After an eventful flight from Bangkok to Cambodia – I’ll put it down to a slight miscommunication about our boarding time – we arrived in the beautiful Siem Reap.
Once we’d waited patiently in the massive queue to buy our visas, we headed out front to try and find our pickup. On the hunt for a minibus we were soon spotted by the driver* from our hostel who promptly led us out of the airport, apparently the parking was too pricey, and over to our transport… a tuk-tuk.
*I can’t remember his name for the life of me, so for the purpose of this blog post or until I track him down again, he shall be referred to as Drive.
Thinking it was a joke, we all started to laugh. That was until Drive chucked two of our backpacks on the tuktuk and beckoned us to climb in. Now I love a tuk-tuk as much as the next person, I truly don’t think there’s anything better than being dragged around by a noisy scooter, hanging on for dear life whilst the driver weaves his way through streams of traffic, love it! But at this point in time there were four of us, each with quite large rucksacks. Like a pro, Drive got us all in and balanced our bags in the latch of the of the tuk-tuk.
On that ride home I fell in love with Cambodia. It was such a change to the noise of the city; instead we drove miles past green fields and waving locals. Now this was the reason I came travelling.
We stayed in a hostel about fifteen minutes walk from the centre of Siem Reap, walking to town we passed even more stray dogs. Being the massive dog lover I am this broke my heart every time. After doing some research it appears that there are no charities that currently work with stray dogs. I pledge now that if I ever win the lottery, marry a Prince or bet on a winning horse that I will set one up.
Also on the path into town are row upon row of what can only be described as wooden shacks, which double up as people’s shops and homes. Walking back after an evening out, you can often see the family sleeping on the floor. So after witnessing this, I did not expect to buy a coconut from a woman with a rickety cart to promptly remove her iPad from her bag in order to pass me change. Very odd sight indeed.
On exploring the centre of Siem Reap we stumbled across the famous ‘Pub Street’, stopping off to eat in a great little restaurant called Cambodia BBQ, where we cooked our own assortment of meats including crocodile, squid and shark. Check me out being more adventurous with my food, not a French fry or tin of spaghetti hoops in sight!
If you ever find yourself in Siem Reap, head for the famous backpackers bar Angkor What? A great place to meet people, have a cheap beer and a good dance in the street. Just avoid going to the ‘bathroom’.
After another eventful first night at the hostel – trying to put our mosquito nets up (we got there eventually) and hunting for the oddly located light switch (we gave up on this one and opted for eye masks) it was time to take a leaf out of Lara Crofts book and explore the temples.
Over two thousand years old, each temple was built in honour of a family member and is still a place of prayer for many monks and nuns.
It’s incredible how calm and tranquil it is inside the temples; a stark contrast to when you step outside the walls and are instantly mobbed by women and young children trying to sell things. I’m getting used to it now but I have to admit these are the times where I feel most uncomfortable. It’s hard to keep saying no to a six year old who is trying to sell bracelets, or a woman with a young baby on her hip, but you have to stand firm. Buy one thing, even for a dollar and soon you’ll be surrounded.
Five hours later we were templed out and headed back into town for some delicious Khmer food. Being here is like having a takeaway everyday!
Our second day of temple seeing ran less smoothly than the first. That day we well and truly displayed our lack of experience with Cambodia’s wet season. However getting stuck on the top of a temple with no shelter, no umbrella and not even a raincoat whilst the heavens opened is an experience I’ll never forget.
After being battered by the golfball-sized raindrops for fifteen minutes, we decided to whole heartily embrace the rain and carry on exploring.
We decided to use the last day of our temple pass for the three main temples: Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon.
Having heard that sunrise at Angkor Wat is one of ‘the things’ to do in Siem Reap, we hauled ourselves out of our comfy beds at 4am. That’s right 4am and headed to take our place outside the temple.
When the sun finally appeared at about 5:45 out came thousands of cameras, iPads and GoPros. It was like a competition of who had the longest arms, where’s Stretch Armstrong when you need him?! As the crowds cleared* we managed to get some pretty beautiful pictures.
*Being British I patiently waited my turn
We then carried on exploring…
Our last day in Siem Reap took us to the Cambodian Landmine Museum. Established by DIY de-miner and former child soldier Aki Ra, the small museum had an eye-opening display of mines, mortars, guns and weaponry. There’s even an onsite children’s home where Aki Ra has taken in fifteen children affected by land mines.
Proceeds from the museum are ploughed into mine-awareness campaigns and also go towards scholarships for the children that live there, in hope to give them a brighter future.
Until that day I’d never heard of Aki Ra or the amazing work he and his de-miner team does throughout Cambodia. He’s won the CNN Hero Award for his efforts in making his country safer for his people. If you ever get five minutes, Google his name. He’s quite an inspiration.
After the pretty deep morning at the museum and in a bid to relax me for the imminent 9-hour night bus journey to Phnom Penh we ended the day with a lovely foot scrub and massage. All for just $4. Can’t complain about that.
Stayed at Hak’s House Hostel. A bargain at only $4 a night! Not the best place to go to meet other backpackers, but the guest house is run by a very friendly and welcoming family. Including two lovely dogs!