Siem Reap, Cambodia - November 3, 2013
After my bicycling tour ended, I returned to the hotel, and left to Da Nang airport to catch my flight to Cambodia, and although I wanted to spend more time in Hoi An, I was also excited and ready to visit the temples of Angkor Wat.
First of all, unlike Vietnam you do not need to get a visa prior your arrival, and do not waste your time by printing those visa forms from the internet. It seems Cambodia has changed their forms and now you need to fill out a small one they hand out at the airport upon arrival. Make sure to bring a passport size photo with you and patiently wait for you passport to be checked by 8 different people until you are called and hand it back. Talk about bureaucracy and employing your people right? I didn't have to wait too long so I'm not complaining.
Arrived after 7pm and my hotel had sent someone to pick me up. I could tell this driver was better suited and used to drive the little Tuk Tuk than the classic car he used to pick me up, but we made it to the Terrasse des Elephants. If you really want to feel like Indianan Jones make sure to stay at this place. I still don't know what to say about my hotel room, seriously it's something different and exciting at first, not sure about afterwards. It was my vacation dammit and I wanted to stay in a different type of place, plus I loved the swimming pool in the top floor, and the elephants decoration pretty much everywhere thus their name. Another plus was the location, close to Pub Street and the market, but not on Pub Street or the market.
You can see more poverty in Siem Reap compared to what I had seen so far in Vietnam, and I saw more beggars in my first night in the city than in my entire first week in Vietnam. The first impression I had of the city after haven't spent some time in Pub Street was like they had combined the wild west with Louisiana and splashed with an Asian flavour. Obviously I couldn't create my entire view of this place just by visiting one street, and it was fun to see so many foreigners together in one street. One more thing, don't worry about exchanging your money for local currency, the economy of this place run almost entirely in American dollars.
I had thought about waking up super early to see the sunrise at the Angkor World Heritage park, but I decided I really didn't want to do it. The concierge booked me a Tuk Tuk for USD 15.00/day and by 8:30am I was on my way to the temples. In case you are wondering, you need to book a driver to take you around this massive archeological park, and yes, you will be doing a lot of walk as well. If staying for more than one day, just buy the Angkor pass - 3 days visit valid for one week at the cost of USD 40.
Thanks to the French, whom defined two circuit to visit the temples, you can start with the small circuit (18 km/11 miles) and continue with the great circuit (27 km/17 miles). Guys, I'm not going to write all the names of the different temples, but I can tell you those temples are impressive, specially the Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. Your driver already have experience and they will take you to the temples you really want to see. If in your research you found one you don't want to miss, write the name down and show it to your guide.
Remember those tree roots covering the temples that you saw in Angelina Jolie's movie Lara Croft Tomb Raider? You will see it and hopefully there won't be too many people at the same time. You really need at least 3 full days in Siem Reap in order to see what you need to explore.
By your third day you might start feeling a bit templed out, and probably won't be taking that many pictures anymore, nevertheless those religious monuments are just majestic and imposing, and they won't stop wowing you.
Pay attention on the details and you will find incredible carving on the walls, on the floor, ceiling, you name it, they are everywhere. Smiling faces in some of the towers, hey those ancients were happy people so why not smile right? If you are lucky you will see as well some monks dressed in their orange attires walking around, and yes you will feel the urge to take a picture, just make sure to do it respectfully alright?
37 km from the main Angkor temples, you will find the Banteay Srei (Citadel of Women), although they are not as enormous as the rest, these are the only temples carved in hard pink sandstone in the region, and also unlike the rest the Citadel of Women is not a royal temple. If you have the time make sure to visit this area as well, and the drive to this temple is also beautiful. Around this area it seems you can test your skills with AK47, my driver asked me if I wanted to go but I don't really like guns.
what about Siem Reap? At night time most of the foreigners will flock to Pub street, and I actually ended up meeting some cool people in this place. In my last day I walked around the city and did some shopping at the market. Listen, if you need a scarf then this is the place to get it, and also make sure to take advantage of the cheap massages, and trust me more than one will offer you a happy ending.
When I was in Vietnam you could feel more Chinese influence in their Buddhistic kind of life, while in Cambodia you can sense more a Hindu side. Very friendly people in Cambodia, and less crazy drivers compared to Vietnam.
After spending 3 nights in Siem Reap it was time to fly to Saigon.
...to be continued...