Siem Reap – ancient, exotic, and other worldly

After a long 14-hour flight from Toronto to Dubai, I had a 5 hour “break” before I head out to my first solo trip in a long while.  Must have been the most productive 5 hours I ever had; did a quick unpack and repack, caught up on work emails, got the washing machine pipe fixed (it leaked while we were on our vacation and our apartment was flooded), set up the AC (to dry up the floors after I wiped), watered the plants, took out the garbage, cleaned up a bit, backed up my photos, and had a quick snack.  Then, I drove out to the airport for another 7-hour flight to Siem Reap with an hour stop in Bangkok and another 45-minute delay from Dubai (did see a few good movies like the gifted, and Kong Island) …hectic much?!

Amazing gem of a boutique hotel – and the delicious food

I am finally resting in the hotel in Cambodia and do not by any means intend to leave it until tomorrow.  It doesn’t help that I really miss the misses and the little guy, but might as well enjoy the adventure since I am here.  As I write this, the monsoon rains are in full swing, but coming into the hotel the weather was perfect.  So far the hotel is much smaller than I thought (more of a motel) but the room is spacious, clean and comfortable – and wifi is everywhere which is great, so no complaints.  People seem very nice and looking forward to the breakfast tomorrow and the outing to the temples (which I set up with the tuk tuk driver from the airport) – waking up at an early 7:00 am to go see the temples around 8:00 before the mad tourist rush.  Looking forward to it!  (Green Empire Hotel, Siem Reap, 5:30pm Wednesday).

So much happened today that looking back at the pictures it seems like ages since the first pictures were taken.   Started off with a tiring wake-up, ending what seemed like an 18-hour nap, after an exhausting plane adventure that started in Toronto.  Had a delicious chicken fried rice for breakfast and a plate of fruits.  Then off I went with my tuk tuk driver (Ha or Haa) to get the temple tickets.  The place was quite developed – more so than expected – and ATM there provided some additional cash that I would need for the hotel, but given that tomorrow we are going a bit of a way’s away I will need to get more cash just in case, but ATMs are everywhere here.

Headed first to Ta Prohm temple and the sun was still comfortable, the temple was so atmospheric among the jungle and lush greenery, felt like the ruins from the Jungle Book when Mowgli meet King Louise of the monkeys. Took so many pictures and took my time in appreciating the scenery. On the way out I did give in to buy a guide book which is far more superior than the one I had, but it attracted more souvenir sellers to be aggressive; not a good idea. Then off to Angkor Thom; walked around the incredible Bayan, which up to now is my favourite Angkor palace to visit.  The face towers were amazing and the scale was massive, the interior carvings often get lost and overlooked because the outside is so grand.  Managed to visit the reclining Buddha temple (Baphuon), Elephant terrace, and the Phimeanakas.  Here the sun became more strong and started to tire me out, especially with all the walking due to the size of it.  But after getting a bottle of water was ready for Angkor Wat, which was as incredible as expected.  I think had I done it before Angkor Thom I would have been more in awe.  Still, the reliefs and the design was amazing – the causeway was long to get to it, but I’m sure I felt that way partly due to the searing sun. At this point I was starting to feel tired.  It was kind of cool they had a temporary floating causeway while they fixed the original, felt like I was walking on a water mattress.

Angkor – as exotic as it gets

I then headed to a souvenir shop which I am sure was over priced, but still got a few interesting nick-knacks such as a 3d elephant puzzle my boy, a couple of silver earrings for Mom and the wifey, as well as a coconut purse for my niece.  Managed to get myself a beaded bracelet that is easy to wear, made of wood that apparently cools the body.  After making a quick stop to buy the Kulen temple tickets for tomorrow’s excursion (which should be interesting given it will probably by a 2 hour motorbike drive – not s tuk tuk) apparently I have to hang on for dear life to the driver, in steep terrain, to this waterfall that’s a “must-see”.   Came back eager to eat but managed to over-order (apparently their soups are full on curries with rice, not the soup as we know it) but the flavour of both the Khamer Curry and the Cambodian Fish were amazing and having to eat them while the monsoon hit the hotel (I was safely chowing down under the terrace roof while the rain hit).  Topped off the meal with a warm banana coconut dessert (and two sprites due to creeping dehydration).  Had a shower, rested, and despite seeing a gecko in the room nothing to report – relaxing the body before tomorrow’s full day.  (Green Empire Hotel, Siem Reap, 8:18pm Thursday).

The day started as usual with prepping and cleaning up myself to look somewhat presentable but not looking like a shmuck tourist.  Had a nice Asian chicken noodle breakfast with a fruit plate and off we went.  We headed to the Kulen falls area with a good hour and a half to two hours on the road.  the way there took us through neon green rice paddies, uphill forested mountains, towns and little villages all on a motorbike (the first I think for me) sitting in the back seat.  All-in-all comfortable but had the occasional numb foot, pulled hamstring or sore hands since I was holding onto the motorbike’s side bottom racks, wasn’t too comfortable holding the driver’s waste for that long.

The walk to the falls was worth it, nice and cool on a hot day.  It was a nice change seeing some lush green nature after so many archaeologically focused trips.  The falls weren’t massive, but it was still quiet a beautiful site to see and an experience to have.  We went off to see the reclining Buddha afterwards, up a temple on a steep hill built around the stone carving of the Buddha.  Just before that we stopped by the 1,000 lingas river (which I still didn’t really get, wasn’t really special as far as I can see, maybe I’m missing something).

Beautiful Kulen falls, Benteay Srei, reclining Buddha, and lots of scenery

On the way back to Siem Reap we stopped by one last temple – the Banteay Srei Temple which is apparently more “feminine” than the others.  A beautiful temple with much more intricate carvings, the walk through the temple wasn’t long but the sun’s searing heat was strong at the point.  Having kids endlessly hound me didn’t help either (my mistake for buying a card from one of them – which automatically sent them all in an aggressive frenzy around me on the way in, and on the way back – was very annoying actually and the only time it happened here).  Another somewhat unpleasant memory in the temple happened as I was walking out in the garden area; a young girl was on the floor slowly rising towards me in what I can only describe as a zombie like walk, upon closer look I found she was wearing a shoulder high hair wig, a fedora, socks with flip flops and her face obviously scarred by either acid or burning.  I assume she is a burn victim but her weird cat like sounds were quiet disturbing, as I looked her in the eye I kept walking (it was a secluded forest trail which made it creepier), she wasn’t aggressive but I was really uncomfortable telling her I don’t have money as I passed her by.  I couldn’t resist though, her demeanour and look really disturbed me so I walked back and gave her a $2 bill, at that point she was back on the ground and her fedora off on the floor to accept money.

Following that disturbing memory and the annoying kids hounding me again as I walked out, we ended up in a nice Khmer restaurant where I had a delicious coconut chicken curry (very similar to Thai food but much milder and not spicy at all).  I had invited the driver to have lunch as well and had a good talk (half of which got lost in translation. To be honest the whole time he would talk to me and I can barely make out a few words, driving on the loud bike didn’t help in hearing him so I just ok’ed many things that weren’t meant to be ok’ed I’m sure.  We stopped by a park where we saw tons of bats on trees, very interesting to hear them and see them being active in daylight.

Finally made it back after the driver showed his appreciation to the additional tip I gave him, much deserved by him.  Now resting to head off tomorrow back to the routine of Dubai and for a shortened week.   I found Siem Reap and Cambodia in general cleaner and more straight forward than expected.  The food was delicious and the people somewhat friendly but not cynical; very trustworthy actually.  Exotic and a rich history, enjoyed it very much and felt I was in another world for sure. However, happy I didn’t come with family – would have made it challenging, especially in savouring the temples which were so huge.  Definitely an excellent experience and lots of memories etched in my mind.  (Green Empire Hotel, Siem Reap, 4:03pm Friday).

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