Our journey into Cambodia from Laos was the most disorganised and miserable trip yet. Ugh. But don’t worry! I shall resist the urge to rant about it this time. We arrived into Siem Reap bus station around 8pm and all we wanted to do was rest in our hotel cus we were exhausted. As soon as we climbed out of the minivan, several drivers accosted us imploring us to go with them. One young driver was particularly persistent and we eventually agreed to let him drive us to the hotel for $5. We loaded our stuff into the tuk tuk and sat in the back. However before he would leave, he gave us a hard sell trying to get us to commit to letting him take us around Angkor Wat (the prime attraction in Cambodia) the next day.
We were kind of on our guard at this point. So many people in Asia beleaguer you for your money and to go with them on tours you just naturally become rather reluctant to say yes to any of them. In this situation though, if we wanted to get to our hotel before midnight we would have to agree to at least meeting up with him the next day to discuss our potential tour. Our patience was run quite thin, but finally we arrived at our hotel. To be honest, it wasn’t the best introduction to Cambodia.
The next day we recuperated from our disastrous bus journey. We did some laundry, ate some fairly cheap food and had a look around town. It was super touristy which was ok (a bit of civilisation was welcome after rough and ready Laos) and there were several attractions available, although to be honest we were just in Siem Reap for Angkor Wat and weren’t fussed seeing anything else. We met with our driver Ronnie again and agreed to a two day tour around the temple complex, starting with a sunrise over the largest temple (also named Angkor Wat) the following morning.
We got up at 4:30am and found Ronnie waiting for us outside the hotel. We bought our entry tickets (a rather pricey $40 each for a 3 day pass) and made our way to the temple. Now, we were painfully aware that sunrise over Angkor Wat is a bit of a cliché travel thing to do. Everybody does it… because you’d have to be stupid not to really. So we were unsurprised to arrive at this supposedly serene spot and see hundreds of other tourists already there. There were also plenty of locals trying to sell souvenirs, bottled water and selfie sticks (all prerequisites for any self respecting traveller).
The sunrise was… pretty, but I don’t think any more inspiring than any other sunrise would be. I think people expected the sky to dramatically flare up in a wild spectra of colours but it never did. It got gradually lighter and lighter… until it was light. Nothing amazing. We went off to explore inside the temple soon after while the majority of people stood outside waiting for something phenomenal to happen. We returned half an hour later and people were still there, gawking at the already risen sun. It was pretty funny really.
We spent the next few hours exploring different ruined temples. Now I know you don’t really care about the history of each one and that’s fine. Because I don’t actually know any of the history so I don’t have anything to tell you. Instead I’ll just put up some pretty pictures. Yay pictures!
My favourite temple was Preah Khan because we explored just after sunrise when the light was soft and the heat was manageable. This particular temple had numerous corridors you could explore, some of which that led to ruined courtyards where the roots of magnificent trees coiled around the rubble. There weren’t many other tourists at this time, and you could just about imagine yourself as an intrepid spelunker in a timeless era, which really was quite magical. That was, until you heard the sharp words of some old Chinese lady or the click of a camera shutter to bring you back from your reverie.
On our second day exploring the temples we visited Ta Prohm, aka the Tomb Raider temple (made famous in the Lara Croft film) which I was super excited about. All the iconic photos of Angkor Wat are taken here. It’s the place where nature has run wild and ancient trees seem to have made it their mission to conquer the ruins themselves. Unfortunately, predictably, like many must-see tourist destinations around the world, it wasn’t quite as amazing as I had hoped. There were too many people! Going round was almost like being part of a conveyor belt, lining up for the same photos as everyone else. It was quite tiresome. There wasn’t much joy in exploring by yourself because everywhere you looked was another stupid tourist. It was quite an amazing place… but we weren’t inclined to linger. Such a shame.
Our final stop was Angkor Wat again, and after seeing all the other temples we had a newfound respect for it because it really was huge. On our way there we found a load of monkeys messing about near to a small ruin and we had fun watching them, until one charged at Jake and sent him screaming.
After two days of spelunking, we were thoroughly templed out. We had seen most of the highlights and they had been awesome. Angkor Wat is a spectacular place and being there was quite magical.
We lingered in Siem Reap for a few days after finishing with the temples but didn’t achieve a lot. We checked out the markets and ate some food, none of which was especially memorable. We laid low in our room a lot because it was super nice and the heat outside was pretty punishing. To be honest, when it came to Cambodia, we were feeling pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. Besides Angkor Wat there wasn’t anything we were excited to see here, and because it turned out to be more expensive than we thought it’d be, our motivation to get out and explore was at an all-trip low. This lethargy unfortunately extended to our next destination as well, Phnom Penh.