Inevitably, when you tell someone that you’ve been to Cambodia, they will ask you about Angkor Wat. But it’s with good reason. It’s the main draw for tourists both on the cheap or living luxuriously.
After taking that extra day in Sen Monorom at Tree Lodge, I started my two day journey to Siem Reap. Eager to avoid another long bus ride, I took a shorter ride to Kampong Cham, a highly regarded town just east of Phnom Penh. Regrettably, I wasn’t taken by what I saw of the city. Sure, the 30 Cambodians line dancing to the song Footloose was impressive, but I didn’t experience much else while there. I was there for only a day though, so perhaps I’m being a bit hasty in my judgements.
While there I ran into Maud, a trekking friend from Sen Monorom, and we discovered we were on the same bus to Siem Reap the next day. This was a great turn of events, as Maud is a wonderful person. The only thing bigger than her smile is her love for children. She also possesses one of the best laughs the world has to offer (as heard on the video on the bottom of this post).
We did two days of Angkor Wat, as the park is rather large. To be clear, Angkor Wat is a site of numerous temples over tens of kilometers. The most well-known temple is known as Angkor Wat, and is likely the image that pops into your head, or your google search, when the words Angkor Wat are mentioned. However, there is so much more, and in my uneducated opinion, so much better. We decided to go with a tuk-tuk the first day, followed by a bike ride on the second day. The first day we woke at 5am in order to be at the park for sunrise. We avoided the never ending mass of tourists at Angkor Wat and welcomed the morning sun while looking over a calm lake and temple site.
Shortly thereafter we found ourselves at Ta Prohm, another famous temple known for the fusion of man’s creation and nature’s will. After years of being unused, mother nature has taken back her rightful place as master of this land. Massive tree roots swallow temple stones whole, and trees shoot up through many sections of the temples. The caretakers of this site do their best to maintain a balance in order to keep the temples intact while respecting the power of the trees.
We planned our trip to Ta Prohm well, as we were one of only a few groups of tourists at the site. Normally swarming with visitors, our early morning excursion worked out perfectly for us. We headed out for breakfast, munched on some chocolate pancakes, then walked through the Angkor Thom compound. Made up of many different temples and architectural areas of interest, we spent a few hours climbing and exploring this historical playground. The highlight of Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple. This temple is one of the largest and most unique temples in the park, and a never ending amount of stone carved faces greet you at every turn.
(Above: Me trying to blend in with a Japanese tour group. I think it worked. And yes, my hair always looks like that. I had a one dollar hair cut roughly 1 month ago in Chiang Mai, and I’ve been owning it ever since.)
After Bayon, we headed over to Angkor Wat. At this point we had been touring for about 8 hours, and were were a bit templed out. Angkor Wat, I believe, is the largest temple in the park, and is surrounded by a massive moat (one that I was thisclose to jumping into). Sadly, not many good pictures were taken at the temple. A lot of tourists, and nothing that really caught our eye.
We headed home, had a rest, met a new friend, and got ready for the next day.
As I mentioned earlier, Maud and I decided to rent bikes and ride around the park. That morning we met a fellow hostel mate named Kevin, an Irishman who was riding his bike across the world. He started in London, went across Europe, into Turkey, Iran, UAE, then a 30 day boat ride to Singapore, eventually making his way to Cambodia. It was his rest day, so he was planning on doing precisely that. A few words of encouragement later, the 3 of us were peddling our way to Angkor. I’ll spare you a lot of the details on various temples, but the bike ride itself was fantastic. Definitely go this route if you plan on seeing Angkor over multiple days. I would splurge for the good bikes, though. I was the lucky recipient of two flat tires during our tour. Kevin had a total of one flat tire in his round the world trip to date. Thankfully there were roadside “shops” where men filed, melted and patched my tires back together. All part of the fun.
Today I chased my bus down the street at 8am, sandals flipping and flopping, mouth crammed full of sugared street pastries, arms waving up and down like I’m trying to take off into flight.
I never made it airborne, but I did catch that bus.
Now I find myself in Kampot, a calm river town in southeast Cambodia. I plan on relaxing and swimming for 2 days before I head off to Vietnam.
I’m hoping some connections in Vietnam come through and I will have some local hosts or guides. Wish me luck!