NO MORE BUSES, YOU GUYS! We had our final 6 hour bus trip to get us to Siem Reap and besides watching a clearly pirated copy of The Avengers on the bus’ TV (you could hear people laughing in the theatre it was filmed at…dodgy bus company!) and trying to tune out the really LOUD and BAD Asian pop music with my iPod, it was a pretty uneventful trip.
Matt has been to Siem Reap before and had talked it up as one of his favourite places ever so I was quite looking forward to seeing it myself. As an added bonus, we had 6 nights here. SIX WHOLE NIGHTS IN ONE PLACE!
Clearly, I was pretty excited to not have to pack my bags for a while and just relax. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that well but more on that later.
Amy (who we met on our Halong Bay tour) raved about the Mexican restaurant here called iViva so we made a beeline there for dinner the first night and have been back a total of 5 times. Delicious food and $1.50 margaritas!
We had already decided that the next day would be a ‘rest day’ (love them) so we figured it was the best night to try out the famous local bars. We made our way to Pub Street, the main area for bars and restaurants in Siem Reap, and settled on Red Piano for a Tomb Raider cocktail. Angelina Jolie made the bar famous while she was here filming Tomb Raider and created this drink (obviously not called a Tomb Raider at the time). It’s made with Cointreau, fresh lime juice, tonic water and holy, is it ever yummy! Every tenth one ordered is free and they bring it to you while ringing a bell so everyone knows you got it.
After that we headed to Angkor What? (clearly a play on Angkor Wat, the temple which I’ll talk about later) and I had my first ever bucket! Well, Matt and I shared it because seriously, there was no way I could finish a drink this big. Can’t remember what was in it *ahem* but it was good. And had lots of straws.
Then (I know) we went across the street to Temple Club and ended up sharing a few cocktails with a group of students (one of which looked exactly like Justin Bieber) and a Marine from Wisconsin (of all places).
The night ended after a lot of dancing and a walk back to our hotel that I’m still confused about. I knew where we had to be, but didn’t know how to get there and still managed to figure out a pretty direct route without any issues.
The day after our well needed rest day, we headed to Angkor Archaeological Park. Most people hire a tuk tuk for the day to take them around all the different temples but since we had a 3 day pass, we wanted to take our time seeing everything. For some reason, no one could understand that we only wanted to hire a tuk tuk for a few hours instead of the whole day and wanted to charge us the same price for half the time! So we had the crazy idea to BIKE around the park instead.
We started early at 7am so that we’d get most of it done before the heat really settled in. Not that it really helped though cause here’s me at the first temple:
We picked a good time of the year for this trip. Usually all these photos would be FULL of other tourists but with it being the beginning of rainy season, there was hardly anyone there!
Ta Prohm – the “Tomb Raider” temple where it was filmed.
Matt in front of Thommanon
Elephants Terrace, Angkor Thom
At Bayon, Angkor Thom
These faces are all over the Bayon temple
We were absolutely knackered by the time we got back to our hotel. We had done about 30kms total but luckily it was all flat so besides a sore bum from the seat, it was actually a pretty cool way to get around all the temples and I’d definitely recommend it – especially if you want to do things at your own pace without having to worry about relying on a tuk tuk driver.
The plan was so get to bed early so we could get up at 4am for the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Of course because I knew I had to be up early, I couldn’t get to sleep for the life of me. Finally I did but after only 2 hours, Matt woke up thinking there were bugs in his bed and turned on all the lights to see what was crawling on him. Annoyed, I told him he was imagining things and to TURN OFF THE LIGHTS ALREADY. He did and we went back to trying to sleep only for me to wake up again at 1:30am for the same reason he had previously. My sheets were unbelievably itchy and I felt like things were crawling all over me. The difference between Matt and I was that he had a restless night attempting sleep, whereas I gave up on sleep very quickly. I spent the next 3 hours thinking about random things, looking up other hotels, playing games on my phone, and getting more and more pissed off at the hotel for having DIRTY, ITCHY, BUG FILLED sheets.
As soon as the alarm went off I told Matt we were switching hotels and he agreed.
This would have to wait as it was 4am and we had more important things to do before dealing with that. We took a tuk tuk to Angkor Wat for sunrise but nearly left it too late. The sky was already pretty bright by the time we arrived and some dude trying to get us to buy coffee from him said that we had time because the sun rise wasn’t until 6:30 even though it was already CLEARLY rising and everyone else/everything we read said it was at 5:30. Douchebag (please keep in mind that I was running on a few hours of sleep and was a little…testy). Lucky we knew better because if we had believed him, we would’ve missed ticking off number 12 on our 100 Things List – See a sunrise over Angkor Wat (which was an amazing experience despite sharing it with a bunch of other tourists).
This was my favourite temple out of all of them just because you absolutely got the feeling that people had lived here once and it would’ve been amazing to see it when brand new.
Mom’s comment unintentionally turned out to be foreshadowing – Matt wasn’t feeling well from dinner the night before (lack of sleep probably didn’t help either) and was feeling a bit off while we were at the temple. We got back to our hotel and he quickly made the Porcelain Throne his seat of choice and made sure he was only a few quick steps away from it at all times.
However, we still needed to get out of our hotel so after quickly researching other hotels, we found one around the corner and went to check it out. We weren’t able to see the room because they were all full (a good sign as we were the only people at our hotel) and no one had checked out yet. We immediately knew it was much better than where we were staying so we said we’d take it, went back to our lame hotel and packed.
I worried about what they’d say as we checked out 3 days early because I hate confrontation and even though the hotel was horrible in every way, I felt bad telling them that. Luckily for us (and this proves how crap the hotel was), they didn’t even realise that we had only just altered our booking. The guy thought HE had made a mistake in thinking we were staying 6 nights instead of 3. Clearly, we made the right choice in leaving.
We planned to do our last day at the temples the next day but with Matt not feeling well, we switched it to a rest day (again, love these) and spent it chilling in our, now awesome, hotel room.
Our final day in Siem Reap was pretty packed. We headed to our last temple, Banteay Srey, this time renting a car as it’s about 40kms out of the city. This one is famous for it’s intricate carvings and different colour than the rest of the sites.
Then we headed to the Cambodian Landmine Museum which was created by Aki Ra, a man who was once a child solider in the Khmer Rouge. They killed his parents when he was 5 and forced him to join the army when he was 10 years old. He defected to the Vietnamese Army which eventually forced the Khmer Rouge out of Cambodia and now he’s made it his life work to defuse landmines that are still active in Cambodia. It was amazing to read and see pictures of his work and just how much of an impact these landmines have on the Cambodian people. I don’t think we’ve gone a day here without seeing quite a few people missing limbs because they came across an unexploded landmine. No one knows how many are left (it’s estimated at 6 million) and many people are still being injured or killed by them.
Some of the many mines Aki Ra has diffused
We finished our night with a free cello concert at the local Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital. The goal of the concert is to fundraise for the hospital that provides free services to children in Cambodia. The work they’re doing there and the struggles they face really impacted on me and Matt. It was all pretty overwhelming and maybe a bit much to put into this post at this point but it definitely got us thinking about how we can help.
Dr Beat “Beatocello” Richner – founder (and fundraiser) of Children’s hospitals in Cambodia
We’ve realised that with all the travel that we’re going to do, we’ll be coming across this kind of thing pretty often and it would be impossible to ignore it. We’ve got a bit of a plan to bring awareness to charities that impact on us, so watch this space. Back to the hospital, 90% of the funding comes from private donations and to quote the founder, “When is saving a child’s life a private matter? Why don’t the countries that supported the wars that created Cambodia’s poverty, support saving the lives of the children it continues to affect?”
Travel is more than just seeing pretty sites and doing fun things, it’s about making a difference in the places you visit.