One place that I have always wanted to go to, but thought it was too far away, was Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Set in a jungle in the middle of Cambodia this massive temple complex is just one of many in the area. It was once the seat of the Khmer empire around the 12th and 13th century, but steadily went into a period of decline. Angkor Wat itself is a temple originally dedicated to Hindu religion, but has been converted into a site important to Buddhism. The mix of religions is everywhere, making the whole region a unique culture. There are many other temples in the area that are covered in dense forest overgrowth, making many of them very atmospheric. It is with these images in mind that Trina and I set out to go to Cambodia. Day 1 We took a Sunday afternoon flight on Jetstar to Siem Reap in Cambodia. It was a short two hour flight. Once we got there we were amazed by the heat. Apparently, we were going during the hottest time of the year in Cambodia. I felt like I was going to melt on the tarmac on the walk over to the immigration counter. There I waited in line for my visa on arrival. It took a bit of processing, but they had a very efficient assembly line of stampers, signers and staplers. I had to pay for everything in US dollars. It was a bit strange. When I got my change back it was a $2 bill. Something I haven’t seen in a while. Trina, being from Singapore, did not need to pay for any visa. We had arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport. He drove us straight to the hotel. In the sweltering weather we checked into Pavillion D’Orient. The view of the hotel from the street was nothing great, but once inside the walls it was like a garden paradise. There was a pool and plenty of vegetation. The grounds were well kept and the staff were extremely attentive and helpful. We arranged for a tour guide to take us to the temples early in the morning. The hotel also arranged for a tuk tuk to take us to downtown Siem Reap later that evening. We unpacked our bags in our amazing junior suite overlooking the pool. There was water bottles and even a basket of fruit for us to eat.
We took our tuk tuk downtown. We whizzed through some crazy traffic down one of the main thoroughfares in Sieme Reap. We decided to go to Pub Street, where lots of restaurants are located. We ate at Amok in the Alley behind Pub Street. It was a little weird going to an alley way, but it was full of restaurants and shops. Trina had Amok Degustation while I had the Green Khmer Curry and Angkor Beer. Everything was delicious. It was also decorated with flowers and leaves we weren’t suppose to eat. I was still surprised that every transaction was done in US Dollars. They did give us change in Cambodian Riel, which made things even more confusing. Afterwards we strolled up and down Pub Street and went to Blue Pumpkin for sorbet and ice cream. Trina pointed out a sign saying the store would not accept $2 bills or bills that had a slight tear. That bade me wonder if I was carrying any counterfeit money. Once the sun went down Pub Street became much more lively. City officials even closed the street to cars so that people could stroll around. We weren’t in the mood for some of the crazy looking pubs and opted to go back to our hotel.
There we decided to get Khmer massages. It was really relaxing, really affordable and really convenient. We booked an appointment and were ready to go in half an hour. After getting totally relaxed, we were ready for bed. Day 2 We got up super early for our tour of Angkor Wat, which was about 4 am to meet our tour guide at 5 am. We wanted to go to Angkor Wat for sunrise. The hotel had prepared a packed breakfast for us to eat. We were confused by the multiple baskets they had left for us, so we only took one. When we got to the lobby we met our guide, Bou Dorath. He was Cambodian but spoke English very well. He gave us a brief history of Angkor Wat as we sped over to the temples in a tuk tuk. He told us we would do the small circuit. He recommended that we try to do everything in the morning before it got too hot. He helped us collect our entry pass and we went over to the our first stop Angkor Wat. The view in the morning was amazing. Angkor Wat was pretty awesome to see with sun rising over it. We first stood outside the moat to see the towers. After some photo ops and taking in the scenery (there were a lot of people too), we walked to the outer walls across the moat. Along the way Bou pointed out the architectural distinctions, commented on how it was made, and talked about the historical significant. He especially made note of the seven-headed water snakes and the lions guarding the bridge. When we got to the outer wall he pointed out these little holes in the outer wall. He said that the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia in the 1970’s, and got into a fire fight with the Cambodian military at Angkor Wat. He was showing us the bullet holes, were there were a few bullets still wedged into the wall. After that chilling display we went into the main court yard were we were treated to the main temple. It was pretty vast. Our guide pointed out that normally, there would be pools of water in front, but it was dry season now, so the pools were non-existant or very shallow.
After taking in the view outside and showing us good camera angles we went inside. The temple had large murals depicting battle scenes while columns contained Asparas, or heavenly dancers. We walked through the different corridors where additional pools were built. There were also makeshift Buddhist shrines throughout the temple. Our guide talked about how Suryavarman II built the temples during his reign from 1112-52 AD. It took 37 years to complete. He said normally temples such as these were built on mountains, but since there were no mountains in this part of Cambodia, the rulers created “mountains” with the temples. We then went through the other side to catch a glimpse of the yellow sunlight on the temples. It was really quite peaceful and surreal. We took a bit more time to explore some of the crumbling ruins and took off for our next destination.
After visiting one of the largest temples in the world we took our tuk tuk to Banteay Kdei. There were hardly any people at this Buddhist monastery. It was built in the late 12th century. We saw a pretty cool Garuda stone entrance, which is an eagle crossed with a person. They are the mounts of Lord Vishnu in Hinduism. It was neat walking through all of the different ruins that were still being restored. After a bit more time exploring we headed to our next temple.
Along the way we encountered families of monkeys wandering through the forests. It was pretty cool to see them, but they were big and seemed to be uninterested in us. After another brief tuk tuk ride we came to Ta Prohm aka the “Tomb Raider” temple. Built in 1186 AD it was a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII. It was really neat seeing all the trees poking out of the temple. The guide told us that they couldn’t be removed because the roots extended way beyond what we could see. If workers removed the trees then they might destroy the temple foundations. Trina and I got some pretty cool pictures with those hulking trees.
Our guide could tell we were getting a bit worn down. After Ta Prohm we took our tuk tuk to a small set of temples. We could take a break at the washrooms or explore the two small temples Chau Say Tevoda and Thommanon. They were both built in the mid 12th century, and were dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. There was not much else known about these two temples, but they were a pleasant uncrowded stop. It was pretty funny when a European tourist came sprinting up to one of the temples, took a few selfies, offered to take our photo, had us take his photo, and ran off. He was there barely a minute.
Our last stop of the day was Bayon in Angkor Thom. Jayavarman VII had a temple built within a walled city. Bayon itself is a temple with many smiling Buddha faces. The grounds were very crowded and it wasn’t even 10am yet! While it was a bit frustrating dealing with the crowds our tour guide helped us find some very unique photo opportunities. He had been there so many times that he knew some of the quirky angles you could find in the statues.
We thought about taking the elephant tour or seeing more temples further north. We were all pretty exhausted at that point so we decided to call it a day. It was great seeing such an amazing historical sight. Won’t ever forget it!
We headed back to the hotel and showered. We opted to do lunch in Siem Reap again. We ate lunch at Khmer kitchen where I ran into an Indiana native. We talked about football and Indiana, it was pretty cool. For lunch we ate Khmer curry, pumpkin soup, fried ginger beef and spring roll. All of it was really tasty. To cool off we went to Blue Pumpkin for ice cream again. After lunch we headed back to the hotel to relax some more. It was Trina’s birthday so around 3pm we celebrated with a really tasty fruit cake. I had aimed for it to be a surprise but it seemed that it was really difficult to let the staff get the hint. Anyway, it was tasty and everyone was super nice. In the evening we got more massages. I opted a foot massage while Trina got a facial. Since we were tired of traveling he decided to eat at the restaurant at the hotel. Both of us had Amok and it was really good. After a long day we went to sleep. Day 3 On our last day we started by eating breakfast at hotel. There were lots of food options available. We had an afternoon flight so we decided to go to the Angkor National Museum in the morning. The museum was massive and had a lot of artifacts you couldn’t find in the temples due to looters or desecration. We were glad we saw this after Angkor Wat, it helped us appreciate what we saw the day before. We wandered the halls and listened to the audio guide. We even got our fortunes from a Buddhist shrine. My fortune wasn’t so good, I should have shook that can harder. After a couple more hours of exploring we decided to head back for lunch. On our way out we found this really freaky big brain fish. It followed us around in its tank. Really weird!
We ate lunch back at the hotel. I had Khmer noodles and Trina had the fried ginger beef. Trina was envious of my meal and kept trying to steal it. We headed back to the airport in the sweltering sun for our plane back to Singapore. While we waited for our flight I went to the Blue Pumpkin in the terminal. More sorbet! It was a lot of fun visiting Cambodia, we will definitely try to go back in the future!