Exhilarating, exhausting & gorgeous!
03.17.2015 - 03.18.2015
When planning our 3 weeks in SE Asia, we knew we couldn't really see every country, so we picked things we knew we just couldn't miss. Angkor Wat was on that list, so we planned 4 full days in Siem Reap between Bangkok and Thailand, and I'm SO glad we did! It wasn't long enough, and I would love to go back to Cambodia someday.
Part of what made our visit to Siem Reap amazing was where we stayed. We chose to go through AirBnB again, and Tara found the perfect spot at Dean and Ada's place. Again, we loved being in a more residential part of town, even if we had a bit of a trip to get into the more touristy area. There was still a ton of options near Dean and Ada's, including a hotel with free use of their salt water pool if you had a drink or food there, and Dean and Ada were amazing hosts. When we arrived, they apologized profusely because there was a wedding going on next door, and in Cambodia, weddings last 2 full days. We didn't care a bit! It was amazing to sit on their rooftop patio, reading, drinking Cambodian beer and listening to the wedding chants going on right next door.
We got up nice and early for our first full day in Siem Reap and to explore Angkor Wat and the "main" temples by bike with Grasshopper Adventures. Wow. That's all I can say about the heat at 9 am, and WOW about the heat at 4 pm after 30 km on a bike, BUT it was totally worth it! Angkor Wat is as incredible as people say, and our guide was knowledgable, sincere and was happy to share his personal experience and family history from Khmer Rouge and the Civil War. We spent the first chunk of the morning at Angkor Wat and eventually made our way to the third level, which is up super steep steps (AKA ladder). The height, the crowds and the sweaty palms made it quite an adventure, but again, worth it! The third level is the holiest and has amazing views and Buddhas in small temples facing 4 directions.If you're going to visit, be sure you wear a shirt with shoulders (no tank tops, and a wrap or scarf won't cut it) and a skirt or shorts that reach below your knees or you're not allowed up.
From Angkor Wat, we made our way to Angkor Thom and Bayon via a beautiful and quiet (AKA: no other tourists) ride around the southern and western wall. We even saw a family taking their water buffalo across the moat - a woman, 3 kids and 2 big buffaloes and 2 babies! They were the sweetest as they all swam together. You can just barely see them in this shot. You have to look closely! At the corner of the complex, there was a small temple, mostly collapsed, but apparently Tara thought it was safe enough to crawl around! We headed past one of the main gates into The Bayon temple, where we saw beautiful carvings and a bunch of bats before climbing up to the highest level. I loved being so close to the faces at this temple. Tara even got a kiss!
Our last stop before lunch was Tha Prom, which is also known as the Jungle Temple because so many trees and their roots have grown on top of, through, past and around the temple walls. The pictures don't really do the temple, nor the enormity of the trees, justice. It was magical!
Even though I had been asking our guide all day about whether or not we would see monkeys, and despite he would not promise a thing, and not even imply that there was any chance we would see gibbons, we did!
Just as we were getting back to the main road from the quiet and shady sandy paths through the jungle, we stopped our bikes abruptly to see these little acrobats. I couldn't be happier! We fed them lotus fruit and watched as they tumbled, climbed and groomed each other.
And because we hadn't shoved enough to one day... we showered, rested and got ready for our evening - dinner and a night at the circus. Sounds a little bizarre, I know, but this is not a western circus. Circus Phare is not to be missed, particularly if you are interested in education, history and supporting young artists that have had to overcome great challenges to thrive in a country that been torn by genocide, war and poverty all of their young lives. The circus is more acrobatic theater, and each show tells a different story, one that is symbolic of Cambodian history, life and the culture of the young people who grow up here. I actually gasped out loud several times during the show, and was entranced not just by their strength and acrobatics, but also by the quality of their acting. If you're going to Siem Reap, grab dinner at their little cafe, see the show then buy your souvenirs here, and you'll be able to support their efforts. And get tickets at least a day in advance, they often sell out!
Believe it or not, that was just our first 30 hours in Cambodia! It's time for a break (and to go to the Thorns season opener!), but I'm anxious to share more of our adventures with you soon, so keep a look out for more temples, my first injury of the trip, and floating villages!