After that crazy ride to our stopping point in Cambodia, we were just so eager to get to Siem Reap with no problems that we hired a private minivan, split with an Australian family of 5, to get us there. It ended up costing a little more than the alternative, but for no nasty surprises, it was totally worth it. Arriving into Siem Reap around 4pm, we were greeted by the friend of a Kratie local we met at our hotel the previous night. He helped us decide on a hotel (pretty decent), and we planned our next two days with him, who as a tuk tuk driver, was eager to shuttle us around.
We spent that evening celebrating our successful arrival with a walk through the market, pizza and beer, an amazing foot massage, and a nighttime stroll through Pub Street, where all the bars are. For all that’s happening in the busy area, it feels quite comfortable and homey. We headed back to relax before the next two days, which were sure to be busy ones.
KOMPLONG PHLUK & ARTISANS ANGKOR
After breakfast the next morning, we headed out to Kompong Phluk, a stilted village on Tonle Sap Lake. It’s a very pricey excursion which I am sure we paid WAY too much for, but the advertised experience of EcoTourism caught me. Who knows where the money actually goes. It’s a shame because I am not sure it is well-regulated and dispersed. Seeing the village was very unique despite being overcharged. These residents, including their small children, must take boats everywhere throughout the village. The lake is involved in all aspects of their daily life from transportation and clothes washing, to exercising and bathing. In the end, I really hope our money went to help with what we were told would eventually result in a paved road to where you catch a boat to the village. It was an extremely bumpy ride! We followed that with a tasty meal and afternoon hammock snooze.
SEE MY POST ON THE CHILDREN OF KOMPLONG PHLUK
Our next stop of the day was Artisans Angkor, a wonderful workshop of artists showcasing the process of creating beautiful Khmer crafts. Through painting, carving, and etching (to name a few), these amazing artists preserve the creation of traditional Cambodian art. Many workshops exist throughout the country, providing training and employment to hundreds of artists with “limited educational opportunities.” I wish we could have afforded a number of the beautiful, handmade products, but the quality was reflected in the price, which was way beyond our budget.
Moving on, we rushed to Angkor Wat, the world’s largest monument devoted to religion, to purchase our tickets for the following day. This allowed us free entrance that evening to view the sunset, which was beautiful, but as expected, full of other guests. Taking photos proved difficult as most of them had no consideration for others. That said, I am sure my head is in a few photos as well. In the end, the sun went down fast and since we really didn’t know where the best viewpoint was, I don’t think we had the best experience but nonetheless it was a lovely evening.
Heading back, we cleaned up, ate dinner, and got to sleep early enough to spend the following day enjoying temples. At 3am, I awoke to the pounding sound of rain on the neighboring building’s tin roof. From our balcony, I could see lightning flashing in the distance as the rain came down with a vengeance. I laid in bed, afraid our day would be a wet one visiting the temples, but to my surprise, as the morning came, so did the sun. We were so thankful because you cannot change the date of your ticket once purchased (at least not for the one day visit).
Oh man our next day was exhausting, sweaty, and long. We started off again at Angkor Wat, exploring the many hallways and grounds it has to offer. We climbed the center tower to check out the view. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t accept a scarf covering my shoulders so I had to wear a raincoat in the blistering hot humidity. The view was worth it but Rob and I both agreed that for being the most famous of the wats, it was a tad un-photogenic. It is huge and impressive and historical, but we were eager to see the one’s in which time had altered their state.
Between temples we pulled over to visit the monkeys that roam along the roads between temples. Before we could even get out of our tuk tuk, one had jumped on, eagerly waiting for food. We purchased some bananas and had a great time feeding the little greedy guys. They were not skinny, that’s for sure! And they can get quite aggressive grabbing at you. Our driver said they even stole his keys once so he had to wait thirty minutes for them to get bored and drop them back down from the tree. A mistake that only happens once!
ANGKOR THOM & THE BAYON
Angkor Thom was our next one. Surrounded by a moat, we crossed a bridged flanked with statues on either side as we approached the entrance gate. At this point, I was pretty sure we were entering a movie set. This is what we were excited to see. Set into a more natural setting with trees in and around the temple, it felt more as though it had stood the test of time despite the elements; whereas Angkor Wat seemed to be cleared of most plant life within the central area. Anyway, this place is like, 900 years old, and considering that, it is extremely well preserved. The central temple within this wat, the Bayon, is covered in carved stone faces – small ones, big ones, everywhere, in every direction. As gorgeous as the temple was, all the faces began to look alike so we decided to move on to the next one before we were completely drained of energy.
Our final wat, Ta Prohm, was actually used as a movie set, Tomb Raider, to be exact. This was by far my favorite stop of the day. Engrossed in tree roots, the poor remains of this temple are being completely intertwined by the spindly trees. The ruins and the trees are now one, over the years binding themselves together in a beautiful example of nature’s strength and determination. Everywhere we looked were signs of the struggle, roots covering and holding together the pieces of this ancient space. Some roots are now reinforced with scaffolding to reassure the safety of its visitors. It felt so eerie and mysterious throughout the passageways. One moment you’re alone, the next, you turn a corner and are greeted with hordes of other guests. I could have spent hours or perhaps days here observing its unique qualities.
That being our final stop for the day, we headed back to our hotel, eager to wash up and relax. One disappointment of our visit was being continually hassled to buy food or souvenirs at the nearby market stalls. We were followed, begged, and yelled at to indulge in things we had no desire for. I understand the constant struggle to provide for your family, but it disrupted the scenery of tranquility provided by these ancient religious sites. They even had children throughout each of the temples trying to sell us stuff. It breaks my heart every time, and I do understand, but Angkor Wat is not the place for that. We were a little disappointed as well with the price our driver charged. I would suggest just hiring one off the street instead of ahead of time.
We spent our final day relaxing and wandering around the market before getting ready to meet some ship friends for dinner and drinks. It was wonderful to connect with people so far away from home. We had a great time comparing travel stories and adventures, swapping tips and tricks. We even ran into that Australian family from our van trip… It’s a bit of a small town, like I said very comfortable and homey. We indulged in a final foot massage before packing up to leave the following morning bright and early for Ayutthaya.