After leaving Phnom Penh, we found ourselves on a bus riding through more of the vast, flat landscape that is Cambodia. We passed by many small towns along the way, made up of stilt houses and it seemed that each one had a cow tied to a tree and large mesh tarps full of peanuts, coffee or rice set outside to dry. Most of the drive became mundane, but it was broken up by the occasional glimpse of beautiful landscapes, distant temples and interesting farm machinery.
Our destination was the Thai border in order for us to simply get a stamp on our Thai passports before the entry date expired. As we were within an hour of Poipet, Cambodia (the border town) a loud bang followed by a bump prompted the bus to pull over. We had no idea what happened and our first thought was that we just ran over a motorcycle.
Stepping off of the bus a large crowd had already gathered around and I was fearing the worst. As I peered around the back of the bus I saw two cars that had been hit, one of them smashed pretty bad. Luckily nobody was seriously injured, but our bus was now out of commission. One of the back tires was blown out and the rim was bent. We were hoping help would arrive quickly, but we had no idea what to expect.
We waited around for about fifteen minutes, until a mini-van taxi pulled up and offered a ride to Poipet for $3 each! Without hesitation the three of us grabbed our bags and told our bus driver goodbye. One hour later we arrived comfortably and cool to the border checkpoint. We made it to Thailand, received our visa stamps, spent the night and went back into Cambodia the following morning.
After arriving in Siem Reap via taxi, that afternoon was spent catching up on the blog and trying to figure out how Trump won the election. That evening we weren’t sure what to do so we walked to a night market which was full of the usual items; clothing, bracelets, bags and little statues. I had read that Pub Street was something interesting to see and since we were nearby we decided to check it out.
Pub Street is basically Siem Reap’s recreation of Khao San road in Bangkok. Although I have to admit I enjoyed it more than Khao San, due to the larger size of the street, less hawkers and better taste in music. We sat outside a restaurant, listened to live Thai renditions of American songs, ordered some crocodile burgers and people watched for an hour or so. In my opinion, people watching never gets old.
We met our tuk-tuk driver, Vichet, in the morning and we headed towards the largest religious site in the world. Just days before we arrived in Siem Reap, we learned how massive the temple complex of Angkor really is. There are over forty temples and some of the temples are almost six miles apart!
Our plan for the first day was to do the “small circuit” which consisted of seeing Ta Prohm, Ta Keo (we only drove by it, due to renovations) Chau Say Tevoda, Thommanon, Bayon and Angkor Thom.
After spending quite a few hours in the heat we decided to save the main attraction for the next day.
When we arrived back at our hotel, the manager Kuni, told us to join him for a BBQ in the evening. After cooling off in the pool for a couple of hours, we decided to see what this BBQ was all about. As soon as we reached a group of men sitting around a table, Kuni jumped up and brought us each a chair to sit in. Then another man handed us each a beer and told us to eat some of the pork ribs and pork belly that they had prepared.
I was caught off guard by their generosity and I didn’t know what to say, except for thank you. Eventually we met everyone and I learned that all of Kuni’s friends were tuk-tuk drivers that work exclusively out of his hotel, including our driver, Vichet. It was a great time talking with everyone (half spoke good English) and learning more about them. Oh, and the food was amazing!
We also met Reese who is from Australia, he is the one who “sponsored” the BBQ. I thanked him for providing all of the beer and meat and then he told me more about himself. He was staying at the hotel for a long period of time and sponsors a BBQ once a week.
Christmas Island is where Reese lives and he informed us about the beauty of the island. (I know this is random, but I found it too interesting to omit) Once a year there is a red crab migration, where over 100 million red crab leave their burrows and head toward the sea to mate and spawn. After the spawning, the juvenile crabs remain in the ocean for 2-3 weeks. Reese told us that as far as you can see the ocean looks reddish brown from the spawning and it is considered one of the natural wonders of the world. Christmas Island is also known for the robber crab aka coconut crab or palm-thief, which is the largest specie of arthropod in the world. They can weigh up to nine pounds, reach three feet across and shred a coconut to pieces!!
It looks like I’ve discovered another place to add to the bucket list.
In an effort to see Angkor Wat in it’s full beauty, we decided to get up at 4:30 am to catch the sunrise. Apparently, everyone else had the same idea. The moat surrounding the temple was completely lined with cars, as all I could see were taillights ahead. We chose to sit outside of the temple wall in order to catch the reflection in the calm water encircling Angkor Wat. As the darkness began to lift ever so slightly, we could see a constant stream of people walking across the bridge to enter the temple. It was shocking to see how many people came so early! While we didn’t have a great line of sight to the iconic five towers that stand above the complex we did have an unobstructed view across the moat looking toward Angkor, which did provide me a great spot for a timelapse video.
Inside Angkor Wat
After crossing the moat and entering through the magnificent main gate, we found ourselves in a massive courtyard. The courtyard consisted of a wide walkway leading straight to the main temple with smaller buildings off to the sides. Behind the other structures were large open grassy areas and even a pond. Surrounding this entire area is a wall that is fifteen feet high and over two miles long. The size and detail of Angkor Wat is beyond impressive, especially considering it was built over 800 years ago! It’s hard to give the temple justice in my own words so here are two quotes that I enjoy:
(One of the first Western visitors to the temple was António da Madalena, a Portuguese monk who visited in 1586 and said that it:
“is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of.”)(Wikipedia)
(In the mid-19th century, the temple was visited by the French naturalist and explorer Henri Mouhot, who popularised the site in the West through the publication of travel notes, in which he wrote:
“One of these temples—a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo—might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged.”) (Wikipedia)
Once inside we saw two novice monks and decided to give them a small donation. They had me sit down and proceeded to honor me with a blessing of scented water and a bracelet, while chanting. Moments later Tash received the same experience from another monk.
We took our time inside trying to take everything in, eventually we ended up walking around the whole complex and admiring the architecture from outside.
After being mesmerized by the architecture and intricate designs for a couple of hours, we made our way back through the courtyard, exited across the moat and said goodbye to Angkor Wat.
The day before we made our way through the “small circuit” so this day we completed the “grand circuit”. This consisted of seeing: Preah Kahn, Neak Poan, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre Rup and some other small temples.
When we got back to Siem Reap, the first thing we wanted to do was to get in the pool! After a long day of walking through temples, all we could think about was cooling down. Once again as we walked into the hotel Kuni invited me to a BBQ, this time they were having snake soup! After swimming, the girls were still napping so I headed down by myself to see what this snake snack was all about.
Luckily I got down there before all of the snake was gone. There were only two pieces left so I ate one and saved one for Tash, who came down a little later. The broth that the snake was cooked in was amazing and that’s all I could taste. Eating the snake was a little bit tricky as I tried to just peel the layer above the bones off with my teeth. The skin was surprisingly soft, I originally thought I wasn’t supposed to eat it, but it was quite easy to chew through. The piece Tash ate was actually the tail, but she said it was good also.
When I asked if someone had caught the snake, one of the funny tuk-tuk drivers told me that he caught it…..at the market, everyone laughed!! We enjoyed the two BBQ’s so much that Tash, Jojo and I decided to sponsor one for our last evening in Siem Reap.
Last day in Siem Reap
For our last day I stayed inside for part of the day to finish some writing. Tash and Jojo explored Siem Reap and Vichet drove them around once again. They visited a place called Artisans Angkor, where they watched people make a variety of handicrafts. It consists of a concentrated area of stations where locals make anything from wooden figures, ceramics, jewelry, paintings and silk weaving.
After the girls came back Tash and I jumped in with Vichet again and he drove us down to the Siem Reap river where the Water Festival and annual boat races take place. Smelling the food in the air, listening to children playing and seeing a small amusement park reminded us of a festival at home. As we got closer to the main stage, a large procession arrived surrounding the governor. Soon after, the thirty or so boats that each held around 16 people all gathered together in front of the stage. It was quite a scene to see all of the bright colored and ornately decorated boats in one spot.
We still don’t know how he did it, but Vichet pulled some strings and got us in a fancy, fenced off area where there were nice chairs to sit in, with a great view of the river. Before the big boats started their races, we watched a few children in basket boats race down the river. It was cute how each child stopped paddling when they neared the stage, removed their hat and bowed to the governor before continuing their race.
Then came the big boats dueling each other and all we could see were paddles flailing around the boats. As the first two teams came closer, it became noticeable how fast their pace was. Despite the first appearance of chaos, it was surprising how smooth and quickly the boats glided through the water. Loud applause and cheering filled the river banks as the boats neared the finish line. After the race the winning boat headed back up the river to continue racing, while the losing boat was eliminated. As soon as one race ended, another duel would immediately begin.
After watching a few races we had to head back to our hotel for the bbq we were sponsoring. By the time we arrived back Kuni had already put the beer on ice and had the bbq red hot. Kuni and one of the drivers cooked all of the meat over a couple of hours, while different friends and hotel guests stopped in to say hi and have a bite to eat.
Goodbye Siem Reap
The next day we said goodbye to everyone at the hotel and thanked them for their hospitality. Hopefully, we will be able to visit them again someday. Vichet drove us to the airport in the morning and after we said goodbye, he gave each one of us a hug.