I have been wanting to visit the Angkor Wat temples and Terracotta Army since the Asian history unit in my language arts book in 4th grade. Also, growing up watching the amazing kids game show “Legends of the Hidden Temple” also contributed to my intense need to see ancient ruins live and close up.
Seeing the Teotihuacan pyramids outside of Mexico City contributed towards feverish love for temples and ancient ruins. Macchu Picchu is also on the list. For now, the Angkor Wat Temple trip has turned reality and here I am in Cambodia.
Flying into Siem Reap was just about one hour on the lovely low cost carrier Air Asia. After an uneventful flight (though secretly rather petrified a rougue Russian missile may launch my way…I know, I know, I just don’t like flying okay) we landed in the tiny but international Siem Reap Airport.
Major points for me, as I insisted Jorge and I do our E-Visas pre-arrival. We swooped past customs as an uninterested officer simultaneously watched youtube videos and made sure I wasn’t a threat to the country, all while a HUGE line queued up at the “Visa Upon Arrival” counter.
This is one of those types of situations where everyone makes fun of me for being overly organized, and I of course, have the last laugh. MUHAHAH.
Anyway, our Tuk Tuk driver, pre-arranged with our hotel, was there waiting for us, and of course Jorge couldn’t contain his excitement about getting to ride in a Tuk Tuk. I too found it entertaining, however my bottom less so. Driving through the dusty town was crazy. Seeing how people carry EVERYTHING on bicycles and motorcycles is crazy. Bamboo sticks, huge baskets of straw and fruits, entire families (max we saw were four on one motorcycle, I have seen up to six in Morocco though), babies (of course no helmets on anyone) and even a ladder. There are no traffic lights and it isn’t uncommon to see people driving on the wrong side of the rode.
We made it to the hotel, the Siem Reap Evergreen, which was charming and boutique-like, my favorite style of hotel. The staff was welcoming and quite charming really, and helped us organize our visit.
After lunch, a pool dip and a nap, we wandered down towards Pub Street and the night market, which was just a little too touristy for my liking. However, I did enjoy the night market and look forward to wandering through it more during my visit. We headed back home early to get some rest for our first day of temple exploring, Indiana Jones style.
Getting the three day temple pass ($40 pp) seemed to be the best decision, and we also chose to do our visit via Tuk Tuk. For just $15, we had our driver for an entire day, choosing to see as many temples as we could. Sunset and sunrise visits were $5-10 more and so was seeing some further out temples.
The first day we started off with the famous Angkor Wat temple that everyones seen the photos of. It was super crowded and busy, and while I found it awesome, I realized later on that it was actually my least favorite. After getting to see some more deserted temples further out into the jungle, I realized that all these temples I’d never hear about were even more awesome.
We also loved the wild monkeys that run around. They are so cute, but they are naughty little creatures too! We saw one climb onto a moving Tuk Tuk and steal a girls bushel of bananas. It was hysterical, but I certainly held on a bit tighter to my bag after that!
Back to the temples. Most of the temples in this area are from the 12th century. Most were originally created to honor Vishnu (Hinduism) and then later turned Buddhist, which I found extremely interesting. The next temple we saw was the Banyon group, which is actually a complex of several temples requiring you to walk through the jungle to get to each of them after the first.
The main one was amazing, as it had a ton of faces carved into the rock. They really must have copied this one from “Legends of the Hidden Temple”(LOL). Following that were some more pyramid like structures, and then a terrace like temple honoring elephants. I had minor heatstroke in these temples, at this point it was well over 100 degrees and soooo humid. It finally started to rain a bit, which was actually pleasant as I was dying.
We had a brief lunch, where I tried the Chicken Amok, a type of curry that has spices and coconut, pretty good!
The last temple we hit was my favorite one, Ta Phrom, also called the Tomb Raider temple. This one is pretty famous for the trees literally growing in and out of the temple. It was so fun exploring this temple, we actually got lost within in several times, finding doors and openings and climbing over rocks and running over a jungle bridge. I really felt like a kid, exploring this giant temple, running around in the rain, getting all muddy, and not even caring! Jorge, in typical Jorge fashion, insisted on climbing on every single rock and having his photo taken, which I of course whined about but this is secretly why I love him. I discovered a creepy looking lizard snake creature hiding under a rock, which was awesome (I am my father’s daughter, after all). There were many times were Jorge and I were completely alone in areas of the temple, and all we could hear was jungle sounds. I tried to close my eyes and just listen and smell: the rain, the insects, the birds. These are the kinds of things people dream about and here I was, living it!
We finally got a solid pic of the famous photo that everyone has seen-the huge tree enveloping the temple when our camera died. Good timing though! Absolutely knackered at this point after nine hours of temple viewing and heat in major humidity, we headed back to the hotel where I promptly dove into the pool.
We headed to bed early, as we had decided to do the sunrise tour the next day and had to be up at 4:30.
I actually don’t think I have ever been up that early in my life (not counting airport runs and staying out the night before). It was suprisingly not that bad, perhaps the excitement masked the exhaustion? We got to Angkor with about a million other people and then slowly realized that due to the cloud coverage, there wasn’t going to be a sunrise. One moment it was night, the next it was cloudy. Voila. We laughed about it–oh well! There is nothing you can do about weather, and continued on our tour. We did the outer circle of temples, which was cool, but not as amazing as Ta Prohm in my opinion. However, we did see a few that involved more water, one called Prean Khan that was pretty nice. We were the only people there, so it was like we were exploring on our own which was so cool. Another was super tiny, but we had to walk for awhile on a wooden bridge, which was also unique.
In the last temple, there was a vendor selling handmade paintings on rice paper, and Jorge and I picked one out for our bedroom. I am really excited to find a frame and put it up…and I know that every time I see it, I will remember this epic adventure I have been able to embark on.
We also had a nice chat over a coffee with our Tuk Tuk driver. He explained to us that he grew up on a rice farm and now has a family and they live in the village of Siem Reap. His kids go to public school, which is only three hours a day, because there are so many kids (and so few schools) the kids go in shifts. The teachers work all day, six days a week and do two/three shifts of kids a day. Most people can’t afford private school ($8-10 a month) so this is just how it is. His dream is to own his own Tuk Tuk (he uses one that belongs to the hotel), but they cost $900, so many a few years from now.
The amount of poverty here is extreme. Little kids selling things and people living in unsanitary conditions are the norm, but I must say, I envy them in a way. They seem so happy and free, you often see kids simply playing with leaves and rocks, adults napping in hammocks, and people smiling and laughing. They have simple, happy lives, work and eat off the land, and life is good for them, despite the fact they don’t have iPads or fancy cars (isn’t this the Buddhist way, after all?) If only Western life was that simple!
We ended up heading back to the hotel around noon, but considering we’d been temple hopping since 5 am, we thought that was enough. Tomorrow, we are going to take a break (we don’t want to get temple burnout–apparently it’s a “real” condition) and head to the markets. Wednesday, we will use the last day of our pass to see more temples via Tuk Tuk, and then Thursday, it’s off to Vietnam.
I adore the Cambodian food, culture and people. They are friendly and kind, and are proud of their jungle land! I love it here, and I think everyone should see these temples in their lifetime, they are truly a marvel.