As a continuation in my series of posts about my recent trip to Southeast Asia, here’s what came next after we left Bangkok. My apologies that this post is a long time in coming, but I had over 1,000 photos to sort through just from my 3 days in Siem Reap Province!
We caught an evening flight from Bangkok, directly to Siem Reap, Cambodia, the town closest to Angkor Wat.
Though only an hour flight, from the moment we stepped off the plane, we felt like we were thousands of miles away from bustling Bankgok. The air was dusty and flies were swarming outside the exit of the small, clean airport. Our short taxi ride took us down a quiet dusty road, surrounded on both sides with Vegas-style resorts that looked entirely out of place. The poverty and desperation was apparent from our very first interaction with a local, as our taxi driver casually worked his meager annual salary into our conversation, in the hopes of a generous tip.
We stayed at a smaller hotel, The Angkor Pearl, closer to downtown and walking distance to “Pub Street”, the hub of Siem Reap’s nightlife for tourists. While it was no Sukhothai, we were very happy with our hotel, and especially it’s rate of just $25 USD per night.
Our $25 even included a simple sit-down breakfast each morning, with about a dozen options to choose from on the menu. A good breakfast was very important since we were out hiking around the temples all day. Mike’s favorite breakfast was the hotel’s muesli with yogurt, oats, and fresh mango and dragon fruit, while I stuck with cooked foods like omelets and french toast.
While $25 a night sounds like a steal, this is far out of reach for the vast majority of Cambodians. In fact, the going rate for our personal driver and our personal English-speaking tour guide was just $15 and $25 respectively per day. By American standards, I was surprised by how inexpensive things were that would have seemed absolutely outlandish back home. For example, our hotel offered an in-room “4 Hands massage” -for just $10 per hour, I could’ve had TWO masseuses working on me, though this weirded me out a little bit too much and I passed on the opportunity.
You may have noticed that I’m quoting all the prices in USD. USD is actually an official currency of Cambodia, and is used far more widely than Cambodian Riels (from our experience). We paid for everything in dollars, and only received Cambodian Riels when our change was less than $1.
For our 3 days in Siem Reap, our guide and driver met us each morning at our hotel after breakfast. We rode around town in style in a Tuk-Tuk, since Mike thought it would be more fun than an actual car. It certainly was, though I’ve also heard that tuk-tuks can flip over if they are carrying too much weight, driving too fast, or going up hill. Thankfully, we had no issues.
Our first stop? Angkor Wat!
While I recognized the conical towers from countless photos I saw previously, I was surprised to find that it was actually a huge compound, surrounded by a moat, and several tiers of walls and gates to walk through. It’s hard to believe that such a massive landmark was lost in the jungle for hundreds of years before it was re-discovered in 1860.
The interior was full of even more surprises – nearly every wall was covered in stone carvings, including hundreds of beautiful ‘Apsara‘ dancers.
Our guide explained that when Ancient Kings came to pray at the temple, they had to perform elaborate rituals which included reading religious texts in the many Libraries on site…
….Beating their chests in an Echo Chamber…
…and cleansing in the many pools…
Only after completing the ritual could they ascend the stairs to the upper sanctuary to the temple itself.
We spent several hours exploring Angkor Wat, but my favorite part was how we exited the complex. Instead of going back out the main entrance, our guide took us out through a side exit. Across the lawn and inside the outer gate was a small, beautiful temple, complete with burning incense and a termite mound that used to be a wooden statue. Even more magical, there were no tourists here.
We then walked along the moat towards the bridge we entered on, pausing to snack on fruit from one of the trees on the property. I have no idea what these fruits were called, but our guide assured us that they were edible. These tiny marble-sized fruits tasted very much like crisp green apples in miniature!
Surrounding Angkor Wat there are actually hundreds of other temples on a piece of land about the same size as Manhattan. We spent a couple more days exploring the temples of Angkor, but you’ll have to wait till the next post to see more!
I’d love to hear from you!
Have you ever visited ancient ruins before? If so, what was your experience?