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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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: