Putting around in a tuk-tuk (with a very friendly and cooperative driver) we hopped from hostel to hotel facing repeated rejection, even from some of the most expensive accommodations that might have been our last resort. Apparently this is to be expected when arriving to the gateway city to the Angkor temples, Siem Reap, the day before New Year’s Eve. But alas as the good luck gods would have it, we stumbled upon a good priced hotel within close range of the city centre. Phewf. The famed Angkor Wat awaited in the distance, and as soon as we found ourselves checking into a hotel room, we also had a tuk-tuk driver ready to pick us up bright and early at 5:30am the next day.
Not so bright though. Leaving our hotel in the wee hours, daylight had definitely not come and the early morning was unnecessarily cold. We huddled like amateurs in the back of the open vehicle as we sped along the dark highway to the ruins. Along with hundreds of other tourists we marched through the darkness across a long bridge and through an enormous gate to the presently invisible Angkor Wat. We couldn’t see a thing. As inklings of light started trickling into the sky we made our way to a smaller stone structure as the landscape became increasingly illuminated and perched ourselves atop a wall to prepare for the spectacle we were all here for. The sun began to rise over the ancient Khmer ruins, creating a misty silhouette and revealing the immensity of the structures that stood before us. (I’m going to try to not kill you with pictures, it’s hard to decide on specific ones after being shutter happy.)
Birds sang in the trees around the complex, and as we watched in awe, I found myself transported back in time, to where a thriving civilization had once lived. We continued to explore the largest of the Angkor temples awestruck by the size and beauty of the architecture.
The air was warming slightly and we moved onto the next temples in our 6 temple tour. We travelled between them by tuk-tuk, but when i go again I think biking would be my first choice. As long as you have snacks and water, I feel it’d be more fun and intimate.
I would describe every temple in detail but it would ultimately not do the experience justice. One of the cool things about our visit was that all the ruins seemed so different. Each had a different feel and energy, it’s crumbling walls telling stories that you can’t read in a book. I felt like Indiana Jones.
After 6 hours of exploring the complex (a short amount of time to many!) we tiredly climbed back into our tuk-tuk and headed back to Siem Reap.
Like I mentioned before, it was New Year’s Eve, so after a long power nap, we ventured out into the commotion of the city centre where the main ‘pub street’ was crawling with locals and tourists ready to welcome the new year. Every restaurant was packed, bars were lively early, foot massage parlours were swamped and the closed off street was crammed and noisy. We ended up at X bar, a cool rooftop place with a halfpipe. We celebrated with an awesome Cambodian couple we’d met there, who also happened to run a newly opened not-for-profit english school just outside of town. (more info to come)
The celebration was amazing and went out with a bang. Literally. While (barely) riding my bicycle back to our hotel, I managed to wind up on the pavement, only to be rescued and safely delivered home by two kind young Cambodian boys on a moped. One even rode my bike back for me. Their selfless kindness got me back safe and sound with only a couple bloody knees.
Needless to say, the next day called for extreme relaxation. We enjoyed a fresh breakfast at Peace Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant we frequented. It’s healthy and appetizing menu was alluring, and perfectly complemented by it’s outdoor lounge area with bamboo chairs in the shade of lush trees. There was also a yoga studio upstairs where we took a class from a smiling expat from India. Awesome teacher.
Our less belligerent nights here were spent browsing the city’s night market (of course) and indulging in lengthy foot massages. The laughing masseuses really make you feel like you deserve one, and once you see the price it’s hard to turn down.
It seemed there were 3 separate night markets, and the 3rd we came across had been the one we’d read about previously. It was in fact marked by a large sign with neon red letters, Angkor Night Market. This unique bazaar was a colorful labyrinth of beautiful silk and the traditional Khmer checkered scarves, packaged spices and dried fruits, silver jewelry, hammocks and Cambodian made recycled bags and wallets etc. It featured a cute bar and ‘food court’ at the back with candlelit picnic tables, where I enjoyed a delicious greek salad in the dreamy light of the candles, lanterns and the giant moon.
While the other two markets sold similar goods, this one was more pleasant to stroll through as a nighttime activity. In contrast to these souvenir filled hubs, the Old Market in the middle of the city is more visited by locals where you can find the freshest fruits, vegetables and spices used by all the restaurants in the surrounding area. And of course the meat section, where you smell it before you see it in most Southeast-Asian markets. We took a tour here learning the names of these beautiful ingredients before cooking up a storm in an authentic Khmer cooking class at Temple Bar! (Post on this coming soon!)
For our last couple nights we stayed at Siem Reap Hostel, which required booking in advance, but was worth it for the classic backpacker atmosphere and POOL. A pool is always worth it. Not to mention the pool table, yoga studio and patio movie room where we watched Tomb Raider (going with the Angkor theme) and waited for a 2am departure back to the land of smiles where our whole journey began, Thailand.
Did you enjoy this post? If so, share the love using the links below! Have you been or want to go to the Temples of Angkor? How did being in this age old place make you feel?