40 degrees when it's really sizzling hot.

Which is why we were bathed in sweat as we go around its ancient temples on the first day of our tour. The Angkor area is a vast complex of 16 very old temples and the whole place is protected by a huge man-made moat to protect the monks from invaders. On our first day, we visited Angkor Bayon (famous for the faces carved on its towers), Angkor Tom (where Angeline Jolie's 'Tomb Raider' was shot in 2000) and the biggest and most popular, Angkor Wat (Angkor means capitol and wat means monastery). These three temples are very near the city and they're enough to occupy and keep your your whole day busy as there's so much to see, if you're not bothered by the intense heat. You pay $40 per person at their ticket office and this entitles you to visit all the surrounding temples for 3 days.

On Day 2, we first visited Banteay Shrey temple, which is about an hour's drive from the city proper. From there, we visited the Cambodia Landmine Museum and the Siem Reap War Museum. The old history of Cambodia is so rich in culture as their history dates back to 5th century. But its more recent history is so sad, marred by a civil war that gave them their own version of the Holocaust, with 3 million of its 8 million people killed during the Khmer Rouge regime of the tyrannical Pol Pot and his Kampuchea that became infamous due to the Killing Fields.

China first invaded Cambodia during the time of Mao Tse Tung but other nations meddled, including Vietnam, the U.S. and Russia. The United Nations mediated and Kampuchea reverted back to being Cambodia. But up to now, they're still fighting for complete independence and the country is still poor, mostly rural. It's good they have a thriving tourism industry because of the temples and this gives their peoples lots of jobs. Millions of tourists visit them regularly, mostly Japanese, Koreans and Chinese who have money to spare for travels. And of course, a lot of Europeans. Talbog ang Pinas as they have much more to offer in culture and history.

On our 3rd day, we visited Prasat Bakong and Preah Koh temples. Prasat is the eldest temple in Siem Reap as it was built in the 8th century, while Angkor Wat, in the 11th century. Our tour guide wants to bring us to more temples but we begged off because, actually, after Angkor Wat, every other temple is quite anti-climactic. There are restorations being done on the various temples but they're either finance by Japan, Switzerland, Germany or China.

We also visited Tonle Sap Lake, the biggest fresh water lake in South East Asia. Going there is very 3rd world as you take a long rough bumpy and dusty road trip alongside the Siem Reap river, then you take the boat that will take you to the lake. It's US$20 per person and the boat looks creaky and old you feel you can turn over any time, but the sight on both sides of the river is something else. The people living by the river have built houses on very tall stilts, obviously to save themselves and their homes when the river gets swollen. The sight is really something to behold. The lake is really huge. You cannot see the other side, unlike in most lakes we've been to.

We stayed at the Borei Angkor Resort Hotel and Spa and it's a great place to be anyone's temporary residence in Siem Reap. The food is good, the service is great, and they have a beautiful swimming pool, gym and spa. The entrance to the hotel alone greets you with beautifully arranged flowers and the huge spacious lobby is tastefully designed. All in all, we really have a restful and relaxing stay in Siem Reap. Once in your lifetime, you should also visit this historic exotic place.