Awe-inspiring. Mind-blowing. Breathtaking. I’m talking about Angkor Wat. Well, Angkor Wat and the cheap flight that we got to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh on Bassaka Air! Two options for transport from Phnom Penh: 1) take the easiest, low key 30-minute flight you can imagine or 2) take a 7 hour bus ride through the Cambodian countryside… We’re all for seeing the countryside but in the interest of maximizing time to explore, we opted for the quick flight up to “The Reap” for the 3 day weekend.
On the tuk tuk ride from the airport to Siem Reap center, we immediately noticed the contrast from Phnom Penh – very little traffic, lush green grass, parks and benches along the riverside, and most importantly the fresh air… AHHHH. We found a great room at Natura Resort and jumped straight back into the tuk tuk to head to the legendary temples of Angkor just 20 minutes north of town.
We didn’t think much of only having $73 cash in our wallets but when we got to the temple entrance and had to pay $20 per person to get in, we got a little worried. We ate a tasty, quick Khmer style lunch ($12). Since, it was blazing hot (yup, it’s noon by this point – not the smartest time to hike through temples), we found some vendors and bought a big hat to protect Adam’s pale face ($3). The ladies also informed us that Jax couldn’t go into the main temple without covered shoulders and legs so she had to buy a sarong for her legs ($5) and a scarf for her shoulders ($3). While bartering and laughing with them, Jax asked about why they wear 3 layers in the 100 degree weather (long sleeves, pants, hat, gloves and scarf). She had seen many women like this but this was especially apparent with the heat. The women joked that “Men love the light skin. No dark skin. No love for dark skin.”
After that lesson in khmer beauty, we were ready for some temple hopping. The area is broken up into many large complexes of temples – the most legendary being Angkor Wat. We started there and worked our way through the epic temple halls, observing ornate carvings in every door jam, wall, and every other possible surface – the temple seemed to go on forever! It is pretty incredible to think of the time, patience and artistry that went into all the detail, especially with tools from the 12th century. After Angkor, we checked out Adam’s favorite, the Bayon Temple. This one shows a little bit of ancient humor or playfulness in the large stone faces of the temple walls. Then, onto Jax’s favorite – Ta Prohm. This temple has the legendary tree roots that seem to be slowly swallowing the temple ruins. Literally, the trees roots are oozing through cracks in every stone, apparently trying to slowly turn the temple back into nature. It was an interesting dichotomy of old versus new.
Next thing we know it’s been 4 hours of exploring in 100+ degree heat and we’re sweaty/dirty/exhausted. Finally, the rains started when we were at Ta Prohm and Jax (naturally) started dancing around with a big smile as the cool rain came down.
We headed back to the tuk tuk, exhausted and full of respect for this epic place. We used $5 of our remaining $8 to buy a freshly pressed sugar cane juice, Angkor beer, and mystery meat (with a form of cambodian coleslaw and chili sauce) from a street vendor. One out of the three was really tasty! Our last stop at a small tent (built solely to serve Angkor Wat visitors) allowed us to buy one large bottle of water which we gladly chugged. We actually high-fived when we realized that our $73 had lasted us the day…
After a jump in the pool, we’d heard a lot about Pub Street in Siem Reap so we decided to check it out for ourselves – all hype confirmed! This place is like the Vegas of Cambodia except drinks are 10% of the cost of Vegas ($1.50) and there’s no cover charge because you dance in the streets. And, maybe if you’re lucky, you get a little male muscle team show in the middle of all of the dancing – taking off their shirts and taking turns flexing their big muscles for all of the tourists. FOR FREE! 🙂 Keeping with the theme, we danced the night away to loud euro beats and old school American pop music including a mass group Macarena dance. Made us feel young again!
We made good friends with a Cambodian street vendor with a British accent named Pat, mainly because he made killer cocktails which are surprisingly hard to get in Cambodia. We’ve found over and over that Cambodians are gnarly resilient and many come from very little money or have no family in the town that they live but still persist day in and day out to make ends meet. This kid worked for his “boss” and probably makes $5-10/day while dealing with a lot of drunk and sometimes obnoxious customers. (Tips went to his boss too which seems to be the norm here.) His street cocktail cart is literally welded to his motorcycle so he can pack up and move in a moment’s notice. Pat said he wanted to make enough money to open his own bar in Siem Reap someday. We are really hoping it happens!
At the end of our 3-day trip to The Reap and Angkor, we both said to each other “OK, we have to bring our friends here!” So much history, culture and fun to be had in this area of Cambodia and we feel like we only explored about half of it. We’ll be back!
Lesson Learned #3: Bring more cash than you think you will need. Lesson Learned #4: Don’t go sightseeing in Cambodia in the middle of the day without heeding Lesson #3. Lesson #5: Beauty seems to value the rare.
“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable, beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings.” – Mary Oliver