Hi everyone, so I am back on the blog after quite a long time. This time, I will share my first ever experience as a tourist in a foreign land (Cambodia). It’s been over a year for me in Singapore, but I came here as a student. All this while, I had some very nice experiences, but could never find time to write about them. But this one is special and I must document it. This should also help other prospective travelers to Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
So, I planned this trip at very short notice. I had no group at first, but wanted some company as I lack experience as a lone ranger. I managed to get 3 of my friends on board at first, but 2 of them could not manage to stick around. Finally, I and Sumedh (my senior at NTU) went on with the trip. We flew Tiger Airways from Singapore on 27th October (Sunday) and reached Phnom Penh at 12:30 PM local time. The flight was short and easy. Since the trip was only 2 days long (we had to return on Tuesday morning), our main purpose was to visit the great Angkor Wat temple. To be honest, I had no clue about anything else in Cambodia. This is not a good practice and I recommend that you know quite a bit about a place before you pack your bags.
We reached Phnom Penh on time and had to go to Siem Reap, where the Angkor region is located. It is some 300 km from the capital and is a long journey by bus. This was the trickiest part of the travel. You first have to go to a bus station from the airport and get on a bus to Siem Reap. We shared a Tuktuk (a rickshaw) with 2 other French girls whom we met at the Airport and it cost $2 each. I suggest booking online with a good bus company (like Giant Ibis etc.) or else you would end up like us as we boarded a bus that charged us $11 and stopped every other corner to get more passengers on board than the seating can accommodate to make more money for the driver. This stretched a typical 6 hour by-road journey into an unbearable 8.5 hours. This not only sucked the juice out of us but also left very little time for me and my friend to get some rest before we start out for Angkor Wat to witness the sunrise the next day. The only relief was that it was air-conditioned. We reached Siem Reap at around 11:30 PM.
|Jam-packed bus ride to Siem Reap|
This was also my first ever experience as a couch surfer. I stayed with a fellow named Chris Baudrez from Belgium. He and his Cambodian wife were very kind people and they hosted us at their house in Siem Reap. Chris was kind enough to give us bath-attached room and also stayed up till midnight as we got really late to come in, thanks to the horrible bus ride. He also helped in getting us the return bus tickets and suggested a good vegetarian café (http://www.peacecafeangkor.org/) as I am a vegetarian.
All the ragging from the bus ride faded away as we left Chris’ place at around 4:45 AM to witness Angkor Wat in all its glory in the sunrise. We hired a Tuktuk for a day for $15 which would take us to all the temples and other interesting sites around it. Make sure that you understand that a day could mean up to 4 PM in the evening and any extension could mean that the Tuktuk driver could charge you more. So, make that clear as you set out.
At around 5 AM, we got our Angkor visit Pass for $20 and reached the Angkor Wat campus in another 5 minutes. We bought a guide book for $13, and we fell for it as you can buy the same thing for $1 if you go inside the campus and bargain a little. Yes, bargaining can bring the prices down drastically! Coming back to the sunrise at Angkor Wat, I will let the photos speak for themselves.
The temples in Angkor region are centuries old (mostly built around the 9th to 15th century) and were built by Hindu kings of the Khmer Empire. They are mostly built from rock and are magnificent to say the least. The most impressive ones are Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. The four walls of the Angkor Wat are decorated with carvings depicting the epics (Mahabharata, Ramayana and other mythological stories like the Samudramanthan, etc.) and events from the Khmer reign. There are numerous statues of Buddha but most of them are headless as a result of rampant loots and vandalism during the 70s and 80s, which is really sad. India also houses many such temples and statues, but they still survive because of the surviving Hindu religion and its ardent following. The western entrance houses a statue of eight-armed Lord Vishnu which was a great sight, but then again it was devoid of the weapons that Lord Vishnu carries in those arms.
From there, we went on to visit Angkor Thom, Baphuon, Bayon, Bantey Kdei, Phnom Bakheng and other archeological sites in the region. We made it a point not to miss out on anything and climbed atop every possible temple that had access. It was an amazing experience, as if you are now playing Tomb Raider J. The entire region is covered by greenery and the lush green textures along with the glorious temples made it an amazing visual treat. The temples at Angkor Thom, especially the faces on the Prasat Bayon were really able to capture my imagination. Out of the original 49 face-towers, 37 still stand the tests of time at this grand spectacle.
Click the play button to view the slideshow of more photos from my collection
Regarding the food, I would suggest to be sure if you really want to experiment with local food. I could not get along with it and I started feeling uneasy after the late lunch from near the Terrace of the Leper King. However, my friend who stuck to bread and butter for breakfast as well lunch had no problem at all. So, I recommend going light with the food during the tour and eat heavier only if you trust the outlet. For vegetarians, I will wholeheartedly recommend the Peace Café which is in the city. It has a nice ambience and really good service. You can also buy handcrafted articles from the Fair-trade shop here. I recommend trying out the Lime and Honey Tea as it was not only really good, but also helped me calm down my uneasiness (read headache and acidity).
Also, if you are keen on trying the hot air balloon, make it a point to visit it right after your Angkor Wat visit as it is nearby and they can close down by 4 PM. The Siem Reap town is also a nice place to hang out in the evening, but be cautious if you are travelling alone.
By around 7:30 PM, we returned back to Chris’ place and took some rest after an exciting day. The bus was at midnight and Chris arranged for the tickets for us. He has some great plans to start his own Tour operations in Cambodia and is planning to attend the Tourism Conference at Brussels next year to pitch his business plans. He showed us his website which is still under progress and we were really impressed. He has a very good understanding about the tourism scene in Cambodia and has a good plan in place. I pray for him and wish him all the best in his endeavors. All in all, my first experience as a couch surfer was an excellent one.
|Sumedh, my travel companion and Chris, my host in Siem Reap|
Overall, it was an awesome experience for me and it has given birth to a travel bug in me. I wish to visit more places and broaden my perspective and understanding of this vast expanse of the earth. Next up, I want to trek to a live volcano. All the best to everyone else who share similar feelings.
Until next time,