A Memorable Jaunt into Cambodia and the Spectacular Temples of Angkor

by Brian Carroll on February 13, 2013

Post image for A Memorable Jaunt into Cambodia and the Spectacular Temples of Angkor Evaluating any and all travel options and weighing the benefits and drawbacks is an ongoing part of long-term travel and something you improve at with time – that or you just say fuck it and decide you'll figure it out as you go (which could as easily be said for life). As my time in Chiang Mai  (and Thailand for that matter) was winding down, I had to figure out logistics for getting to my next country, Cambodia. After looking through various plane (quick+ very expensive), train (cheap+uncomfortable+long+complicated) and bus (cheap + most uncomfortable+long+crazy driving) options and reading blog posts on the best way to get to Cambodia, I opted for the train. The benefits of taking the train were that: a)I could pay the equivalent of $2 for an 8 hour train ride b)I felt that being on tracks rather than the road was a safer bet c)I'd potentially be in a truly local environment The drawbacks to this options were that: a)It was 8 hours on a train b)I'd be sitting on wooden benches on a 3rd class train that cost $2 c)My train left at 6am (I'm like a zombie in the morning) d)I'd have to avoid visa scams at the border crossing of Poipet (deservedly rhymes with toilet and reminded me of the San Diego/Tijuana crossing) e)Ultimately getting to Siem Reap (my destination) required a tuk tuk ride after the train ended, crossing the border and then catching a taxi or bus for a 2 hour ride that'd finally get me into Siem Reap,

Riding the local train

Sheesh, just typing this up is making me exhausted, let alone doing it in real life!! All that said, this option worked out just fine and sitting on a train for 8 hours (which is what I easily dreaded the most), was manageable. Plus for part of it, I got to sit next to a little 80 year old Thai lady who spent some time talking/pointing/staring at me as she smiled with her two or so teeth...unfortunately I have no picture of her to share. At this point in time, one other thing I was excited about was that my buddy from Los Angeles (also by the name of Brian), had just committed to meet me out in Vietnam to travel for about a month. That meant that my stop in Siem Reap was going to be my last stop traveling solo. Anyways, while that was a part of my trip I was excited to begin, I now had in front of me a visit to some of the most amazing temples in the world. I'm not even going to try and get into the history or details of the entire Angkor area in Cambodia, but it is a site truly worth visiting and understanding, so I'll leave that explanation to wikipedia here. Worth a read. Basically, the temples are the superstars of the area and quite honestly require at least two days minimum to properly visit. The temples in the region were built during the Khmer Empire, which was in power from the 9th to 15th centuries - so basically they're super old and present some unique architecture that you're not going to find in many other parts of the world. To visit the temples, the most popular options are to hire a tuk tuk driver each day (expect to pay ~$15-$18 per day) or rent a bike ($1 per day) and ride around. Just know that with the bike that it is probably 20+ kms of riding per day and it can get very hot, though the terrain is very flat. In all, I must have visited 15+ temples with a few specifically standing out (and are the most popular as such).

A few of the 216 images

Bayon Temple: I honestly think this was my favorite temple partially because I was able to get there when it was pretty empty, but moreso because it features 216 faces that are supposedly representations of Jayavarman VII, a famous ruler during the Khmer empire. It was a more compact temple, but just very unique in it's ownright with the images scattered across it.    

TombRaider entrance

Thom Temple: This one was flooded with Chinese tour groups when I went through it. What was so cool about this temple were these humongous trees that wrapped on top, around and under the temple itself that are quite unbelievable to see. Also, unique to this temple is the fact that unlike other temples in the region, it has more or less been kept as it was found in its abandoned state, rather than becoming a restoration project perse.  This temple was also used in the Angelina Jolie movie, TombRaider for  you movie buffs.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat: The most famous of the temples and in fact, the largest religious temple in the world, it stands out for its sheer size. The entrance into the temple goes across a long bridge and catching the 5am sunrise there (which any visitor should do), makes it a spot not to miss. I essentially saved it for last among my temple visits. Over two days of temple visits, I probably spent 14+ hours going around temples, just to give you a sense of the enormity of the area. Additionally, while the temples were amazing, I found the entire park region to be very pleasant, as the temples were nestled among jungle and large trees that reminded me of the redwoods of Northern California.  Some other highlights to my time in Siem Reap: The Superbowl:  Siem Reap was where I watched the Superbowl, live. It required me getting up at 5:30am and to be honest, while I had no real allegiance to either team in it, it was still fun to watch especially since it turned out to be a good game (I was rooting for the Ravens ultimately). I caught it with some Australian friends I met and actually got a US broadcast feed for the game.  Some American girls were surprised I'd get up to watch it, but I'm going to chalk that up to simply a difference in genders.

The perfect shopping atmosphere: Hanging, smelly meat next to north face bags

The Old Markets:  Souvenir shopping is tough as I don't have much room in my luggage to spare. But I did pick up a couple random things among their local markets that I thought were cool and hopefully survive in my luggage . I hope to pick up more toward the end of my trip in Vietnam, including some suits and paintings. The Food:  I actually had pretty decent Mexican food in Cambodia. It seems odd, but true. Not as good as San Diego by any means, but commendable under the circumstances.  Also cool was the fact that there were a few different restaurants in town that worked as non-profits with all proceeds supporting orphanages and displaced children.  I thought the concept was unique as they also help to give these kids jobs in a positive environment.  They served both snake and eel for a few bucks, which I passed on without hesitation.

Won't see this in California everyday

The Locals:  The people in Cambodia were very friendly. One thing extremely sad about the region is the toll that internal war (only a few decades ago) has taken within the country and the atrocities some people have since had to contend with (missing limbs, etc...). If they can have a smile on their face, I have no reason to ever get down about any current difficulty in my life. Cliche but true, traveling like this broadens your perspective greatly. Next on my list, Vietnam and meeting up with my LA buddy, Brian.

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