Exploring Angkor’s Grand Circuit

On Wednesday night, Dad, Grandpa, and I dined at The Sugar Palm, where we savoured the following Cambodian specialties:

  • fried prawn fritters with tamarind dip
  • prohok ktis (traditional fermented river fish with pork and spices), served with raw vegetables for dipping
  • coconut curried fish soup with green beans
  • Khmer red chicken curry with sweet potatoes, eggplants, onions, and Kampot peppercorns
  • fish amok soufflé

My dessert was equally delicious: fried banana fritters with vanilla ice cream. It was the perfect hot and cold, crispy and creamy way to end the meal.

On Thursday morning, Dad and I explored the hotel and our Siem Reap neighbourhood. After looking at the koi in our hotel, we headed to the old market, where we found vendors selling dried fish, household appliances, pencilboxes, clothing, perfumes, peppercorns, silk scarves, essential oils, and soap. We were tempted to purchase some jasmine-scented soap and pencil cases, to bring back to Canada as gifts.

The rest of the morning involved plenty of lounging around and relaxing. It was nice to do so, after waking up naturally to sunlight – especially since we’d woken at 4:00 AM the morning before to explore Angkor Wat during sunrise. All three of us loved the modern decorations and exquisite accents in Riversoul Residence.

We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel.

  • English Breakfast for Dad involved two slices of toast, scrambled eggs and bacon, mushrooms, English sausage, cheesy potato hash browns, butter and jam. He also had some iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk.
  • My Jackfruit Pockets had a vegan fusion flatbread with shredded jackfruit, passionfruit dressing, and a pumpkin hash. On the side, I ordered a raisin pancake topped with cream cheese (for some reason, came with maple syrup instead). I loved the Earl Grey tea that I had on the side with milk and sugar.
  • Grandpa liked his Kui Teiv, a southeast Asian noodle soup with bok choy, fish, and Asian condiments.

After brunch, I was eager to hop onto a tuktuk and head back to Angkor Archaeological Park to do another day of exploring. This time, we completed the Grand Circuit, passing Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom to visit some smaller, but equally mesmerizing, temples and monuments. The Grand Circuit is an extension of the shorter Small Circuit loop, taking in a few more key sites.

According to Travelfish: The main temples of the Grand Circuit are: Preah KhanNeak PeanTa SomEast Mebon and Pre Rup. This handful should help form the focus of your Grand Circuit tour, being the most interesting historically and visually with a variety of architecture. They also tend to be the only ones the tour companies take in or that tuk tuk drivers would think to stop at on the circuit.

The twisting, tendril-like tree trunks in one temple reminded me of the famous tree of Ta Prohm, though this one had much fewer tourists and just as many photo opps.

We thought this backdrop looked just like a painting. It was exhilarating, and I was struck by the stillness of the lake and picturesque vibrant colours of the surrounding jungle.

One temple, called Neak Pean (“entwined serpents” in Khmer) involved a walk on a long bridge before reaching a monument surrounded by a pond. Researchers believe this temple symbolizes a mythical Himalayan lake with magical, medicinal waters.

Neak Pean was originally designed for medical purposes (the ancients believed that going into these pools would balance the elements in the bather, thus curing disease); it is one of the many hospitals that Jayavarman VII built. It is based on the ancient Hindu belief of balance. Four connected pools represent Water, Earth, Fire and Wind.

Pre Rup was one of the most memorable temples for me. The views were breathtaking, and I wish photos could do it justice. Pre Rup, built with brick and other materials to give it a reddish hue, is a Hindu temple made in 961-962. The name Pre Rup means “turn the body”, which is significant because funerals were held at this temple, and ashes were rotated in different directions throughout the funeral.

The view from the top of Pre Rup was phenomenal, and I loved exploring each nook and cranny of the pagodas. Many, many questions arose, such as:

  • where did all the stones come from?
  • how were the stones carved without modern technology?
  • why does each carving look nearly identical?
  • what caused some structures to topple over, while others remain perfectly intact?
  • how many workers contributed to building these structures?
  • what was the purpose of countless door frames?
  • why did some of the small bricks have round indentations?
  • how were the stones carried up the stairs without cranes or other modern construction pieces?

It was truly an awe-inspiring experience to stand atop the temple and reflect on the fact that many centuries ago, Khmer kings and their guards, members of the royal family, and ancient monks spent their lives in these buildings. This peek into the ancient world was exhilarating and made me realize that I would love to visit more and more historical world heritage sites in the future.

Now we are in Kep, after a 6-hour night bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, a 2-hour layover (buffet breakfast was involved!), and a 3-hour bus from Phnom Penh to Kampot, then a 30-minute tuktuk ride to Kep.

Glad to finally be in Kep and explore southern Cambodia’s small, peaceful, scenic village.

6 thoughts on “Exploring Angkor’s Grand Circuit

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