After some flight delays in Kuala Lumpur during my layover and overnight flights to Siem Reap, I arrived in Cambodia very excited about life. The visa-on-arrival process was simple and straightforward, I filled out my application as fast as possible, and I wound up at the front of the line. Outside, I took a moto-taxi, which is $2 to ride with your backpack on the back of someone’s motorcyle for the 15min ride into town from the airport.
When dropping me off, the driver asked if I was planning to go to Angkor (why else do people come here? Of course I am.) and wanted a tuk-tuk driver for my visit. We agreed on a price ($15 to shuttle me around for the day) and to meet at 5am the next morning for him to take me to the famous Angkor sunrise.
Because it was so early in the morning, my hostel wasn’t ready for me to check in, so I walked around the city of Siem Reap for the next few hours. After eating at the Banlle vegetarian restaurant (pretty good, but a bit pricey for the area), I wandered over to the Wat Preah Prom Rath temple.
I also walked along the riverfront for a while.
I really liked the 6-Eleven mart and saw this TINY little lizard on the wall.
The next morning, I got up early and waited for my driver outside at 5am. He never showed up. At 5:30am, I went back to sleep for a few hours and then just walked around the city for a few hours. I visited the market (needed some new shoes and got some fake Nikes for $15), explored for a while, and then had dinner with some other people from the hostel.
I also set up a plan through the hostel for a tuk-tuk to come get me the next morning at 4:30am to try again for the Angkor sunrise. At 5am the next morning, I gave up waiting, walked out to the main street, and found a guy washing his tuk-tuk, offered him $15 to drive me around Angkor for the day, and we drove up to the ticket booth. When we got there, it wasn’t open; they open at 5. That’s when we realized that my watch was an hour ahead. No wonder I had missed a meetup with 2 different drivers. Oops! We slept for about 30min in the tuk-tuk before I got in line, bought the 3-day pass ($20 for one day visit or $40 for any 3 days in the next week), and shuffled off to the entrance to the main temple and first one you come across: the world-famous Angkor Wat.
My driver dropped me outside the gateway, through which you can get to the path to Angkor Wat. I didn’t get a lot of information from him, but we talked about the coming changes to the entry system, the corruption involved, and the fact that there had been a strike there among the tuk-tuk drivers a few years ago, and 25% of those on strike mysteriously “disappeared.” Crazy.
Those things were running through my mind while I waited for a sunset that never came. It was too overcast that morning. After it got a bit lighter, and I realized there was no sun coming, I walked around Angkor Wat.
I wasn’t totally sure where to go next, because I hadn’t figured out that I was supposed to go back to my driver and have him take me to the next things. I thought he was just waiting for me to explore for the day. After I realized that everyone was heading back out the way we’d come in, I followed suit, reconnected with my napping driver, and we pressed on.
Our next stop was the bridge & south gate to Angkor Thom.
Angkor Thom is really awesome, because of the many faces carved into it.
Going out the back of Angkor Thom, I walked through the woods, past some small temples (Wat Preah Ngok then Baphoun then Phimeanakas), and then to the Terrace of the Leper King and the Terrace of Elephants.
We passed through the Victory Gate then Chau Say Tevoda then Thommanon.
Next, we stopped at the famous Ta Prohm, known for the trees that have grown up through it over the years. I guess the movie “Tomb Raider,” with Angelina Jolie, was filmed here. I’d like to see it, because this temple is really awesome.
After Ta Prohm, we stopped at Banteay Kdei and then the waterfront Srah Srang.
On the way out, you could see things better in the daylight, so here are pictures of the construction at the entrance to the National Park area. This is government land, but having connections can earn you the right to build a fancy new hotel on this government land. Someone knows someone.
This is the market near Angkor on the way back to Siem Reap.
I walked around the city for the afternoon, checked out Chamkar Vegetarian in the Old Market (DELICIOUS!!), and just enjoyed the beautiful quirkiness that is Siem Reap.
The next morning, my driver and I met up after an early lunch to complete the Big Circuit, to more outlying temples, after doing the Small Circuit the day before. This starts with Preah Khan.
Then Krol Ko.
Then onto Ta Som
The next temple was Eastern Mebon, and this was my favorite temple. The early temples at Angkor are Hindu (like this one), but one of the kings converted to Buddhism, and the later ones are all Buddhist style (like most of the Small Circuit/famous temples).
It was hot, so we stopped to get a $1 fresh coconut to drink, before continuing on to Pre Rup. This was another really great temple.
After completing the circuit, we drove back into town to meet up with 2 friends I’d met in Sumatra, who were arriving that evening. We planned to watch the sunset at Angkor Wat together before having dinner together for my last night in Siem Reap.
You can buy a ticket at 5pm and not have to pay for that day, only for the next day, so J and B got their tickets, we went out to try to catch a sunset that was hidden by clouds, then we got caught in MASSIVE rain.
I’d had nothing but good experiences with W, my tuk-tuk driver, and he had opened up to me about what happened with his family during the time of the Khmer Rouge, memories of hiding in a hole out back of their house to avoid gunfire, the killing of his father & grandfather, etc. It was really interesting to hear first-hand, plus he was friendly, reliable, and punctual. I recommended him to J & B for their 3-day pass, so he really appreciated that I had just guaranteed him several more days of good pay and food on the table for his family.
After putting on dry clothes, I met up with J & B, tried these coconut milk-pineapple-rice things being fried at a street cart, and then we had a Cambodian BBQ dinner. Afterward, we got 30-minute foot massages for $1, walked around for a while, and then called it a night.
It was really great to see some friendly faces for my last night in Siem Reap, and I left with some great memories. Angkor is more stunning than any of the hype you’ve heard. It’s a must-do.
I loved Siem Reap, despite the really awful guy in my hostel room on the last morning. I was awake already, but I quietly and nicely told him that he was making a lot of noise while people were still trying to sleep. His response was to try to fight me and to crumple up empty beer cans to make more noise, just to be more annoying, because I’d asked him to be quiet. What a temper tantrum!
Thanks for the memories, Siem Reap! I had a great time.
Next up: Battambang, Cambodia.
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