Weekend Vibes: Country Hopping to Cambodia!

Weekend Vibes: Country Hopping to Cambodia!

“We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.” -J.K. Rowling

This is a few days late, but things were busy at work this week. Last weekend I flew to Cambodia for three days! On Saturday, when I originally drafted this, I had just finished eating breakfast at my hostel in Siem Reap. I asked two friends for their recommendation, as they just spent a week in Cambodia not too long ago, and they recommended Siem Reap Pub Hostel to me. What a great place! For $4/night and a pool, it doesn’t get much better than that!

Last Friday was absolutely fabulous! I took the day off from work to give myself a little extra time on a short weekend with so many things to do. My flight left Don Mueang Airport at 10am, and as it was an international flight, I had planned to give myself around three hours upon arrival at the airport. This was my first flight out of Don Mueang, and actually also my first time to the other airport in Bangkok. The reason I chose to fly out of DMK instead of BKK was that I found out you can take the train directly from Ayutthaya to the airport in just about an hour. This was much easier, faster, and cheaper than the ordeal it takes to get to BKK. I packed on Thursday night, woke up early, at 5am, on Friday morning, showered, got ready, and headed for the train station by six.

Originally it was my plan to take the ferry, but as it was early and I didn’t feel like walking all the way there, I decided to grab a motorbike taxi straight to the train station for convenience sake. I managed to arrive in perfect time, the train to Bangkok was at the station, I bought my ticket for eleven baht (like thirty cents), and hopped on the train as it was pulling out of the station. The train ride took just about an hour, and I arrived at Don Mueang just after 7am. In hindsight, this was a tad bit early, however I was playing it safe since I was flying internationally for the first time.

Everything was smooth sailing from there. My ticket to Cambodia cost $150, a pretty decent price for an international flight I think. The trip was a short, one-hour hop up and over the border from Thailand to Cambodia. I landed in Siem Reap just past eleven, got in line to get my visa, went through immigration, then customs, found a $2 (Cambodia uses the USD as currency) taxi to my hostel, and checked in around noon. One thing that was surprising was the need for a visa, for just a three day stay. I ended up having to pay $30 for a 30 day tourist visa, which I don’t really understand why, but oh well, definitely worth it in the end! Sixty bucks in visa costs for the chance of a lifetime, I’ll take it (I had already paid another $30 for my re-entry visa to get back into Thailand earlier in the week).

On my way from the airport to my hostel I met a lovely taxi driver, named Don, who was eager to help me enjoy my short stay in Siem Reap. After he dropped me off to check-in, we agreed that he would come back and pick me up at 12:45 to drive me around Angkor Wat for the day. As this was the true purpose of my visit, I saw no need to waste any time before visiting; shower, sleep and food could wait.

It turns out hiring a tuk-tuk driver is a really good way to see Angkor Wat. The temples (of course there are many, not just Angkor Wat itself) are about fifteen minutes from the city center in Siem Reap. Also, they cover a vast expanse of land area, therefore having a driver drop me off in front, wait, then take me onto the next temple was perfect.

As I mentioned, Angkor Wat is massive! When you buy your entrance ticket you even have the choice of a one, two, or seven day pass. I chose just a single day, which alone cost $20, but again it was well worth it to me. After I purchased my ticket, we drove to my first temple, of the five I visited on Friday. I started at the heart of it all and saw the Khmer masterpiece, which has been kept in quite pristine condition. This temple is nothing like the ruins in Ayutthaya, or even Sukhothai. It’s breathtaking from the moment you arrive.

There is an outer zone, which little did I know, once I finished my oohs and aahhs, and took a ton of pictures, I was in for even more of a surprise upon entry. The architecture at Angkor Wat is incredible. I was left wondering why such magnificent stone structures are no longer built today. It’s amazing to think about the engineering advances that were made, when structures like Angkor were built. Incredible!

 

Angkor Wat is a Buddhist temple, and entry is strictly monitored. As a sign of respect, you shouldn’t wear anything revealing. Further, admittance to go up to the top where amazing views await you, is monitored even more closely. There are attendants whose job it is to make sure you are properly dressed. No hats, covered shoulders, covered knees. I find it hard to describe in words what it’s like visiting these beautiful temples. All I can say is if ever you find yourself facing the opportunity to travel a bit through Southeast Asia, go! You won’t regret your decision in the slightest.

After Angkor I saw four more temples within the park grounds. In order from newest to oldest, I visited Bayon, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, and finally Pre Rup. At this point when I had finished my time at Angkor, I was very grateful to have a “guide” of sorts in my driver Don. He proved helpful in more ways than one.

First of all, I was about half-way through my hour and a half tour inside Angkor, when in true Southeast Asian style, the rains came in. Now I live in Oregon, went to college in Eugene, a town well-known for its rain, and grew up in Alaska. I’m certainly no stranger to the rain. But rain here is different. It can be clear, sunny skies one minute, and then mere seconds later, clouds cover the sky, the earth quakes with thunder, and lightening strikes across a dark sky.

Rain storms in Southeast Asia take it to a whole new level. In a matter of minutes rain is pouring down hard and fast, streets are flooding, there’s fierce thunder and bright lightening. Not so much that it’s frightening, not “run inside and take cover” levels, but as a true lover of thunder storms it’s a lot of fun really! However, it rains so quickly and intensely, that getting caught in the rain is a full-proof way to take a mid-day shower, despite having any plans to stay dry.

Now of all days and times to be unprepared for a nice rain storm, last Friday wasn’t the wisest choice on my part. Although I came to Cambodia well prepared, I had packed both my rain coat and umbrella, as I headed out from my hostel earlier in the day it was sunny and hot, I saw no reason for rain gear that day: clearly I was wrong…

Needless to say, thirty minutes into my visit at Angkor Wat the rains came. Now on one hand, this was no big deal. The moment it rains, and I mean immediately, street vendors approach you from every direction and offer you ponchos and/or umbrellas, for “just one dollar!” But chalk it up to principle I suppose, and because I had packed both those items, but unfortunately also left both of them at my hostel, I stood strong and firm in my, “Thanks, but no thanks” response. As it continued to pour, I was already soaked through; then I really saw no need, those items wouldn’t help me by magically making me dry at this point. No, I simply finished my tour of Angkor, wandered back to the entrance, and told vendor after vendor who approached me, “I’m not afraid of a little rain.” As they stared at me is disbelief and bewilderment, with a clear look of crazy on their faces, I simply smiled back and continued on my way.

Let me explain though, why I had to tell people that the rain “doesn’t scare me.” Excuse me while I make an overtly inappropriate, grand-generalization about a “group” of people, who will remain unnamed. Said “group” (encompassing only those who I’ve come into contact with thus far on my travels, I am not trying to judge people whom I’ve never met) are oddly afraid of the elements. For starters, they don’t like the sun, they walk around in one hundred degree heat, WITH humidity, covered almost completely from head-to-toe; carrying umbrellas too, so as to be sure to avoid any true exposure from the sun. I don’t know how they do it, just looking sometimes makes me melt inside…

However, if one considers their dislike for the sun, you may suppose that they welcome Mother Nature’s opposing force, in the rain. Nah, you’d be wrong if you made this assumption. When it rains, they rush to the nearest covered area, umbrellas conveniently already out, and the ponchos come on. You would think living in a place that gets such heavy rain, so much in fact, that one of their seasons is literally called “the rainy season” (you can forget spring, fall or winter over here…it’s summer all year long), that they might be slightly more accustomed to a “little rain.” Nah, it seems to me, as an outsider looking in, only briefly on this other way of life, that said “group” of people really just don’t care for the outdoors. It’s much safer inside, protected from the harsh elements.

[Like I said, that story could be viewed as highly offensive, and is far too general, please don’t read too much into or take it as fact. I am merely reflecting on what I have observed during my three months exploring various parts of Southeast Asia.]

Okay, now back to the temples. I mentioned that I visited five in total last Friday, each one older than the previous. I’ve got to say, while my overall impression from my entire day was that Angkor Wat is definitely worth the trip, my favorite temple by far, was Ta Phrom. I was in complete awe¬†over its beauty. Lonely Planet calls it,

“The ultimate Indiana Jones fantasy, Ta Prohm is cloaked in dappled shadow, its crumbling towers and walls locked in the slow muscular embrace of vast root systems. Undoubtedly the most atmospheric ruin at Angkor, Ta Prohm should be high on the hit list of every visitor. Its appeal lies in the fact that, unlike the other monuments of Angkor, it has been swallowed by the jungle, and looks very much the way most of the monuments of Angkor appeared when European explorers first stumbled upon them.”

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/cambodia/temples-of-angkor/sights/religious/ta-prohm#ixzz4GQEQw5PK

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After all the day’s excitement, I was quite thoroughly exhausted by the time I returned to my hostel on Friday night. I went upstairs to my room to change out of my wet clothes, and clean off my muddy feet, before grabbing a bite to eat for dinner. On the recommendation of a friend, I ordered Amok fish (cooked with vegetables, curry, and coconut milk). It was delicious! After enjoying a pint of Cambodia beer on tap for $1 I made my way to the nearby night market, which was just lovely! It was certainly more targeted towards tourists, but that’s okay with me as those were the things I was looking for anyways. After a little shopping I wandered to the bar next door with excellent live music. What a treat! The singer, whom I met and shared a drink with along with some great conversation, his name is Kevin. He’s a Boston-native, in his mid-sixties, living and rocking out to life in Siem Reap. He is an absolute doll, and a great musician too! After we met and I introduced myself, he was ecstatic that my name was Emily. He wrote a song for his niece, also named Emily, and proceeded to sing it to me. What an awesome night. Something he said last Friday night really stuck with me; “If you want to meet people who like the things you like, then go out into the world and do the things you like to do.” Isn’t that the TRUTH!

 

2 Replies to “Weekend Vibes: Country Hopping to Cambodia!”

  1. You are amazing… I miss you more than words can express and love that your $4/nt and $1 beer seem so fitting for your personality. You truly make me smile Ems. XOXO from Raining in August Oregon.

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