I mentioned in my previous post that Cambodia wasn’t what we expected. It’s a very poor country. At least in Siem Reap, we saw many dirt roads and wooden shacks on stilts. If you’re one of the tourists who stay in a hotel in the center of town, you may not really notice the level of poverty. The area by the Angkor Night Market and Pub Street is littered with restaurants, shops and hotels.
Our hotel, however, was quite removed from the center of town. We had to drive over many dirt roads, huge potholes, past dozens of stray dogs, past many bareboned homes where residents killed time outside watching a small TV set or lying in their hammocks, past many hole-in-the-wall local businesses — hair salons, barber shops, massage parlors, seamstresses, mechanics, laundromats — to get to our resort. It was one of those experiences that just puts life into perspective. Especially the night we were riding back in the tuk tuk and a roach flew smack dab onto my chest! Will came to my rescue. But seriously. Our hotel even had literature warning against giving money to child beggars (or buying things from them), as it encourages the cycle of begging and keeps them from seeking a proper education. We had to turn down many children during our visits to the temples.
So, on to our favorite day in Cambodia. To visit Banteay Srei, we had to take the tuk tuk about an hour outside of Siem Reap. This ride gave us the chance to see the Cambodian countryside. We drove past many rice paddies (dried up, as the dry season had just ended) and lots of farmland, skinny cows and chickens, past kids playing in the dirt pushing soda cans with sticks, past locals relaxing next to their cows outside. There was a curious sensation of being near the ocean and feeling the ocean breeze, even though we were nowhere near the ocean. Beautiful, lush, serene. Take a look:
Banteay Srei is unique in that it’s built out of red sandstone and it’s of a much smaller scale than many of the other temples in the Angkor area. Nothing too “special” in our opinion, other than it’s really old (10th century) and has some pretty cool monkey sculptures. It was a quick visit, but worth the long ride through the countryside.
Our last temple visit in Cambodia was definitely the cream of the crop. Just outside Angkor Thom is Preah Khan, which sits on 138 acres and is surrounded by its own protective moat. What made this place so much fun is that it is literally falling apart. While Ta Prohm had the giant trees growing all over it, Preah Khan has remained even more untouched and you can see the large boulders and stones scattered all over the ground. Many sections of the temple had support beams that made you wonder…should we be walking under here? Of course not! But we’re not in America. Its many hallways and rooms and crumbling facades made for some really fun exploring. The videos below give you a better sense:
What an amazing place! Preah Khan wasn’t originally on our list of temples to visit, but we’re so glad we checked it out.
On our way home that day, we got to experience some of the evening traffic around the Angkor area. Many locals and tourists headed to the various temples (mainly Angkor Wat) to see the sunset.
We rounded out our travels in Siem Reap with an evening at Phare, The Cambodian Circus. Don’t be mistaken — it’s not your usual circus with animals, and, it’s definitely for tourists. I think every single person in the audience was a foreigner. That said, who cares?! It was highly entertaining and gave us a break from walking around temples in the blazing sun. Phare has an interesting story, too. The performers are young adults who come from the streets, orphanages and struggling homes, many of whom were affected by the Khmer Rouge regime and the war and are now finding healing through the arts. (You can read more about them here.)
The show was a mix of high-energy theater, acrobatics and dance, and we were really impressed by their skill. You can tell they’re very dedicated to their craft and must practice a lot. Unfortunately, since it was dark under the tent, I didn’t get many great videos. I did record the bats flying around outside the circus, though….!
We really loved our time in Cambodia. The people were very humble and friendly, the food was delicious — lots of fresh fruit and fruit drinks, tasty curries — the sights were awe-inspiring, and we liked the rural feel.
Other memories that will stay with us from Siem Reap include the traffic signals that displayed a countdown (instead of three lights), the tuk tuk drivers taking naps in hammocks inside their tuk tuks, entire families riding on scooters/motorcycles, monkeys running wild alongside the road, people using curved tree branches as swings/hammocks, the “pan cake” (aka crepes) vendors at the Night Market, the many frogs and salamanders around our hotel, the sounds of the cicadas, and getting used to bowing with our hands together to say thank you.
Make sure to see more photos (believe it or not) that we took in Cambodia.
Up next: Southeast Asia vacation Part 2: Bangkok.