Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cambodia, Part 2

Day  4 (Tuesday)

Today we set out on a bus to Siem Reap, the town by the famous Ankor Wat temples! This is the place that me and Linds have been waiting to go to. We plan on spending at least a week there, seeing all the temples, and doing some bird watching  (they have some amazing stork species that aren't found in other places of the world and the birding season has just started).

The bus was a bit grooling... the guidebook said 5-6 hours but it took us closer to 7 to get there. We reserved our tickets ahead of time at our hostel  and it was $6. When we boarded the bus, it was already pretty full. A nice older Khmer woman took our tickets and shooed the men sitting  in our seats for us. We sat next to her in the very back of the bus. I was surprised to see the bus had aircon but it had a hard time keeping up with the heat of the day and we were sweating for most of the ride.

We finally made it to Siem Reap at close to 7pm. A friend of mine that had traveled this way last year recommended us a place to stay and we shared a tuk-tuk to the hostel (and after arguing with the driver to give us a good price). Our hostel is called Garden Village and it is THE backpackers place to stay. They have beds and rooms ranging from $1 and up. It is definitely the cheapest place to stay in Siem Reap and has a great rooftop bar serving 50 cent beers.

Our room 
After settling in to our bungalow (and very native) room, we headed to the bar for food and a beer. The place was really bustling and we were pretty tired so we didn't stay long. It was the most Westerners I have been around in over 2 years so I was a little overwhelmed at first but I think it will be a great place to meet fellow travelers and share tips.

Day 5 (Wed)

Today we wanted to get a better feel for the town of Siem Reap, especially since we arrived last night and weren't able to get our bearings around town.

We woke up and headed to the rooftop bar for some coffee and breakfast. We also switched the t.v. on to CNN to watch for the election results! After breakfast they still hadn't even announced the winner for Florida and we were getting anxious to get out into town so we left to rent bikes from the hostel. Bike rentals are $1 a day and definitely the best way to get around! Tuk-tuk drivers are constantly harassing you and trying to charge you extra but when we are riding around on the bikes, no one bothers us. It's also really flat around town and perfect for biking!

We first went to the Sam Veasna Center for Wildlife to look into reserving a day of bird trekking. The treks are kinda expensive (definitely more than our $30 a day budget) but we knew before coming that it was something we had to do! (Especially Linds, since she is a photographer and bird enthusiastic - check out her facebook page: Flyway Photography! -

The bird trekking is cheaper if you go with other groups and it just so happen that a couple wanted to go tomorrow and was on a waiting list to see if others could join. So we made our reservations and the center planned to pick us up at our hostel at 5:30 am for a day of birding!

Next we biked around the town, just taking it all in. It is much slower paced and sleepier town than Phnom Penh. It feels almost like a beach town due to all the tourist, tourist shops and restaurants and cafes (though there is no beach here).

Wandering the streets.
We decided to go to the Angkor Museum next since it is suppose to be a good introduction to the temples. Admission is $12 but we got a $1 off coupon at the ticket booth going to Angkor Wat (which is just a few kilometers outside the main part of Siem Reap).  It was nice to walk around in the aircon after biking in the hot day and the museum is pretty organized, though we realized that it is probably better to skip most of the reading sections  on the wall and just watch the short videos they have posted in each section of the museum. It was a great introduction to the history of Angkor Wat and the transition from Hinduism to Buddhism in Cambodia.

After the museum we headed to a place for lunch called Butterfly Gardens, which is a sustainable company that employs and trains local youth in the restaurant and tourism business. The food was fresh and delicious! I had the chicken, tomato and pineapple sweet and sour soup and Linds had the Khmer curry and our surrounding was a beautiful garden filled with butterflies (hence the name). After lunch we headed back towards the hostel. We stopped in the rooftop bar to see the election results and I won't try to make this blog in anyway political, but we were very pleasantly surprised!

After having a beer we decided to walk the three or so blocks from our hostel to get some snack foods for our day of birding the next day (it includes all our meals but it's always nice to have your own snacks!) Then we had an early dinner at the hostel. I had what is probably the Cambodian country dish, Amok - steamed chicken or fish cooked in coconut milk and herbs - VERY tasty! As we headed to bed early for an early rise, the front desk informed us that we had a call. It was the Center for Wildlife calling to inform us that the couple we were suppose to go with on the birding trek cancelled their plans... This is a bit of a bummer but we decided to just stay on a waiting list for the time being and see if there will be others wanting to go on a trek later this week (otherwise we have to pay even more for a "private" trek...)

We decided to still plan on an early day and head to the temples tomorrow. Angkor Wat here we come!

Day 6 (Thurs)

Wow what a day! We woke up around 4am to bike to Angkor Wat in time to see the sunrise, a must-do for  everyone who comes here!

Despite getting a little turned around in the dark on our bikes (thankfully we both had our headlamps!) we made it to the temple just in time for sunrise. It was a beautiful scene as the sun slowly rose over the majestic temples. Pictures are the best way to explain...

Angkor Wat at sunrise.
After getting all our pictures of the sunrise, we stopped to get a cup of coffee at one of the food stands. All of the prices of food and water are doubled in Angkor Wat so we were pretty glad we still had the snacks packed that we had planned for our birding trek. We  just snacked on those for the rest of the day but we couldn't really get around not buying the water, especially since we were getting pretty hot and sweaty from biking around Angkor.

We set out to explore the main attraction first, Angkor Wat. For those who aren't familiar with Angkor, it is a    small town of centuries old temples built by Cambodian kings of the past. Angkor Wat was the first built in the area and remains the largest Hindu temple complex in the world. Built in the early 12th century, it was originally made as a temple for worshiping the Hindu god Vishnu. Later Cambodia transitioned to Buddhism, and the temple continues to be used for Buddhism practices today.

As Linds got side-tracked into photoing local birds, I headed into the temple. I tried to steer clear of the large tourist groups and managed to find myself walking along along the long corridors. Every inch of the sandstone complex is covered in carvings, some depicting stories of Hindu gods and others just floral decoration. As I walked around the impressive temple complex, taking picture after picture of stone carving, my mind wondered what it must have been like those hundreds of years ago as it was built and used in its prime. It is so amazing to walk the corridors of a building so old and majestic.

After Angkor Wat, we rode around the complex a  few kilometers away to another site I was desperate to see, Ta Prohm.  You may not know the name but you probably would recognize the structure from scenes in Tomb Raider. It is a smaller temple complex where nature seems to have taken over again. Large trees have grown over parts of the temple, their roots partly taring apart and partly keeping together the stone ruins. It is breathtakingly beautiful.

After Ta Prohm, we were pretty spent for the day. So we biked around the complex once more, planning our stops for our next day's visit (we bought the 3 day pass, which can be used over the course of a week).

As we returned to Siem Reap, we stopped for some much enjoyed ice cream at The Blue Pumpkin, where we both enjoyed some coconut ice cream cones! Yum!

After getting back to the hostel, we showered  and took a much needed nap. We awoke to some pretty good news too. The Center for Wildlife called us  back and have a group of four who are planning on going on the bird trek tomorrow! So we will be going along with them, which is even better since that means we will pay less too!

A great ending to an amazing day! I am so overwhelmed by the awesome temples and ruins of Angkor and I am excited for our bird trek tomorrow! What an amazing trip so far and there is so much more to come!

Well, my stomach is letting me know its hungry again so we will go out in search of some food and probably have another early night to prepare for our bird trek tomorrow (though probably not until we have enjoyed some 50 cent draft beers at the rooftop!)


to be continued....

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