More from Siem Reap

Our next day in Siem Reap was in many ways similar to our last: up early (though thankfully well after sunrise this time) and back to visit more of Angkor Wat, though this time focusing on temples along the “Grand Circuit” so we wouldn’t be visiting the same places as yesterday. And as much I as enjoyed exploring Angkor Wat by bicycle, there is certainly something to be said for touring via an automobile with AC!

Our guide, Kimthet, was great. Extremely well-versed in the history and construction of the various places we visited during the day, including the ruins of Neak Pean, a 12th century hospital made up of pools that were believed to have curative powers and Banteay Srei, an amazing temple from the 10th century carved largely from pink sandstone. The materials and motifs used to construct this temple were notably different than other temples in the Angkor Wat complex, so it was a particular highlight of our visit.

Now, with that being said, I rarely post about my travels without acknowledging my own philistinism, particularly when it comes to visiting ancient ruins. Don’t get me wrong – the temples here are fascinating! But after visiting several of them over the course of the day, they do start to feel rather similar (with the fairly notably exception of Banteay Srei) – and the 100° heat can make getting out of the car a positively Herculean effort. But Ak and I soldiered on and really enjoyed our day.

It certainly helped that we had a nice break for lunch. The tasty food was welcome of course, but even better was making some more new cat and dog friends during lunch. We ❤ cats!

As I said, Kimthet was a great guide, a real storehouse of knowledge about Angkor Wat. At one point during the day, we were talking about tourism’s impact on Siem Reap. Despite the huge influx of tourists and the money they bring, much of that money doesn’t stay in Cambodia. Many of the large resorts are foreign-owned and even the merchandise at the tourist markets tends to be made in China and Vietnam. Kimthet gave us some excellent recommendations when I asked what I could do to be a “good” tourist (or at least nominally less awful). One was to donate to the local children’s hospital (something I was happy to do); the other was to avoid shopping for trinkets and souvenirs at the tourist markets and instead visit Artisans Angkor, which trains young people in various Cambodian handicrafts and offers their works for sale.

Kimthet also told us a bit about his own quite harrowing experiences growing up in Cambodia. It was eye-opening, to put it mildly. He reminded us that fully half of Cambodia’s population today is under 22 – a sobering legacy of the millions killed during the Khmer Rouge and in the subsequent Cambodian-Vietnamese war. Should you find yourself visiting Siem Reap, I certainly encourage you to engage the guide services of Mr. Kimthet Lay – you’ll find him to be an excellent guide who’ll teach you many things about his country. You can email him at artisansangkor@yahoo.com.

After our long, sweaty day visiting temples, Ak and I were happy to get back to our little hotel and have a swim. We had a bit of time to waste before dinner – so I had the clever idea of returning to Bodia Spa, just for a quick hour of foot reflexology. Happily, they had room for us and sent a tuk-tuk over to ferry us back to the spa. I could def get used to this…

After the spa, we went out in search of Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, someplace Ak had read about in his research for our trip. We got a tiny bit lost but eventually found our way up a small alley to a cozy bar done up in Shanghai 1930s style. Had a couple of very tasty cocktails, posed for our lives for some selfies and then ambled off to dinner at Viroth’s Restaurant, located at our hotel’s sister establishment. Dinner was outside, the food was great, the waiter adorable – can’t ask for much more than that.

Saturday morning we headed over to the “real” (as opposed to tourist) market, Psha Leu. We wandered the aisles for a good hour or two, staring at all the things for sale: everything from freshly-caught fish to just-slaughtered pigs to umbrellas to ballgowns. One of the more fascinating sights was a lady selling corn. She had a large bowl of kernels that had been stripped from the corn and was scooping them up and dumping them out in front of an electric fan – thus blowing the silk remnants out and leaving just the kernels behind.

After our shopping excursion, we headed into town to visit Angkor Artisans, per Kimthet’s recommendation. It was great! Really beautiful silk ware, wood and stone carvings, some lovely jewelry. I got charming little carved pig to take home with me and Ak picked out a necklace with a soapstone pendant. We didn’t have time to take the tour of the workshops, but I was really impressed with the fine quality of all that was being sold in the shop.

Then, it was back to the hotel to collect our luggage and head to the airport. A relatively uneventful trip back to Bangkok – though I did have to perform some ridiculous charade of moving stuff between my suitcase and my backpack in order to meet Air Asia’s absurd weight limitation for carry-on bags. The end result was that I brought on the exact same two pieces of luggage I arrived with and put them in the exact same location in the overhead bin – but that some of my clothes were now in my backpack rather than my suitcase. Proving once again, I suppose, that you get what you pay for…

As much as I enjoyed Cambodia, I was also happy to be back in Bangkok. Sure, it’s only my second visit and I have much to learn still about this city, but there is already an element of “coming home” when I get here.

And here we are in our tuk-tuk, heading to the spa. Wheeeee!

 

 

First Day in Siem Reap

Off to Cambodia! Things started off well enough, with Ak and me managing to arrive at Don Mueang airport nearly simultaneously. This is Bangkok’s “old” airport and currently serves mostly low-cost carriers on short hops in and around SE Asia. It’s also really crowded and not the most modern of facilities… and the AC was mostly conked out. So, all in all, not the most glamorous introduction to air travel for Ak, who was making his first flight!

Our flight on Air Asia was delayed by about an hour. And, in a bit of “are you for real?” on my part, my “Premium Flex” ticket for which I paid extra and which included among other things pre-boarding of the aircraft was rather a misnomer. Our aircraft was out on the tarmac and we were transported by bus from the terminal to the plane. So, while I did indeed get to board that bus first, I schlepped up the stairs in the midst of all the hordes of people who’d crammed onto the bus after me. Yes, yes, first world problem, blah, blah, blah. But I did in fact pay for something which I didn’t get.

Anyway, the flight itself was pleasant enough and Ak didn’t flip out – though he may gone just a bit saucer-eyed at the landing, which was a bit of a jolt. The small Siem Reap airport seems very new and immigration was relatively painless, if not the friendliest. And even after such a short flight, it’s always a lovely thing to see a driver holding a sign with one’s name on it when entering the main terminal.

The first thing I noticed on the short trip to our hotel was how much calmer the traffic was compared to Bangkok. Granted, Siem Reap is quite a bit smaller – but the roads were populated with more bicycles than cars on the road from the airport and drivers seemed pretty mellow.

Arrived at our hotel for the next few days, Viroth’s Villa – a groovy little boutique place. TBH, I might’ve been happier with a room on the second floor, but I got the only room furnished with separate beds. The place was quite comfy, the staff extraordinarily kind and helpful throughout our stay and the pool provided a lovely way to spend the afternoon after visiting Angkor Wat during the day.

Our first evening we ate at Chanrey Tree. I think I stumbled across it online. It wound up being the perfect choice: a short walk from our hotel, a lovely outside table on a very warm evening, cocktails, tasty food, all in lush garden setting. We loved it!

Made an early night of it, since Thursday morning started early: our guide from Grasshopper Adventures was picking us up at 4:30AM for the short drive to Angkor Wat to watch the sun rise. This certainly seemed like a great idea when I was reserving this trip, though somewhat less so when faced with the prospect of actually piling into a van at 4:30AM…

But pile we did! And it was an ideal way to start our visit. One thing I hadn’t paid attention to, however, was that the tickets required to visit the Angkor Wat compound were not included in the price of this tour. NBD – we stopped to purchase them on our way in. The only little problem was that the tickets are cash only (and US dollars at that), so I was a little more tapped out than I’d anticipated once the trip was over and it came time to tip… Not that I had nothing mind you, but I wish I could’ve been a bit more generous.

Anyway, we got to the main temple of Angkor Wat and found our seats along the exterior moat waiting for the sun to rise. There were a lot of other tourists there – though my sense was that many of them actually walk into the central enclosure for a close-up view of the sun appearing behind the wat’s towers. However, I really enjoyed our vantage point along the moat – not just because it wasn’t too crowded but because the reflection of the ruins on the water was especially lovely as dawn crept up on us… Our guide was great, providing us with snacks to tide us over ‘til breakfast and helping us make friends with the local temple dogs who were hanging out with us.

Once daylight was upon us, we explored the interior structures and frescos. A hike up to the towers via some very steep staircases (to remind us of the difficulty of ascending to the kingdom of the gods) provided a splendid view of our surroundings. And, as if that was not already fantastic enough, we came upon a dozing mama cat and her three gamboling kittens! Really, is there anything better than temple kittehs?

Next we had a simple breakfast before starting the bike portion of our tour. It was a small group – just Ak and me; a fellow from South Africa; a nice woman from Singapore; and a Canadian who was a bit out to lunch: she didn’t realized she’d signed up for a bike trip…  It was kind of funny that it was all singled folks on the trip. When I’d been in Thailand last October, I was typically the only sad Mary-Ann-Singleton on the various tours I’d signed up for. Now, here I was with a traveling companion and everyone else is on their own. Anyway, it was a nice enough group, though no long-lasting friendships were forged.

Now, I do love riding, though I also forget that my urban bike riding experience doesn’t always translate very well to a more off-the-beaten path ride. Luckily, though, one of the fellows in our group looked pretty experienced so I did my best to follow his lead. And I did OK! No wipe-outs and no dropped chains – can’t ask for much more than that.

The rest of the day was spent biking around from temple to temple, with stops to explore on foot. Our guide was very knowledgeable and we had a really enjoyable visit. And I was very pleased that Ak – despite insisting dramatically a couple of times that he was very close to death – held his own on the bicycle, despite not being a daily rider like I am.

Of course, after ten miles of riding in 100° weather, one does get a bit exhausted. So, when we wrapped up our tour with a stop for lunch that include a couple of beers? We were all pretty delighted.

Back to hotel where we washed our stanky grimy selves off. No time to waste, since Bodia Spa was sending a tuk-tuk to collect us at 3:45PM for our our three-hour “Relaxation” package. WELL. This was a delight! Gentle therapeutic massage along with an invigorating body scrub. Really the perfect way to end a rather strenuous day.

Dinner at Cuisine Wat Danmak, listed as one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. And it was OK – though TBH, neither of us were particularly bowled over by the meal. It was fine and the price was reasonable – but we actually enjoyed the previous night’s dinner more than this one.

A short tuk-tuk ride back to our place and an early night. Tomorrow: more temples!

And here’s a few shots from my helmet cam from our biking trip!