Above and Beyond Angkor Wat


Amongst all the ancient wonder in Asia, there is nothing quiet as spectacular as the temples of Siem Reap, Cambodia. Most people have heard of the temple Angkor Wat with its honeycomb-style towers and mesmerizing reflection pool…but that is just one of 112 historic buildings in 400km2 of the Angkor Archaeological Park ! To start exploring the former Khmer empire properly, you should stay for a minimum of three days and preferably in the most relaxing and luxurious hotel possible (you’ll need the rest after the hot days of  temple hopping!). We stayed at the fabulous Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort, set just outside downtown Siem Reap and in an oasis of tropical trees, ponds, and French Cambodian style.

We walked across the Sofitel’s pond of lotus flowers to our suite and were greeted with an incredible welcome basket of exotic fruits, pâtisserie treats, and a Happy Honeymoon cake! We relaxed on our private balcony nibbling on dragon-eye berries, took a bath in our jacuzzi tub, then got ready for our first day of temple adventures.

To begin exploring the many temples, we took the hotel’s fantastic tip to start in chronological order. Angkor became the capital of the Khmer Empire in the 9th century and laid its earliest foundation in the present day Rolous region, 13km from the city center. We set out in a tuk tuk past pastoral scenes of rice paddies to arrive at the series of temples and bell of the Rolous ball: Preah Ko. Originally built as a Hindu temple for lord Shiva, the temple has incredible carvings but as we soon realized…this was just the tip of the iceberg for the glorious Angkorian style to come.

We wandered the rest of the Roluos Group then went forward in time to the 12th-century Buddhist Ta Prohm temple (the empire flip-flopped between religions a couple times). Built originally by King Jayavarman VII as a university and monastery, this is one of the most popular temples in all of Angkor (mostly because it’s amazing and secondly because Tomb Raider was also filmed here). Much of the charm of the temples (here and much of Angkor Archaeological Park) is how nature has fully inserted itself–greens grow out of every crevice from vines to towering trees. Angkor was abandoned for centuries and almost entirely devoured by the jungle until its rediscovery by European explorers in the 19th century. Much of the growth has been cut back but with so much time to take root, the trees have actually become integral to the structural support.

Just when we thought our dazzling introduction to Cambodian culture couldn’t get better, we found out the hotel was hosting a Khmer BBQ and Apsara dance performance. The courtyard was lined with torches and the stage was aflame with drama, grace, and seduction as we enjoyed the bountiful buffet. More than just beautiful choreography, Apsara relays a story and provides fascinating insights into Khmer tradition.

We returned to our room only to find our bed covered in red roses! Look at that petal inscription–so sweet!

The next day we decided to continue our temple circuit by bicycle (highly recommended!). One great thing about a self-guided tour of Angkor is you can truly choose your own adventure. Unlike most western monuments, there are few guard rails or attendants in Cambodia so you can walk the open and fallen passageways of a complex like Preah Khan without much restriction. We discovered this collapsed section by climbing up a little wall.

We biked past dozens of spectacular temples and ended our afternoon at Bayon Temple for sunset. Most people head to the high vantage point of Phnom Bakheng but to beat the crowds, Bayon was the perfect choice. Towers carved in the shapes of heads gave incredible silhouettes in the late-day sun.

After an day of biking, there is nothing like a good massage. We had a Khmer couples treatment at the Sofitel So Spa getting kneaded with L’Occitane lotions and Ayurvedic oils and it was total bliss!

Another way to relax and cool off at the hotel is of course their beyond-Olympic size pool and swim up bar. Cheers to that!

On our last night, we were treated to a romantic meal at the hotel’s elegant French-Khmer restaurant, Mouhout’s Dream. We started with sashimi-grade salmon topped with caviar, followed by herb crusted sea bream, and a dessert of crème brulee. The sommelier paired each course to perfection with white wines from around the world.

We woke up the next morning before dawn for the grand finale…sunrise at Angkor Wat! We stood there before the crown jewel of the Khmer Empire waiting for the daybreak to reveal each architectural layer bit by bit. The experience was otherworldly and only enhanced by a guided tour on Angkor, the largest pre-industrial civilization in the world.

History, culture, adventure, luxury, relaxation…a stay in the former Angkor kingdom is an essential addition to any southeast Asia honeymoon and the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra the ultimate Siem Reap retreat.

Much love from Angkor,
Anne & Mike

Note: Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa invited us to be their guest; however, all opinions are our own.

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