Since visiting Myanmar’s Bagan, I was slightly worried that Cambodia’s Angkor Wat might not be as impressive. Fortunately I was wrong. It was everything I expected it to be and more!
We arrived in Siem Reap by bus from Bangkok which was fairly eventful in itself. As soon as the wheels were in motion, one amateur traveler announced that she’d forgotten to bring her passport, claiming “I thought you only needed them for flying?”. After having a meltdown and unsuccessfully trying to convince her three friends to lose their weekend away to her stupidity, she finally got off the bus. All was good again for now. About two hours later we approached a military checkpoint. A Thai woman quickly jumped up and locked herself in the bus toilet which had an “Out of Order” sign posted on it’s door. A uniformed soldier climbed aboard, glanced around, climbed off. Once we were moving again the woman emerged, then paid the bus conductor 3000 Thai Baht in plain view of everyone. Suddenly we realised this tourist bus was also moonlighting as a smuggling vessel. As we approached the Cambodian border the woman did the exact same trick, and when we reboarded on the Cambodian side she was gone.
We spent the next two days exploring the incredible ancient temples of the Angkor area, beginning of course with sunrise at Angkor Wat. Whilst this was impressive, the sheer number of people definitely lessened the experience. Like the largest temples in Bagan, the largest here are way too busy to truly feel the atmosphere. On day one we hit all the big ones including Bayon in the Angkor Thom complex and the famous tree temple Ta Prohm, and as magnificent as they were, I just wanted the busloads of Chinese tourists to stop shouting in my ears. I wanted the bogans in hotpants to get their huge digital SLR cameras out of my face. I also found that the walkways that have been built through Ta Prohm really detract from the beauty of the ruins. Despite this, everything we saw on day one was well worth it.
On day two we had our tuk tuk driver head for the smaller temples with hopes they would be less busy yet equally majestic. Success! There were less people and the temples were generally in a more ruined state without walkways or excessive restoration. Our two favourites being Ta Som and Preah Khan, with the latter giving us the “Indiana Jones” explorer type feeling which we experienced in Bagan. The only odd experience for the day was a policeman at East Mebon who tried to sell me his badge. I’ve not heard of this one before but assumed it was a scam and just walked away, no matter how impressive of a souvenir it would have made!
That night we headed out to Pub Street to experience a bit of the Siem Reap nightlife. We downed plenty of 50c Angkor beers whilst bar hopping, had foot massages in the night market and ended with me eating a frog and a snake whilst having a laugh with some tuk tuk drivers. “Eat snake it’s good with beer” – “Don’t take his tuk tuk, he’s drinking beer” – “If you take my tuk tuk I’ll give you free beer” – ” I’ll drive you all the way to England” – “Don’t go with him he’s too short” – “He’s too tall! I’ll give you a thousand dollars!” – “My name’s DJ Spider, eat this tarantula”.
By day three we were templed out and instead spent the day in a pool. It was bliss. Cambodia is insanely hot at this time of year reaching 30 degrees by 9am and staying that way until 8pm or later. Even for self-proclaimed tropical creature Laura it’s too much at times. Speaking of tropical creatures we also saw our first giant South East Asian Tokay Gecko. I had no idea the cute little things could get so massive. We had a couple living in our guest house that must have been about 40cm long and their loud call is quite unique. Nicknamed the “F*#k-You Lizard” by American soldiers during the Vietnam war, you can hear them yourself and see why by clicking here.
For our four nights in Siem Reap we stayed at an amazing little family run guest house called Happy Angkor. Friendly staff, decent rooms and a great place to chill out. There is also the quiet swimming pool at the end of the street which can be used for $3 a day which was a life saver in the intense heat. I’d highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Siem Reap on the cheap. Our room with air con and ensuite was only $12 USD per night.