Siem Reap is built up on the outskirts of the Angkor temples, with rows of market stalls along dusty roads with tuktuks and motorbikes racing by. Cy and I were lucky to have our friend, Cambodian archaeologist Piphal, as our guide. He explained the meanings of all the carvings and statuary as we explored temple after temple in the Angkor complex. Angkor Wat is astounding for its sheer size and artistry; Bayon for its famous four-sided stone faces and endless panels of bas reliefs; Ta Prohm for the filming of Tomb Raider, and Phimeanakas with its almost vertical stone steps. But my favorite was Preah Kahn. Cy and I arrived there late in the day, on our own without Piphal to show us around. The temple is only partially restored, with fallen bricks blocking some of the passages, and wooden scaffolding erected to keep the leaning walls from collapsing. At 5:30 a guard directed us to leave because the temple would be closing, but we continued on in awe of the intricate carvings and elaborate architecture. We soon found ourselves lost and alone in the maze of shadowy passageways with nightfall almost upon us. Quickening our pace, we raced through dark halls, turning back at each dead end and came to a courtyard opposite the side we came in. Ducking through doorway after doorway, we finally found ourselves back at the temple center, marked by a lone stupa, and were able to make our way back to the waiting tuktuk driver. Needless to say, we missed sunset at Angkor Wat, but the tuktuk ride out in the eerily still darkness was quite an experience.
The ancient ruins were by far the highlight of the trip, but we had a great time on our breaks from temple exploration as well. Our dirtbiking plan didn’t happen because when we got to the tour place they only had 250s and 400s. Way to heavy for me, and my feet couldn’t touch the ground. Instead we opted for a boat ride up the Tonle Sap to a mangrove forest and floating village. The village was entirely on stilts, with men, women, and children going about their business in little wooden boats. We got out at the school, where a little girl showed us around and tried to sell us school supplies to give to the kids. We also saw the Angkor Museum, rode an elephant through the gates of Angkor Thom, and fed the monkeys on the side of the road. I knelt down to look at the fattest monkey I ever saw, sitting Buddha-like, as people gawked and handed it bananas, and all of a sudden a little one climbed up my leg and sat in my lap, waiting patiently for a banana as I screamed in surprise. We also hiked up the River of a Thousand Linga, with stone carvings extending up the length of the streambed, perused the markets where they sell tarantulas, grasshoppers, and all sorts of yummy delicacies, got dirt cheap spa treatments just about every day, and saw an Apsara dance show in Pub Street, where the bars light up the night like Bangkok’s Khao San Road.
It was a 6 hour bus ride back to Phnom Penh, the Angkor temples fresh I my mind as we raced past rice fields dotted with thatched houses, the sun a bright red ball setting in the misty distance. Then another overnight in Bangkok, a quick stop in Taipei, and home sweet home. It will be good to finally sleep in my own bed tonight.
angkor, cambodia, siem reap, travel