I can’t quite pin down at what point a visit to Angkor Wat Temple became a life’s goal, but it has been a dream in the making for well over 15 years. After yet another long, arduous boat journey, we arrived in Siem Reap mid-afternoon.
We were taken to an OK place for lunch and then set off for Angkor Wat Temple. I almost teared up several times as I realized that one of my longest dreams was finally coming true. I had absolutely no idea the complex was so large!! We spent about an hour and a half there (being rushed place to place by Vana to get the ‘best photos’). I appreciated it for the most part, but I also don’t want to have photos that look like everyone else’s!
After touring Angkor Wat Temple, we went up Phnom Bakheng to see the sunset (along with a few hundred other tourists). Though it is certainly not on my must-see list, it was a decent view and a very interesting atmosphere. If you choose to go, make sure you head up early to avoid the lines and to claim your spot!
Afterward, we went to check-in to the Sokha Roth Hotel. I wanted to cry again because we were definitely ending our trip on a very very high note. The place was STUNNING! Very clean, lovely staff and good food available in the restaurant! Oh, and there was a pool! We were completely exhausted after the long day, so we ate dinner at the hotel and called it a night.
The next morning we met Vana at 8:30 to start touring again. The second day, we visited Angkor Thom ( the ancient capital of the Khmer empire), the South Gate, Bayon, Royal Enclosure, Phimeanakas and the Elephant Terrace. We also stopped at Ta Prohm and Bantaey Srei. We barely scratched the surface of all that there is to see in the area and I constantly felt like there wasn’t enough time to truly explore each of the sites. Each place had its own personality, its own history and therefore its own appeal. You could easily spend a couple hours at each one before feeling like you got to really see it. On our way back to Seim Reap, we also visited the Landmine Rehabilitation center and orphanage/school.
After a decent lunch outside of Angkor Wat Temple, we went back to the hotel and relaxed by the pool for the afternoon. Later, we met a few friends for dinner at another charity restaurant called the New Leaf Book Cafe (located super close to Pub Street). The food was good, fresh and cheap! Dinner and drinks only cost us about Afterwardrwards, we went out for a couple of cocktails before I headed home in hopes of catching an early night sleep (ha ha).
The next day was my last full day in Cambodia–boooo! I woke up and grabbed breakfast before being picked up by Vana at 9am. He dropped me off at Angkor Wat and I asked to be picked up at noon–which was absolutely not enough time! I should have taken a Tuk Tuk to the other areas, but my stubbornness prevailed and I lost 45min in the long walk to some of the other sites. I still got to see a few things before heading back to the hotel. I did see some elephants (tame), a wild boar and several monkeys and monkey babies!
After getting back to the hotel, we relaxed by the pool and had lunch, taking in as much sun as our skin could handle. We packed up all our gear before we head out to the night market and dinner on our last night….
The Night Market and Pub Street in Siem Reap are amazing. The market actually has more artisan shops and less of the ‘flea market’ type stuff in it. We definitely did some good shopping there. We didn’t have any luck finding the specific restaurant we were looking for, so we settled on a local food stall called Steven Corner. It was definitely in the top 3 places I ate while in Cambodia… I had 2 chicken kebabs (at 75c each) and some stir fried pak choy. Both were fresh, flavorful and cooked to perfection. The food was very inexpensive (about $4pp with a beer), ambiance was lively and the staff very friendly. It was a great final meal in Cambodia.
After dinner, we walked around the night market a bit more and took a stroll down the super-busy Pub Street-they had the road closed off and there were people everywhere! We weren’t quite ready to go back to the hotel (and acknowledge that our last night was over), so we headed over to the Yellow Submarine for a drink. This place was obviously dedicated to the Beatles (though we didn’t hear any of their songs inside)-again, the ambiance stunning and the staff were lovely. My friend Kiara and I really wished we could take back a bit of Cambodia and Vietnam to South Korea with us. We were both very sad to leave and were having a hard time thinking of things we were looking forward to back in Korea. After our drink ($1 draft beer), we called it a night and took a Tuk Tuk back to our hotel.
The three 1/2 days we spent at the Angkor Wat Temple complex was absolutely not enough time for me and I am already mentally planning a trip to go back during the monsoon season, where the fields will be lush and the temples will have a lovely moss growing on them. I met up with a friend one evening who told me he knew of a photographer who had been to Siem Reap 28 times and was still finding new areas to explore and photograph. I was not surprised in the least and knew that no matter how many times I made it back to Angkor Wat, it would never quite be enough.
During my final few moments in Cambodia, I found myself tearing up (yet) again… I know that I can always plan additional visits, but there seems to be something so final about achieving one of your life-long dreams…. Almost like you have to say goodbye to the dream and move on—when you really don’t want to. I found this place absolutely magical…