We made it to Cambodia! Against all odds we defeated the long-feared border crossing and had to feed only a few more dollars into the corrupt system. We should have learned from earlier bus experiences but we were once again naive to believe the bus company when they said the whole trip would take 6 hours. After 8 hours (including the time at the border), we were only 60km away from our starting point… Yay, only 350 to go! We still made it to Siem Reap (a city in western Cambodia), about 5 hours later than promised.
Siem Reap is the base camp to visit the famous temple remains of Angkor Wat. Together with two Dutch girls, we found a tuk tuk driver that would take us around the temple city for the day (forget the bicycle, it’s 3000°C out there with 200% humidity). We knew that the entrance ticket wouldn’t be cheap, but they decided to increase the prices a month ago, so we became the happy owners of a 3-day pass after spending the modest sum of 62$ each (but hey, it includes a sexy picture of yourself!).
But let’s talk about the real thing: Angkor Wat (literally “Temple City”) is an absolute wonder of architecture and history, and deserves to be on your bucket list of things to do once in your lifetime. Angkor once was the world’s biggest city (at the peak of its glory around 600 years ago – at least that’s the information they feed you there) and spreads over 400 km2. It was abandoned after being sacked by the Thais in the 15th century, and “rediscovered” by a French explorer in 1861 (although we’ve read different versions of the story, and part of the city might still have been in use over the centuries).
We spend two days exploring the ruins, assisted by our friendly tuk-tuk drivers that take us from one ruin to another. It’s almost unbearably hot, but the driver has endless amounts of water in his coolbox. Between each temple, we look forward to the next short ride to get some fresh wind and cool down a bit.
As we explore the ruins, climb up extremely steep stairs (about 70% of inclination, the world’s scariest according to CNN), and desperately look for some touristless pictures opportunities, we can’t stop thinking about how all of this was built (more than a thousand years ago for some structures), how it looked like when inhabited, and how it must have felt discovering parts of the forgotten city just over 150 years ago. It is also fascinating to see how the jungle has taken over some of the sites, how trees drilled their roots deep into the stone. In some places, it looks like the thick roots have instead helped slowing down the crumbling process by providing support to the heavy stones.
We played Indiana Jones, looking for hidden clues in the intricate carvings on the walls, hoping to find some forgotten treasures behind just another stone wall. We also visited the famous “Tomb Raider Temple” that featured in the 2001 movie with Angelina Jolie. Not the most impressive one to our taste, especially that it is overrun by tourist masses, including Chinese tourist that always want us on their pictures.
On the second day, we decided to get up early (means 4:30 am) for the sunrise… At least that was the plan. In practice, we somehow managed to oversleep and woke up at 6 only. After throwing all of our stuff in our backpacks (we had to check out before going), we rushed out and found a tuk-tuk that would take us to the temple city for another day of exploring but along a “less touristic” path (this is relative, considering the million+ visitors every year). We had given up on the idea of seeing the sunrise, but when we arrived at Angkor Wat, the sun had just started showing the tip of its nose, blessing us with a beautiful view over the most iconic temple of Angkor (little victory dance for waking up 1.5h later than the 2000 tourists squeezed in front of the temple since 5am). Yes we were not alone, so we’re also adding a picture to show you what it looks like in reality 😉
But nevermind the other tourists, as this day we took a different path, and visited the less touristy temples. It was great, as we were almost alone! If anyone is going to Angkor Wat, we’d really recommend to do the “big tour” in addition to the usual tour, and to go early in the morning!
Finally, let’s talk about food! For our first days in Cambodia, we wanted to experience a some specialties. So here’s a few common dishes that we tried out (pictures don’t look fancy, but street food stalls are often the tastiest 😉 ):