Well, we’ve checked another continent off the world travel list!
We’re freshly home from our month of travel in Cambodia and Vietnam! Hard to believe that we were able to travel for a month – this was by far our longest trip. Also hard to believe it’s already over! I’ve decided to channel my inner travel blogger and split up the posts by location.
First up, Siem Reap!
But before we get there, I would like to acknowledge the fact that I checked off one of my lifetime bucket list items: flying on a double-decker plane!
Now, I’ll be honest. We didn’t really get to take advantage of the double-decker action on account of you need to be rich and were in that ‘economy saver’ section. But I did see the stairs that went up to the business and first class SUITES (yes, first class gets a suite and a shower) and we had to go up *count ’em* 4 STEPS to get to the bathroom, so that’ll do. I was also thrilled to get to fly Emirates since they are constantly rated as one of the top airlines in the world, and their flight attendants are just so so beautiful! Shane was thrilled because it was the first time when economy legroom was a non-issue. They were a little stingy on the airplane booze, but I guess that’s what you get when the airline’s country of origin (UAE) isn’t a fan of alcohol.
And that concludes my professional review of Emirates Airlines. (hah)
So! We flew from Amsterdam to Dubai, then Dubai to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. From there, we needed to take an overnight bus to Siem Reap, where we would be meeting up with the rest of the group. For posterity & clarity I’ve mapped out our trip, and will be adding it progressively!
Now, having just landed in a new country with basically no sleep we decided that we would forgo public transportation to the bus station and opted for a cab instead. Walk up to the cab, show him the address and the bus company name. “Ok! ok! I know!” he says.
He did not know. We were dropped off at a market about 20 min walking distance from where we actually needed to be. Solid start. So, we start walking. Luckily we picked up a SIM card at the airport…
We’re walking, we’re chatting, there appears to be no bus stop in sight. Then, out of the blackness came!…
The sketchiest bus stop I’ve encountered (thus far – there were others, more on that later). A quick text to the group chat with the above photo – “uhh, we’re here. Hope we see you in 6-8 hours!”
And what did you learn when you’re a kid?
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.
It ended up being an AWESOME experience and made us wish we were able to take advantage of overnight busses more on the trip! The bus itself was very nice. As you boarded you were asked to take your shoes off (to keep it clean) and given a bag to store them. Everyone had a bunk with a cubby at the end for storage. There were power outlets, free WiFi, a blanket, pillow, and bottle of water. Of course, it’s not luxury sleeping but it was only $15 per person for our “hotel” and transport. Giant Ibis, ya did good!
We reached Siem Reap around 5am and luckily our fantastic hotel let us check in as soon as we arrived!
Now, funny story on the way to the hotel. As we would come to find out, tuk-tuk drivers are EVERYWHERE and very persistent. It makes sense, it’s their lively-hood, but as a Westerner who isn’t used to being haggled, it can feel pretty aggressive at 5am on limited sleep. We managed to walk out of the bus station with minimal “no thank you”, but about halfway to the hotel, we were stopped by a tuk-tuk driver asking where we were going, and if we wanted a ride.
In these situations, I love to defer all conversation to Shane. I mean, yay strong independent woman and all, but I am a sucker and a terrible negotiator. So, the guy asks if we want a ride, and when we say no he says “Are you planning to see Angkor Wat?”. Well, yes. “Do you have a driver?” We’ve been there for all of 10 min, so that was a no. After some more back and forth (“We’re meeting up with more people so we can’t decide now!”), we’ve given this random tuk-tuk driver our hotel name and a time to meet that evening to discuss tours. (Sorry Dad, didn’t tell you that part when we were there on purpose! lol) We decided if he showed up, we would hear him out.
Turns out, he did show up and he gave us a great deal and a GREAT tour of Angkor Wat! He is a tuk-tuk driver, but working on becoming a certified tour guide. *Faith in people restored*
As you can see, we started out this trip as a group of 6: me & Shane, my sister (Sis) & Terry, and Michelle & Steve (friends from grad school). I have to say, I am beyond proud of us for making this trip happen. Shane & I had always known we wanted to take a big trip after he submitted his Ph.D. thesis, and Sis and Terry had independently been planning for their year of travel, but the group idea was born over a year ago when we met up with Michelle & Steve in Venice. SEA 2018 started as a great idea, became an anthem, and turned into a (long-awaited) reality! So, the first day was spent anxiously waiting for the whole group to arrive!
First up on the agenda,
Sunrise at Angkor Wat!
Up at 4am, out the door and in the tuk-tuk with a packed breakfast by 4:30am with a one-track mind for the Angkor Wat ticket office. A lot of online research suggested to get your tickets the night before to maximize the chances of you getting the best sunrise spot, but ticketing here is quite strict! You have to be physically present to buy the ticket because they take a webcam photo of you and add it to your pass. Since everyone was arriving at different times the night before, we weren’t able to do this. It didn’t matter because our driver was on it, and made sure we were the first in line!
Now, don’t get me wrong, the sunrise was beautiful. But all I had heard before we came was how sunrise at Angkor Wat was ‘life-changing’ and ‘top 5 things the’ve ever seen’. I just didn’t have that feeling. Perhaps it was too built-up beforehand. Perhaps it was the hoards of people enjoying this spiritual sunrise with me. If I were to do it again, I would skip the sunrise, or at least skip the sunrise over the main viewing area and head to a less occupied area of the temple.
Which brings me to my second point, call it naivety (and poor googling) but I (and I think the others as well) didn’t realize that Angkor Wat is just one of 50 temples in the region. Your pass (with your picture) gets you into all of these. And, Angkor Wat itself is huge! You could easily spend half a day just walking around this complex. We spent only about an hour here, and then headed on for 2nd breakfast and our next temple.
Now side-note. See this lovely monk down here. You can be blessed by this monk. Sis and I wanted to be blessed by the monk and we MISERABLY failed. Long story short, don’t be an asshole – take off your shoes if you step on any mats or you will get some serious dirty looks from a monk….
Ya live ya learn I guess. It was so physically painfully awkward (and we felt terribly guilty) that we didn’t make that mistake twice!
Angkor Thom & Bayon Temple
Angkor Thom is the largest complex inside the Angkor archeological park, and the Bayon Temple is located inside it. I knew I was going to like it just from the entrance…
Honestly, I liked Angkor Thom better than Angkor Wat and that’s probably due to all the faces! They are so striking and definitley the first thing you notice as you walk up.
I’m not going to lie. After this, the temples start to get a little blurry. With so much to see it’s hard to keep them straight! So, please enjoy the following pictures of “the pyramid one”, “the Laura Croft Tomb-raider one” (which was actually in the movie, if you’re a fan!), and “the one we saw after lunch”. I apologize, temples, for not properly documenting your names.
Sis and TB were SO excited! WOW!
Remember our tuk-tuk driver? The one I said who was working towards becoming a certified tour guide? For our final stop of the day, he took us to a surprise location, a location he said really meant a lot to him.
We ended up at the main Buddhist Pagoda in Siem Reap!
As it turns out, our tuk-tuk driver (who I’m just realizing we forgot to get a picture with!) was a monk for 2 years. But, alas, he fell in love! So, he decided to not be a monk anymore and got married instead. Regardless, his time as a monk meant a lot to him, and he was very eager to share his knowledge about Buddhism and various aspects of the pagoda. In Cambodia, 90% of the population is Buddhist and most want to become a monk (men and women). In a country racked with poverty (more on that later), to become a monk means that your day to day life is free – you’re given a place to live and food to eat. And, of course, the monks give back to their communities and make personal sacrifices; it’s a highly respected and coveted position.
So remember the monk that Sis and I offended with our shoes? Well, everyone else who (successfully) went to him for a blessing received a bracelet, in which he tied on your arm. Steve and Michelle went together, Michelle’s bracelet was on her left arm, Steve’s on his right. Later in the day, we saw another pagoda with monks performing blessings. Terry and Shane went together to be blessed since Sis and I was too humiliated to try again. As we were watching, we noticed that they were all just cracking up! We, of course, had no idea why. Shane came out with a bracelet on his right arm, and Terry on his left.
Well, it turns out, the bracelets have a meaning! I mean, of course they have meaning – for good luck or good health, etc – but when the monks give you the bracelet, as we learned from our tuk-tuk driver, the men get it on their right arm, and the women on the left.
Therefore, the women who blessed Shane and Terry assumed they were a couple, since Shane got a bracelet on his right arm and Terry on his left. Now if that’s not brother-in-law bonding then I don’t know what is!
And with that, our tour and first 24 hours in Cambodia was complete!
Next up, the floating village of Kompong Khleang!