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Category: Cambodia

Angkor What?

Angkor What?

After China, we headed to Thailand to spend some quality time seeing temples and enjoying the beach. While this did happen, it did not happen quite as we thought. We spend 12 nights in Chiang Mai and decided to leave Thailand for a 9-day adventure in Cambodia. Our main purpose of coming to Cambodia was to check out Angkor Wat, a temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. We arrived in Siem Reap (by plane skipping the long journey by train/bus from Chiang Mai as it really was not that much more expensive) with only one purpose: to check out the temples!

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Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Any amount of research about Angkor Wat leads you to believe that sunrise cannot be missed. We have not come all this way to miss out on something so iconic, so we dragged our sleepy selves out of bed and our cheery tuk-tuk driver was waiting for us at our hotel at 4:45 am sharp. If you know us at all you would know that we are not huge fans of being woken up before the sun rises, ever. After a brief stop at the ticket office (and $40 later) our driver pulled up at Angkor Wat. Following the mass amounts of people (in complete darkness) we found the temple and found our spot at the reflection pool to watch the sunrise. There were crowds of people and every second there was another person asking, “Lady, breakfast for you? Coffee for you? Lady, what do you need?” It was hard to even get a picture without someone’s head or arm in it. The clouds blocked a view of the sun coming up and we were not even sure when the sun rose. It just happened…this experience was far from magical to us.

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It was incredible to see Angkor Wat and the temple itself is absolutely stunning and impressive. I would say Angkor Wat and the other surrounding temples are worth a trip to Cambodia alone. For us, the sunrise there was overrated. If I were to do it over, I would find a temple nobody goes to at sunrise and enjoy the solitude (even if this meant giving up the iconic sunrise at Angkor photo). Maybe we were just grumpy from waking up so early. Maybe it was the fact it was so cloudy you could not see the sunrise well. Maybe it was that we had a downpour 1 minute after the sun rose and got soaked (we thought we could ride it out under a tree because we were smart and brought rain jackets…we couldn’t and we stayed under that tree about 10 minutes too long. Lesson learned!). Whatever the reason was we would have chosen to either sleep in or go see sunrise somewhere peaceful.

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Tomb Raiding at Ta Phrom

Our favorite temple was also the most crowded (and the only temple we ran into tour groups everywhere). Ta Phrom is famous for being in Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. While we have never seen the movie we get why they used this temple! We thought it was stunning. The trees growing out of the ruins and the temple itself seems as if it is being swallowed by the jungle. There is moss on everything and portions of the temple were left unrestored making for some stunning visuals. There are corridors that remain impassable due to carved stones laying in the middle of them. It adds to the mysterious feel to this temple. This was the most crowded place we went to all day (well, besides the sunrise at Angkor Wat) and we still loved it. Usually crowds make us grumpy so that is saying a lot!

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Templed Out

We only spent one day at Angkor Wat exploring the temples. Although you can buy a 1-day, 3-day, or 7-day pass we settled on just the 1-day pass hoping that would be enough. One full day was enough for us to see everything we wanted to see and any more than that it might have started to feel like we were seeing the same thing over and over again. We saw enough temples that we could not remember all their names and we started to confuse everything. I would say that we could have done two days, but only if we would have seen half the number of temples we did per day. We were templed out after one day and glad we could just explore Siem Reap the next day instead of touring more temples.

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The look of someone who woke up too early, saw too many temples and had no patience for any more pictures being taken of her latte :)

Temples by Tuk-Tuk

The best way to get around Angkor Wat is to hire a tuk-tuk driver for the day. We had read that for between $15-$20 USD you could hire a tuk-tuk driver and they would stay with you the whole day. After reading some really negative experiences about hiring tuk-tuks (crazy drivers, drivers who did not show up…) we were nervous we would not have a good experience. One of the travel blogs I read occasionally posted about the best tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap and how to get a hold of hire for hire. We thought, why not? We sent an email and he got back to us almost immediately.

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We had such an awesome day getting to know Sok and learning about his life in Cambodia. Sometimes as you travel it is hard to have genuine interactions and learn about what normal life is like in a place, but we were able to learn so much from Sok! There are thousands of registered tuk-tuk drivers in Siem Reap alone and competition is fierce for work. We had such a positive experience at Angkor Wat and we can attribute some of that to our awesome tuk-tuk driver. If you are ever going to Siem Reap we would highly recommend reaching out to Sok (his contact info can be found at this link).

Temple Photos

Scott has been taking awesome pictures on this trip and we are both doing a terrible job of sharing them. So in addition to the ones from above (minus the selfies and the few of both of us taken by a bystander) here are a few more:

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Cambodia Recap

Cambodia Recap

On a whim we decided to buy a cheap flight over to Cambodia with one goal in mind…to check out the famed Angkor Wat. We spent some time exploring temples, discovering undeveloped beaches and learning about the horrifying past of Cambodia. Our time was mixed with extremely beautiful places, constant reminders of poverty, lessons about humanity, and we feel that we have left Cambodia with a new perspective. Out of all of the places we have been so far on this trip it was the most raw.

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Cities Visited

Siem Reap, Phnom Pehn, Otres Beach (outside of Sihanoukville)

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 Things We Liked

Angkor Wat, cheap beer ($0.50-$1), friendly people, nice beaches, no currency conversions (they use USD mainly), ease of travel, and very little language barrier

Things We Disliked

Tourists everywhere, bus rides (no road rules whatsoever and so many Cambodian karaoke videos), incessant selling of goods/services, lack of Khmer food scene (so much western food), and trash everywhere.

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Highlights

1. Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is a collection of ancient temples outside of Siem Reap and exploring here was exactly why we chose to make the trip to Cambodia. We spent a full day exploring the ancient temples and they never got old (even as we were dodging rain/mud for most of the morning). It was an absolute highlight of our trip so far! We will post more on Angkor Wat in a future post (and more pictures since we have SO many).

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2. Otres Beach  

After our 10 hour *slightly terrifying* bus ride down to the coast from Siem Reap, we were really hoping that it was worth it. Otres Beach (Otres 2 to be exact) was exactly what we were looking for. We arrived at our beach bungalow in complete darkness to dirt roads, a highly undeveloped area, and a lot of mosquitoes. The next morning when we woke up we were totally surprised to find our beach paradise! Although it was rainy season and we experienced our fair share of rain and clouds, we enjoyed some rest and relaxation on the beach. It was refreshing to be in an area where there is absolutely nothing to do but to kick off your shoes and relax for a while. We have heard that Cambodian beaches are what Thai beaches were 20 years ago before development and resorts were everywhere.dsc_0972-1

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Hardest Experiences

1. Killing Fields/Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

During the late 1970s, Cambodia experienced one of the worst genocides to have ever happened at the hands of their government at the time, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot. It is thought that between 1.5 and 3 million people (roughly 25% of the population in Cambodia) lost their lives for no reason at all the short span of 3 years, 8 months, and 20 days.We spent the day visiting Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the site of a former high school turned into one of the most notorious prisons (S-21), and at one of the most well known killing fields at Choeung Ek, best known as simply The Killing Fields. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo read more about the Cambodian Genocide click here or to read more about the places we visited click here. I honestly can’t write a post about our day spent at these places. Many other people have and they are a touching tribute to these places, but I don’t have the words to do it justice.

While we were grateful to learn about Cambodia’s past, we were equally horrified by what happened here and to see what humanity can do to one another. At the end of the audio tour at The Killing Fields the narrator said these words that won’t ever leave me:

“This was hardly the first case of genocide. We never thought it could happen here. But it did. And the thing is, it can happen anywhere…Tragically, it will probably happen again. So for your sake, remember us – and remember our past as you look to your future.”

2. Poverty

Processed with Snapseed.In our travels there have been many places that have evident poverty on this trip, but Cambodia’s poverty was the most palpable so far. It was a reminder about how incredibly fortunate we are. As we traveled 10 hours by bus down to the south of Cambodia, we were able look out the window and see a snapshot of life for many in this country. The scenery we passed along the way varied from basic houses to dilapidated shacks. This bus ride and our week here as a whole was eye opening and made us think about our lives differently. Why do I have so much when others have so little?

The hardest part of this is that this poverty exists all over the world, even in our own backyard. Cambodia is not even the poorest country in the world, not even close. It isn’t even the poorest country I have been to, but it still made us feel pretty shitty that we are fortunate enough to be traveling the world when some people haven’t even made it to the beach on the other side of Cambodia.

Tuk-Tuk Drivers

Our entire time in Cambodia we were asked if we wanted to buy a t-shirt, pants, bracelets, massages, pedicures….this happened as we are eating dinner in restaurants, seeing the iconic temples of Angkor Wat, or relaxing on the beach. Nowhere was exempt from touts. It wore us down.“Tuk-tuk for you? Where are you going? Maybe later? Maybe tomorrow?” We walk 5 more steps and get the same thing. Again. And Again. As much as we wanted to be annoyed we also tried to keep in mind that all of these people are just trying to make a living. Unfortunately, they have found that pestering tourists is the way to go about this. They even sell t-shirts that say “No tuk-tuk today” which is pretty amusing until someone tries to sell you that shirt over and over. Its a vicious cycle.dsc_0689We did hire a few tuk-tuk drivers while in Cambodia and this gave us the opportunity to not only get to where we wanted to go, but to also to learn from them about their lives in Cambodia. Life can be difficult in Cambodia and most people are working long hours just to get by with enough to feed their families and/or send their kids to school. It was humbling to learn about and we are thankful for our interactions with the people we did. These are some of my favorite moments from the entire trip. Special thanks to Sok and Nara for making our time getting around Cambodia so special!

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The Stats

Total Number of Nights: 8

Languages: Khmer

Currency: $1 USD = 4,000 Riel (KHR) = $1 USD (US dollars are the main form of currency we used here, although since there are no coins they use Riels for anything under $1. It was weird to go to an ATM and get USD back. Also, so nice not to have to convert currencies in our heads at restaurants!)

Number of Miles Traveled:  720 miles (including our flight from Thailand)

Number of Miles Walked:  38.4 miles (average of 4.8 miles per day)

Steps Taken:  82,613 steps (average of about 10,300 per day)

Transportation Used: tuk-tuk, bus, mini-bus

Type of Accommodations: Hotel (2), bungalow (1)

Number of Beds: 3

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