If you read Brian’s post on The Travelmeisters, you know that we made it across the border from Thailand into Cambodia relatively easily, with none of the problems that we’d heard about prior. Having an e-visa, while it may have been $5 more than if we had purchased it at the border, certainly made it smooth.
My first impression on crossing into Cambodia was one of dust, a fine reddish dust that seemed to cover everything; even the people seemed slightly colored by the dust, their skin soaking it up even as they walked. Motos impossibly laden with loads of crates, bags and boxes we’re making their way across the border. I heard a squealing that I assumed came from a set of worn brakes on a moot. When I turned, I realized that the sound actually came from a moto bearing a load of massive hogs.
The trip to Siem Reap was uneventful, the scenery only broken by cows in the flat fields or sudden bursts of banana plants in the small settlements that passed. Siem Reap is an interesting town, one that shows the bursts of tourism in the massive, showy hotels that line the road from the airport, each with several tour buses parked out front. However, in Psar Chas, the old market, and down by the river, the personality of the original town still remains.
We were lucky enough (thanks to Heather’s research) to book into the Golden Temple Villa, a small guesthouse with tons of charm and possibly the friendliest and most helpful staff that we’ve encountered. The rooms are comfortable, the restaurant excellent and the location can’t be beat.
Everyone comes to Siem Reap for the temples and we were no exception. Through the hotel we were able to secure a driver and his tuk tuk for a whole day to do the Grand Tour for $9; the next day’s Petite Tour (which covers more temples in a smaller square area, hence the confusing name) would cost $15, still a steal for the three of us. The $40 fee for three days entry into the Angor Wat park system was steep, but necessary and completely worth the money.
Angor Wat is possibly the most famous of the temples, and for good reason. Imposing and massive are two words that come to mind and I was amazed by the level of restoration that has taken place, though it’s definitely a work in progress. The carvings in the long galleries are impressive and it takes a while to explore the various nooks and crannies. We were thankful for the various places to perch when the rain came.
We’re not made of sugar, so after a while of waiting for the rain to abate, we decided to make a run for it. We made it out to our driver, Mr. Tu, as it stopped. We hurried to the next temple, Angor Thom, as the sky continued to darken. The benefit of rain is that it drive many people home, so we were able to enjoy Angor Thom, one of my favorite temples, in relative peace. I loved the multitude of faces carved into this temple; every direction that you look, another face is staring back at you.
We made it to two more temples as the rain grew heavier. After Ke Tae, we had to call it quits as we were soaked to the bone, and so was Mr. Tu! The next day was clear and hot with no chance of rain (because we had brought our rain coats). With the help of Mr. Krum, our new driver, we made it around to just about every temple that you could see on the Grand or Petite circuit. I truly enjoyed seeing the various styles of temples as well the current states of repair (or lack thereof) and there are some really cool sites. It was difficult for me to believe that I was actually standing where I had seen so many pictures–it was a surreal experience. After a full day, though, I have to admit that I was “templed” out.
There was one more experience that I wasn’t going to miss, though, one that has been on my List for a long time: seeing the sunrise at Angor Wat. It meant being downstairs at 5am, but it was definitely worth it. We rode in a line of tuk tuks on dark, hushed streets to Angor Wat where, for the first time, no one tried to sell us postcards, bracelets or cold drinks. While the “best seats” are in front of the reflecting pools, we settled on the north library and watched the crowds file in, waiting for the sun.
A true sunrise wasn’t in the cards as it was too cloudy, but we did see the sky slowly lighten behind the Wat. It was amazing seeing how many people turned up for the event and, for the most part, everyone kept an almost respectful silence.
There’s more to Siem Reap than just the temples, though. We had a great time at the Night Market, enjoyed some traditional Khmer cuisine (I highly recommend the amok, it differs in every restaurant) and saw traditional apsara dance (as I dragged Heather and Brian to the free show at Temple Bar on Pub Street). We even discovered a cool new bar on The Lane called Asana.
My favorite afternoon, though, was my Street Food Tour with Cooks in Tuk Tuks. With a guide and a nice Italian couple, Claudia and Paulo, we braved the stalls of several local markets (none of which I found on my own) and sampled local delicacies like fried crickets and beetles, frog legs, fresh sugar cane juice, coconut sweets, grilled eggs and more. We ended the tour with noodle soup under an umbrella at a lady’s stand at the local market that stretches down a length of road on the outskirts of town. It’s quite the party–a small carnival is set up for the kids and everyone comes to socialize and eat dinner. It was a taste of Cambodia that I was thankful I was able to experience.
Our last night before the bus to Phnom Penh was busy with a last trip to the night market for souvenirs, a last drink on Pub Street and my last opportunity to get a Dr. Fish pedicure. Yep, those are tilapia eating the dead skin off of my feet. Always knew it was a trash fish…but didn’t know how much until now!