I had to sit waiting with other strangers for 11 hours…
and in the hopes of getting to the destination safe and secure. This would be the longest bus ride I have achieved in the course of my travel history.
As I stare at the window, that 11-hour trip achieved a lot. From Bangkok, we had to pass by the immigration border, which took awhile. Aside from the side trips, passing by cities to farmlands and houses to pastures I couldn’t get any more bored in this bus just by looking at a glimpse of Indochina.
Cambodia has been my destination of interest and I was eager to make my goal come true. The second part of my Indochina journey is in the province of Siem Reap, Cambodia. The home of the famous Angkor Wat.
I was still on a tight budget and although we had prior plans with a travel agency we cancelled last minute due to the increased rates. At this point of my destination, we were left clue less with our plans upon our arrival. I pondered on the possible activities that we could do.
I boarded the double decker bus from Bangkok by 9:30am en route to Siem Reap. I was able to get a good discount at the travel agency that accommodated us during our Bangkok trip.
If you haven’t read my Bangkok story, I suggest you do before reading the second part of my crazy Indochina adventure.
I arrived at Siem Reap by 2000h and the bus dropped us at the Sivatha Road, the main street of Siem Reap.
We were given free rides going to our hotels by “tuktuks”. There aren’t that much taxis or cars around, not unless you booked a private vehicle. But going around in tuktuks makes you captivate the city more and appreciate the culture and live more local.
My tuktuk driver, Rony welcomed me and offered to tour me and be our personal chauffeur and tour guide throughout our stay in Siem Reap.
The transportation fee is $10.00 for regular entrance, but it will cost you $12.00 if you take the sunrise tour.
Although it was a good fee I still did not want to compromise yet. He was patient to wait for our decision. Aside from the warm hospitality, he spoke good English.
I booked at the Mad Monkeys Hostel. I would recommend it for solo backpackers, because of its location and convenience. The hostel also offered the same program to hotel guests but a bit more expensive.
I settled in our room, while waiting for my best friend Maria to arrive. After planning out our Cambodia itinerary, we settled with Rony’s recommendation.
The First Day
4:30am in the morning, we regained the energy to take on our first day in Siem Reap. It was still dark and the wind was blowing cool but we can see a number of tourists already set to start the sunrise tour of the temples.
We reached the Angkor Archaeological Park, the first building before entering the temples. It was an open hallway where tourists needed to purchase passes to enter the temples. No wonder we needed to depart early because queuing took time.
There were different lines that sold passes consisting of a day, 3-day and a week pass. We settled for the day pass which costed us $37.00 and this included temple tours to Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom & Bayon Temple.
The first stop of the temple is the sunrise at Angkor Wat.
We sat outside the temple in the hopes of getting the sun to rise on the west side of the temple.
It was a short rise since it rained the night before, we were quick enough to get few shots. It was still magnificent, considering that it was my first time to catch the sunrise for the year.
Since we wanted to know more about the Angkor Wat, we asked a local tour guide to help us and give us an insight of the temple.
Entering the temple was astounding. It was a complex composed of structures built by stones and bricks and also included a forested area.
Approximately it covers 400 square kilometers. Not only does it consists of the temples and pastures, but also scores of hydraulic structures (reservoirs, canals, embankments etc.) and even has a lake.
We took pictures by the lake because if you look closely, it forms the reflection of the Angkor Wat.
There were different statues from countries and civilizations welcomed by Cambodian history. Our tour guide continued to teach us more about the significance of Ankor Wat and how it played an important role being the center of Khmer Empire.
He continued to explain how the temples are geographically linked closed to each other as they each had a symbolic significance all that led to its religious and cultural values.
The site depicts an exceptional layout of Cambodia civilization dating back to its history. What made it more exciting is that the Angkor Wat Temple is the latest to be built.
Getting inside the dome, made us feel like we lived within the walls of the monks. Every site and hallway made us feel like we were walking in a museum that displayed the history of Cambodia. Our tour guide was informative and allowed us to develop a sense of belongingness with the temple. Here are some snaps from the inside of the temple…
A visit to Angkor Wat was a walking museum filled with rich Cambodian history. Better yet, it seemed like a revisit of Indochina’s treasures and traditions.
The dome is considered to be the part of the temple where most monks hold ceremonies and assemblies. There are still a few monks that visit the temple. We were lucky to catch a ritual ceremony of a monk.
The temples in Cambodia are considered to be sacred, there were certain rules that tourists needed to follow in respect to the monks that still visit the temples. I guess we didn’t read the memo beforehand, but luckily we were able to bring our scarves.
After a tour inside, do not forget to make your way to the high temple, located at the backyard of the temple. Going inside the temple would require you to wear more appropriate clothing since it was the holiest part of Angkor Wat. Also, you will have to brave your way to the high steps. Note that this set up can be found in almost all temples in Cambodia. You will have to think twice climbing up and down these temples if you have Acrophobia!
Nevertheless, the outer part of the temple was beautiful!
Every landscape of the temple was definitely worth walking around, especially trying to blend as locals-tourists.
After a fun and incredible time in Angkor Wat, the morning was still early to tour the other temples of Siem Reap. The second stop of the tour we were set to hop on to the next attraction, the royal city of Angkor Thom.
As we approached the gates of Angkor Thom, we were met by elephants entering as well. There were a number of tourists who opted to walk, and others who drove in with motor bikes and tuktuks as well. We chose the latter.
I described Angkor Thom as a place grounded as a royal city. A venue visited by people around the world willing to learn and develop a sense of rich Cambodian history. It stood with rock formation establishments, shrines and of course more remple running. A place where you can spot monkeys roaming the grounds too.
We settled to eat heavy breakfast before embarking on other temple run. The breakfast choices served a mix of South-East asian choices as well as Western. Khmer cuisine was also part of the menu, the waitress recommended we try it because it differs in taste. The menu was quite expensive as well, because it was situated in a tourist attraction.
Angkor Thom had a different setting than that in Angkor Wat. It consisted of stone structures like the Baphuon & Pimeanakas these were preserved Hindu temples. You can also find the Terraces of the Leper King, Terraces of the Elephants, Prasat Suor Prat and Bayon temple. We entered Bayon temple, or as I quote it was the many-faced temple.
It was surrounded with stone carved faces and was considered a Buddhist temple but the design and phase incorporated of Hindu history. Can you count the number of faces?
I was mesmerized with the artistic design of the temple. You would ask how would all of this have been done and completed back then?
Faces on the walls of the temples depicted the people back then specifically with the classification of a hierarchical system. Some portraying as the workers and slaves, and other sculpted as kings and members of the royal class.
What captivated us was the direction of each face that had a significant meaning to their placement. Other stone faces that were carved had mixed facial expressions.
We took a turn around Bayon temple and ended walking to the temple Baphuon & Pimeanakas.
To enter the temple, climbing at most 30 flight of stairs high up to get to each level was needed to get a clearer view of the temple. Basically temples in Cambodia had to be tall because according to the locals, the higher the temple ‘the closer to heaven’.
The view from above was a beautiful sight!
We ventured to the Terraces for a short while since we were cut short of our tour to the next temple. Walking back to our tuktuk, we took some snaps of the place.
The third and last part of our temple adventure is the Ta Prohm Temple.
What makes this temple unique and a must-see attraction? It was used as a venue of the movie “The Tomb Raider”. Hidden in a jungle setting, it depicts the definition of an Angkor ruin and it will definitely bring out your Lara Croft fantasy.
It took another 10 minute ride and we were dropped at the North gate. The walk to the temple was made an adventurous path.
As we entered, we felt like going in an abandoned temple in in the middle of the wilderness. Surrounding us were giant trees that formed massive root formations.
Inside the temple there were a number of narrow hallways and corridors. Some may be passable and others blocked and forbidden by tourists to enter.
It felt like a maze inside but luckily there were tour guides around and tourists as well to help us know where to exit.
Going around the temple felt like a movie to us but exhausted a lot of energy! During our time of visit it, parts of the temple were under construction for further preservation.
Walking back to the entrance we took a different turn and exit through a different gate. In order to go back we needed to walk another 5km back. With our lack of energy, we took another tuktuk ride back to the main gate. It felt confusing at first but as long as you know your path back to the gate, you won’t get lost.
We decided to call it a day after our temple running. In the evening, we began to scout for places to eat. Exploring more at the heart of the city, we felt safe walking along the roads since there were a lot of people around. There were quite a few exotic restaurants that we passed, especially those that offered “happy pizza”. After dinner, we ended our 1st adventure day in Cambodia by trying local beer at the hostel.
The 2nd Day
After our whole day adventure of temple running, we took the local tour from our trusted friend Rony.
According to him, the temples are the real treasures of Cambodia but that isn’t all to it. He wanted to show us more of the historical figures that can be found in Siem Reap.
A trip to the War Museum urged us to review our history and be inspired to learn more about the challenges of Cambodia during the early stages of history and war.
The War Museum held a collection of preserved small arms and weapons used during the war. Our tour guide was a war veteran. From guns, land mines, grenades even a display of a wrecked army tank and a helicopter. It showed memories under the dictatorship of then communist leader ‘Pol Pot’ and the haunting memories of the mass genocide. It left a remembrance of those who perished during the war.
After the war museum, Rony continued to take us to one of the killing fields. It was converted into a memoriam with a small temple structure. It showed a glass wall of skull heads and bone remains of the victims during the war.
The next part of the journey was a visit to Tonle Sap Lake.
We boarded a private motor boat to visit the lake and were accompanied by two locals who grew up in the lake.
Tonle Sap lake lies along the Mekong River. This lake has been inhabited by the underprivileged locals who were mostly fishermen and farmers. It has been a community for the people living here. You will find a church, a convenience store & shops the lake even has a school and not to mention all of this built to stay afloat. Despite harsh conditions such as weather change, the people in the community would transfer from another place in the lake depending on the tide and weather.
According to our tour guide, their way of living has been convenient since their homes and other establishments can easily be used as a floatation device and is designed to withstand the current and tides.
There was a floating bay where tourists can take more photos and enjoy local food and drinks by the lake. It also had crocodile viewing and a souvenir shop. We took the the time to enjoy the view of the sunset and watching the locals nearby settle in their homes.
At night, we explored more of Pub Street. This was also a the main attraction and a belt of restaurants and bars that made it a lively place for tourists to chill or party.
The Last Day
we completely took the day off to rest and relax at our hostel.
In the afternoon, Rony brought us to one of the places where locals would go to watch the view of the sunset by Tonle Sap, the other side of the lake.
We were treated with a dish called the Thai Som Tam, it was a spicy noodle green papaya salad. It was tasty but indeed spiced! This is how we spent out last day in Cambodia.
We settled for our accommodation to hop on to the next part of my Indochina tour. Indeed the best part of the adventure are the unplanned ones. We left Cambodia accomplished with the events of meeting people, getting to know culture and activities that added up to memories along our journey.
BITS OF TIPS ABOUT YOUR CAMBODIA EXPERIENCE
- Know the fares/ prices: We were lucky Rony was honest enough to price us with regulation to the Department of Tourism of Cambodia. This includes the transportation for the whole day according to the tour package you choose. Always be cautious of other hidden charges and scams!
Entrance to the temples: $37.00 – Half Day Tour (like our story) $62.00 (3-day pass and access to all temples in Siem Reap)
Angkor Wat Tour Transportation via Tuktuk: $10.00 (regular) and $12.00 (sunrise tour)
Transportation Allocation we spent via Rony: $22.00 (whole day transportation including war museum, killing fields and Tonle Sap Lake)
War Museum: $2.00- 5.00
Tonle Sap Lake: Entrance should be $10.00 per person
2. Obey rules and regulations: All of these information will reiterate from my first blog “Indochina Backpacking Bits of Tips”
These things are really easy to follow, such as respecting the monks passing by or temple etiquette. One important thing you must consider is not giving food or money to students. You wouldn’t want to get in trouble for that!
3. Avoid topics relating to the government: Cambodia continues to be haunted by the terror of their history. Most Cambodians are quite sensitive with the existing form of government.
Still moving forward to the next destination,
Padayon ang biyahe!