I completely fell in love with Siem Reap. Cambodia feels like a dream; Somehow four days feels like a lifetime.
I arrived in Siem Reap early Friday morning after a long journey from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap, with the addition of a nine hour layover overnight. I was met (after some delay) at the Siem Reap airport by a Tuk-Tuk driver, Devi, who would come to be my partner in crime for my entire stay in Cambodia. The drive from the airport to my hostel was fantastic – I was exhausted but the fresh air kept me awake and I very quickly fell in love with travel by Tuk-Tuk.
We pulled up to the hostel which resembled a big colonial-style house on the edge of a main road. It was still too early to check-in, but they let me store my bags so I could go and explore the town. I turned onto the main road and followed it down towards the centre of town, looking for somewhere to eat. I eventually settled on a little spot, one of the many advertising $1 breakfast of anything from toast to a full spread with eggs and meat. I opted for toast, and started looking at some of the brochures and maps they’d offered me at the hostel. I decided I would do the outer loop of the temples that day and then see the main temples, including Angkor Wat, the following day along with the traditional sunrise.
Back at the hostel I was finally allowed to check-in and my Tuk-Tuk driver was waiting for me to take me to see the temples. First stop was at the Angkor Wat Park Office to get my official ticket to the Temple Complexes. Since we were starting with the outer loop, our first stop was Preah Khan, a temple from the 12th Century AD. Unless you have booked a guide, the driver drops you at one end of the temple complex and agrees on a place to meet you on the other side. Devi dropped me at the entrance of a beautiful temple that seemed to be surrounded by a moat, with a series of large stone figures lining the bridge that led to the door.
Thinking about it now, I think this was one of my favourite temples. It was so overwhelming stepping out of the Tuk-Tuk and suddenly being in the middle of an ancient temple. The temple was separated out into different sections, leading up to the middle part with a large sort of chamber room. The temple was partially in ruin, covered in massive tree roots that had grown through openings and cracked open stone. A lot of the stone walls had beautiful carvings all over them; a lot of them were human figures. It would have been nice to have a guide to talk me through the significance behind everything, but it was still amazing to wander through and experience everything. There were also a lot of young local guys who were eager to give you some details for a few coins, and some of them would just start telling you things with the expectation of being rewarded, so I did learn a few key facts.
The outer loop, or Grand Tour if I remember correctly, was made up of six temples in total. While I explored them, Devi would string up a hammock and nap alongside the other Tuk-Tuk drivers waiting for their customers. Some of them like Preah Khan were more like complexes, very low to the ground, while others reminded me of the pyramids in Chichen Itza which meant climbing massive, often unstable-looking staircases to get to the top. It was incredibly hot, but so interesting so it was easy to keep going. There were also lots of shops at every temple selling water and other snacks.
Another one of my favourite temples was out in the middle of a really incredible lake covered in lilypads and other plants. There was a narrow bridge that connected the temple to the mainland that took extra long to cross with all the hundreds of tourists filing there and back across it. Once across, the temple was beautiful and featured all sorts of ponds and other water features. It was named Neak Pean, and is an artificial island built as a buddhist temple by one of the empires in ancient Cambodia. You could walk all the way around the temple and get different views from all the different angles. It was sheltered by the trees which made the light hit the temple differently every few steps you take.
We visited four more temples, and they were all so different and interesting. We had all day, so a few times I sat down in different spots in the temples and just took a rest to look around. It helped with the heat, too. It was such an amazing first day at the temples.