Siem Reap

27 Oct

On our last day in Siem Reap I was feeling exceptionally overwhelmed, which I attribute to the fact that we’d be moving onto another country the following day. I experienced the same feelings that I have had a few times on this trip, exhaustion mixed with a dull sadness for leaving a place knowing I didn’t get to see the whole of it and that I probably never will. It’s the backpacker’s curse; the viscous cycle. You get out there to see the world and want all of it, want to taste all of it, feel all of it, see all of it, and it’s hard to accept just how impossible that is. Unfortunately, time does not stand still, and there always comes the moment to move on and for us that would be the following day. Feeling restless, I decided to go for a run along the river in an attempt to clear my mind. I walked down to the river and started to job but about a mile in, I thought I was going to black out. Turns out running in the 90 degree Siem Reap heat is not advisable. I sat down for a second, went and got a water and continued to walk along the river for the next hour, listening to music and taking in the scenes in solitude. It made me realize, damn, I really like this city. 

We arrived in Siem Reap on the 22nd of October and checked into the Mad Monkey hostel for one night, solely to get our tank tops for staying in all four Mad Monkey locations (please refer to Koh Rong Sanloem and Koh Rong blog if you need a refresher on how much we love to chase “free” tank tops). The lot of us werel too tired and careless to do anything else but hop in the pool right away and get to drinking. And since it was Jess’ birthday we had a perfectly good excuse to do so. By the end of the afternoon we all had our Mad Monkey Passports completed, which means they had thirty stamps indicating you’ve had thirty drinks during your stay at any of their hostels, earning you yet another, you guessed it, tank top. I think I was equal parts proud and troubled. That night we went out to a drunken dinner for the birthday girl followed by a club filled with more locals than westerners down on Pub Street, the Main party street in Siem Reap. While fun at first, the music became overwhelmingly loud and we decided to go back to the hostel to see what was going on there. We got back just in time for the bar to close but I don’t think any of use were disappointed. After a full day of drinking we were all ready to get into bed and pass out.

The following day we set off, slightly hungover and tired, to check into our next hostel, Funky Flashpacker, which was luckily around the corner, and take on the temples. After checking in, we went outside the hostel and got a tuk tuk driver for the day, Mr. Kia, who would take us to every temple and wait for us to go to the next. Going against the grain, we chose to skip Angkor Wat on our first day of temple hopping. Instead, since we started late in the day, we decided to put Angkor off until sunrise the following morning. We visited the other two most popular temples on the route, Ta Prohm and Bayon, with a few smaller stops in between. Ta Prohm is best known as the film location for Tomb Raider. The temple was commissioned in 1186 AD by King Jayavarman VII and dedicated to his mother. Following we had a stop at Ta Keo temple, an unfinished temple commissioned by King Jayavarman V in the early 11th century. For our last stop, Mr Kia dropped us off at Angkor Thom, a walled city that includes multiple temples within. We started at the The Terrace of Elephants, which was used by King Jayavarman VII to view his army returning from victory and for public ceremonies. Past the Terrace of Elephants, Baphuon was the most striking temple. It is a three-tiered temple mountain built as the state temple for Udayadityavarman II and dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu God. After we found our way out of the grassy area and endless small ruins, we were halted by the Bayon temple, definitely the most impressive temple of the day. The massive temple, built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries during the reign of King Jayavarman VII, contains multiple stone faces in the design as well as a full sideways laying head on one of the external walls. At this point we were all completely exhausted, but trudged along to see the sunset. Mr. Kia drove us to a hill that he said had a good sunset over Angkor Wat, but by the time we got to the top we realized we weren’t the only ones with this plan. They no longer were letting people into the overcrowded area and our hill climb quickly turned into a hill descent. In the tuk tuk on the way back we all were falling in and out of sleep. Safe to say that we did not go out that night and were all happily tucked into bed after a feed at the hostel.    

Mr. Kia had agreed to pick us up the following morning at 4:50 am to take us to the sunrise at Angkor Wat and to the remaining temples after that. However, as we stood outside in our ponchos in the light morning rain, wondering why we weren’t just going back to bed in weather that was most likely detrimental to a good sunrise, the minutes started to crawl past 4:50 towards 5:00 AM. Luckily, a nearby tuk tuk driver said he could take us and he became our driver for the day. We drove through the rain to Angkor Wat, where, once we were parked, Mr Kia appeared out of nowhere to apologize, saying he was late and saw us on the road and followed us there. Gotta love Kia. Once we got out of the tuk tuk we navigated the uneven stone in the pitch black before standing in front of the temple for about an hour. As you can guess, the sun did not rise, the sky simply went from dark to less dark, to slightly light. And the dreary weather continued on through the sunrise hours. After the anti-sunrise, we went to into the temple, and while it was impressive, I barely remember it because of the state we were in and it certainly was not my favorite. Angkor Wat, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, is known for its unique religious architecture and is the best-preserved temple from the 12th century. While we were disappointed about the sunrise and the weather, we certainly had our fun with it and ended up getting a breakfast deal at one of the stalls through a crazy yet effective salesman who referred to himself as James Bond, with a sign that stated “license to coffee”.


After Angkor Wat, we headed to a few more temples, the most impressive of which were Ta Som and Preah Khan, similar in structure to the more popular Ta Prohm that we had seen the day before. Ta Som was built at the end of the 12th century for King Jayavarman VII and dedicated to his father, Dharanindravarman II (lol to that name, I know) who was the King of the Khmer Empire from 1150 to 1160. Preah Khan, also built in the 12th century for King Jayavarman VII, also honors his father. These temples were my favorite because of the sheer age and destruction of them. None have been restored since their creation. You can basically see them becoming one with earth. Stones are covered in moss and trees spread their roots throughout the structures, hugging walls and statues and doorways until they mold into each other. I absolutely loved them.


Since we had gotten such an early start that day we were done around lunch time. We headed back to the hostel, all falling asleep yet again in the tuk tuk. I headed straight to bed, skipping lunch. We spent hours laying down attempting to recover before going to dinner at a local place near the hostel. Here I had amazing beef noodle soup that I hit with a lot of chili. We loved it so much and it was such a bargain ($1.50 a meal and .50 cents for draft beer) that we went back the following evening for the same thing. Afterwards, we went to the mart to get some booze and I attempted to pump myself up to go out, but failed to do so. After a few drinks and card games I was in bed before midnight while the other girls managed to go out until the wee hours of the morning. God bless ’em.

The following day was definitely an R&R day after two straight days of temples. We even booked another night just to have another day of chilling out before heading on. The day was spent laying around, sitting poolside and of course eating more noodle soup for dinner. That night we went to Phare, the Cambodian Circus. The circus artists train in Battambang at the Phare Ponleu Selpak school, which provides free education and vocational arts training to disadvantaged children in Cambodia. It was originally started by nine young Cambodian refugees that returned home after the end of the Khmer Rouge. The school, which boasts more than 1200 students currently, has programs for circus, dance, theater, music and visual arts. It was actually a truly excellent show and the abilities of the people are incredible. Fire twirling, throwing people around and multiple flips and tricks. It was a really enjoyable, chill night and just what we needed. We were all still so tired though that Calum and Ilana could barely keep their eyes open during the show, nodding off every now and then. The following day, the day of my attempted run, was spent similarly. After we all did our own thing and bought our bus tickets to Bangkok for the following morning, we congregated for dinner and a quick walk around the markets before getting back to the hostel and crawling into bed early, a reoccurring theme of my final Seam Reap nights. 


I was reluctant to love Cambodia after leaving Vietnam. As I was taking on the country, I felt that it didn’t stack up to Vietnam, and while I still have Vietnam at the top of my list, I look back on my time in Cambodia thinking, “shit, that was a good time.” I was blessed to find a good group of people to travel with and we somehow meshed together in this outwardly hateful yet loving banter. We were a big dysfunctional family that somehow remained on the same wavelength for two weeks of travel. I got to experience so much of Cambodia through good times, cultural experiences, and endless laughs. From massively overwhelming cities, to disheartening histories, to the most beautiful islands I’ve ever seen, to disappointing bamboo trains and countless temples, I wouldn’t change it for the world. May the adventure continue in Thailand. 

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