(Siem Reap-August 2016)
The train from Bangkok to the Cambodian/Thai border took forever to depart. One hour and a half of unexplained delay (plus a 7 hour trip). I was still super excited to see Cambodia, although the trip was bitter sweet. Jon was working and he wanted to see Angkor Wat and the temples So badly! Instead, I went with my Canadian friend L who was awesome company and knew how to drive a scooter fairly well, well….. hahaha!
Cambodia for me was the most culturally interesting as well as cheapest south East Asian country.
Still, please take my opinions with a grain of salt because I only stayed there 4 days. I wish I could have explored other cities more south as well as the capital (that I never remembered the name of). I do plan to go see their seaside on another occasion.
I managed to discover a lot in those 4 days, mainly good things, but some sad things too. Poor Cambodians look much poorer than Laotians or their Thai neighbors. There are signs everywhere: ‘’don’t give money to begging children, because they need to be in school and not to take on begging as a career.’’ Well, that explains Angelina’s serial adoptions of Cambodian kids.
Let’s return at the logical chronological order of events.
In the train some locals came to sell Really bizarre looking snacks, so I did not buy any because I needed my stomach functioning to try Cambodian food.
Upon arrival at the train station close to the border, me and L met another Canadian/Indian girl who was super friendly and we decided to figure out this mess together. And believe me- BOY! It was a mess and a half.
1-We got a tuktuk that promised to take us to a place where we fill in Visa on arrival documents and take passport pictures. Tuktuk took us to some sketchy empty back offices next to some sort of mall. They tried to scam us but did not succeed, gave us some papers to fill in but I was very skeptical. They took L’s passport pictures and we were out of there. We did not pay them anything, so I am still unsure to this day what their scam idea was.
2-Out of the office, we grabbed some food in the mall and went to the border. There were various line-ups and just a huge mess. We asked around and everyone gave us different directions.
3-We just proceeded to cross the border basically just kept going straight…I felt like I am already in Cambodia but I wasn’t even sure! We saw many casinos.
4-Much later, after some walking along and inside buildings, corridors and through barriers, we encountered an office asking for our stamped passports and some papers.
5-Time to backtrack (Lol) to find which offices or officials we didn’t see. We found a tent on the opposite side of the road which apparently was the Visa bureau. We gave them some cash and hoped for our change back which took a while. They stamped our passports and gave us some papers to fill.
6-Time to go back to this other office. They accepted our papers and we were in Cambodia!
Okay, it doesn’t sound That bad but believe me it was really confusing, reminded me about the Nicaragua/ Costa Rica border.
We received a thousand offers for rides to Siem Reap and accepted a comfortable van to take us there. I thought it was just another scam, but the price we paid was alright divided by the 3 of us although we had to change tuk tuks a few times and it was confusing.
From my ride I remember two things:
-When does it end!!! Why in SE Asia distances look so short but in reality it takes you 10 frigging hours?!?
-Cambodia is as flat as a pancake! There were not even mini-hills in the distances! Really interesting.
No matter, we had different issues to solve –which hostel to stay at? LOL. I wanted a big pool, social atmosphere, free breakfast and cheap rooms of course. And all that is entirely possible in Siem Reap for as low as 6 dollars a night in shared dorms!!! L wanted comfort and not to share rooms.
I changed three hostels because I wanted to explore, so I was not always with my friends although we did meet.
You dear reader are perhaps not interested in the details of our accommodation, but just know- there is anything and everything in Siem Reap. Just check out the below video of our hostel barman and barmaid having an epic karaoke. I absolutely LOVE this town and even considered working a bit there.
I tried to do a quick search but can’t find the names anymore. One of my hostels was this one:
I did not get to fully enjoy the party scene, as my friends were tired of touring temples all day and I was not in the mood to venture alone. The bars are frigging amazing tough, the restaurants as well. The city center is walk-able and safe. My second hostel was in some dark alley, and I walked through dark local side streets which was really sweet! I love going Deeeeep and trying to blend in with the locals. See how they really live and how their houses look like. But, of course, kind of impolite to take photos of it. Sorry!
We booked a tuk tuk for a small tour which must have cost us 15 dollars each.
The tour was from 7 am until 6 pm. IT WAS EXHAUSTING, not only physically but emotionally. There was so much to absorb: thousands of years of civilization and their cultural footprint. At moments, I was absolutely out of words of how breathtaking it all was. How did they carve the stone? How the hell is it still intact? Absolute geniuses. The Khmer empire.
Be aware that the tuk tuk driver won’t explain you much and they often don’t speak English at all. Book a tour guide or research in advance as L had done, so he was reading us the stories as we switched temples. The small tour we took-you can see below here in red. We saw 7 temples and ended the spectacle to see the sunset at Angkor Wat: the biggest religious temple complex in the world. Everywhere we looked- there were MORE temples. If I remember well, there were 60 temples around Siem Reap!!! So, if you can afford the time and energy, DO rent a scooter and visit them at your leisure.
I do regret not doing the Big tour the following day, but I was so exhausted, I just wanted to relax in the pool and rest my destroyed feet. My Canadian/Indian friend described the Big tour as something even more incredible. Temples with water gardens with orchids, buffalos, elephants and big birds swimming around. It’s a fairytale! It’s the most inspiring place with a very special creative energy. I have to say hanging out with her was really enriching as well. She was someone very environmentally friendly and nature oriented. She had just done a climbing camping trip in Thailand and was also a photographer and artist. She sketched in the middle of the jungle covered (Lara Croft) temple and it was such a pretty sight. Please see pictures bellow:
1-The Bayon temple with more than 200 exquisitely crafted engraved faces. You can see my attempts at taking fun photos bellow.
2-Ta Prohm temple where Lara Croft movie was filmed was also spectacular and immense. Lara Croft’s temple just made me feel like inside a video game! It was unreal how the trees have invaded and blended into the rock. All those temples require your full attention, in eyes and mind. There is SO MUCH to see. So many details and it just keeps going. (Very easy to get Lost!)
4-Noone tried to scam us. People are really poor but not as sketchy as Thai Generally I found them humble and helpful.
5-Siem Reap was a perfect little town that does feel touristy but is incredibly fun and you can’t grow tired of it.
I did not like
1-The children begging around all temples
2-Angkor Wat is definitely NOT the most spectacular temple but it is the most popular (so there are big line-ups AND very slow Chinese tourist afraid of climbing down steep stairs). Please be aware when you divide your visiting time. Also- the sunset experience was a bit lame to be honest Lol.
3- Me and L took a scooter to explore the neighboring cities and get to the big lake Tonie Sap where we were hoping to see the floating villages. Well, scooters or cars or nothing is allowed around the lake. You HAVE to take a boat which is the only way. We were quite disappointed.
Speaking about the unfortunate scooter adventure, Haha! On the way, we almost crashed (1) after putting gas in at the gas station and everyone laughed. We took a coconut break along the river where they have hammock bars. So relaxing! And I needed intense hydration in the heat and with all the exploring we were doing. Missing coconuts SO MUCH. We discovered a floating village with houses on stilts and people there were living in very poor conditions. I was still glad for the reality check. This was the real Cambodia and not the modern Siem Reap. L
We proceeded to explore temples we saw on a map and ran into our other travel companion completely accidently! Small world ^^. When L went to take the scooter though, he pressed the gas instead of break, so that was the mini crash (2). On our way back to the center and hostels, there was a Giant tropical rain storm. As L was operating scooter for the first time, we seeked shelter in some car/motor repair big warehouse. We braved the rain afterwards which was imminently led to mini crash (3)! It was just so slippery and so much damn rain.
Thank you L for being so brave <3 I know I couldn’t have done it. Also, thanks for making my Thai and Cambodia trip 10x more fun. It could get lonely traveling alone and it could get annoying traveling with someone, but with you- it was great!
The following day, I decided to head back to Pataya Thailand but took the plane instead.