Return to Angkor-A A +A
Sunday, May 20, 2012
"IF I go back again I would want to stay longer and soak up in sunsets and sunrises at different vantage points, perhaps earlier than the growing throng of tourists who flock in thousands to spoil the serene view. I will most likely visit the least popular temples hidden in the jungle, despite warnings of mines."
This was my closing dramatic lines to my first article about Siem Reap last year. Siem Reap means "Defeat of Siam" (now Thailand) and is the gateway to Angkor Wat, a Unesco World Heritage Site declared in 1992 and a symbol of Cambodia's flag since 1863.
Siem Reap's once laidback picturesque town was propelled to prominence as a major tourist destination in Asia, after direct international flights were launched in 1998, and the Tomb Raider hit films were also shown in 2001 (making Angelina Jolie the most loved celebrity in Cambodia).
Now it has opened its welcoming arms to a surge of tourists (an estimated jump to 2.5 million this year), the place developing with more than 300 hotels and budget lodging houses scattered all over.
The US$1 billion proposed New Siem Reap International Airport is set to be built to accommodate long-haul flights, while the existing airport is now accommodating budget flights from neighboring countries.
This year, Cebu Pacific launched its maiden flight from Manila to Siem Reap, bringing a team of media from Visayas and Mindanao. We were booked in two splendid 5-star resorts, the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort and Sokha Angkor Resort. Talk about getting the best of both worlds and an invigorating muscle-softening spa to boot.
My return to Siem Reap this year enabled me to relish a longer stay. Last year was a swift overnight visit and a quick half day literal “Temple Run” (popular online video game).
I really went back on my word: woke up at dawn to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, basked in the spectacular sunset at Pre Rup ruins, do “Temple Run” poses within Ta Phrom (where Tomb Raider was mostly shot), wandered around Bayon Temple sitting on an elephant, and flew up in a hot air balloon to shoot an aerial of Angkor Wat.
Once battle scarred and isolated by wars, abandoned and overrun by a thick jungle, pillaged and vandalized by an unforgiving regime, these ancient and majestic archaeological wonders have continued to survive and fascinate the world, giving economic boost to one of the world’s poorest nations.
The main concern I see today is the preservation of ancient stone floors trampled on daily by thousands of thoughtless, shuffling feet and protection of bas relief carvings on walls carelessly touched by human hands.
As a tourist destination on almost everyone’s bucket list, Siem Reap has a lot to offer the senses, from low to high end accommodation, amazing finds at the Old Market, a healthy nightlife at the Pub Street with burst of local colors and flavors from food to art appreciation.
The Angkor Temple Complex though, remains to be the top attraction, a breathtaking vista of a once glorious Khmer civilization preserved for centuries and swallowed by a dense forest of giant trees. Being in the midst of these architectural masterpieces go beyond words. What I wrote of my first visit still stands… nothing can prepare you for its magnificence.
Will I go back there again? In a heartbeat.
Siem Reap now has direct flight from Manila thrice weekly within 2 and a half hours via Cebu Pacific. Cambodia is behind Philippine time by an hour.
(Jojie Alcantara is a travel writer and photographer based in Davao City. Her column with SunStar Davao has been around since 1995. You can view her stories of adventures in www.pbase.com/jojie_alcantara.)
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 21, 2012.