Amazing Angkor Wat!

It was finally time to visit the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat! I had been looking forward to this since I started planning this trip, as Angkor Wat has been on my bucket list for ages! We had decided to experience the fabled sunrise at the temple and for the first time in my life I wasn’t depressed to be getting up early! Chamrong, our guide picked us up at 5 am in a tuk tuk and we made our way to the ticket terminal next to Angkor Wat. Once there we joined some of the more than 2,4 million annual visitors, to buy a day pass for the sum of 37 dollars per person. Interestingly this revenue does not go to the Cambodian state and indeed only 28 % of the income from ticket sales goes to the care and renovation of the temples. This is because Sokimex, a private company founded by an ethnic Vietnamese-Cambodian businessman, has rented Angkor Wat from Cambodia since 1990 and manages tourism there for profit. It’s strange to imagine a site of such huge historical and cultural importance being monetized by a private company, but it really is! And imagine the income! 88 800 000 million dollars per year if all the tourists only buy 1-day passes!

All set with our passes for the day we continued through the darkness in our tuk tuk, to the entrance of Angkor Wat. A moat surrounds the temple and we crossed a pontoon bridge in the dark to get to the big grass plateau facing Angkor Wat. Straining our eyes to get that first look at the iconic towers we had seen in countless photos and documentaries, we had to arm ourselves with patience as shadows still enveloped the magical building we had come to see. However upon arriving to the spot where we would watch the sun rise behind the buildings, we were immediately set upon by a small army of salespeople and waiters trying to hock their wares. We were offered everything from noodles and coffee to flutes and postcards. It was overwhelming and did in fact seem a bit too profane for this ethereal place. 

Nonetheless we found a good spot where we would be able to view the sunrise across a small lake of water in front of the temple and finally the sun began to cast it’s golden and red light across the horizon. It rose in silent majesty revealing not only the most breathtaking temple but also the thousands of other tourists with whom we shared the experience.

Definitely not alone!

But little did it matter, for Angkor Wat was exactly as magical and awe-inspiring as I had expected! It exuded a serene yet powerful elegance and you could sense the whisperings of history all around, as it slowly came into view. I was overwhelmed with emotion and excitement and 1000 photos later we began upon our exploration of the temple’s interior, guided by our knowledgable guide Chamrong.

Chamrong explaining

Angkor Wat is said to be the largest religious monument in the world and spreads across 400 square kilometers just outside of Siem Reap. Originally built in the first half of the 12th century as a Hindu temple, it was converted to a Buddhist temple by the end of the 13th century. Angkor Wat deviates from traditional temples of the time in several interesting ways. Firstly the buildings were constructed as a tribute to Vishnu rather than to King Suryavarman II, ruler at the time. Also the temple complex is oriented to the West rather than the East as traditionally prescribed. In Hindu tradition this direction would typically be associated with death. Additionally the bas-reliefs that adorn the temples are read counter-clockwise and this also alludes to a possibility of the temples having been associated with death and/or funeral rituals. 

Khmer fighter

Chamrong led us past these beautiful bas-reliefs telling us of the stories they depicted. And the might of the once powerful Khmer Empire was palpable.  They were a great people, whose empire at one point spread all the way to Da Nang in Vietnam and Java in Indonesia! We visited 3 temples in the complex during that day. Firstly Angkor Wat (the most iconic and well-known) where we learned some of the stories of the Khmer empire. 

Inside Angkor Wat

Then the Bayon temple in Angkor Thom (the most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire) with it’s many beautiful Buddha heads.

Buddhas at Bayon

And finally Ta Prohm (also known as the Tomb Raider temple, as the movie used it as a location during filming) with it’s crumbling structures that seem like they are about to be swallowed up by nature as tree roots entwine them. 

Spot the hidden Buddha

Now, we could definitely have spent a lot more time at Angkor Wat and visited many more temples. But honestly at this point we were beat! The early start, the endless walking and the blistering heat had taken their toll and after 6 hours we were soooo ready to go back to our hotel for a nap! 

In conclusion I just want to say to anyone wondering whether Siem Reap and Angkor Wat are worth a visit, the answer is a loud resounding YES! I am so happy to have experienced all that I have here. The feelings Angkor Wat evoked and the beauty it provided will forever be a magical memory for me!  

Nose to nose

No longer solo

Going to Siem Reap!

After three days in Phnom Penh it was time for me to head to Siem Reap and the temple complex of Angkor Wat. I booked a bus ticket and departed Phnom Penh centre in high spirits. I was beyond excited to experience Siem Reap and honestly I was also happy to leave the bustle of the city.

6 hours of driving through the countryside of Cambodia did nothing to dampen my spirits. The bus was comfortable and the roads were in surprisingly good shape. I was so happy to have chosen the bus instead of flying, as it afforded me a glimpse of life outside of the big city. Shacks lined the streets and children, animals and local villagers gave me plenty to watch!

Glimpses from the bus

The 6 hours flew by and before I knew it, I was meeting the driver from my hotel, the Shintana Saya Residence. The Shinatana Saya is a boutique hotel with only 9 rooms located just outside of Siem Reap. I had chosen to stay for 3 nights as I really needed to unwind and relax after some hectic days of traveling and unpacking and packing my luggage in what seemed like an endless cycle! The Shintana Saya was perfect for this, as it had a wonderful little pool, great drinks and lots of peace and quiet!

Shintana Saya – I could get used to this!

The only stress I experienced was one day while I was showering, where I grabbed the shampoo bottle and felt something move under my fingers! I screamed like a crazy person and a little gecko fell onto my wet feet and tried to swim away…I got the biggest fright, but happy to see it wasn’t a spider I quickly helped my little bath buddy to safety behind the toilet!

My little bath buddy

I have company!

The 3 days passed quickly and it was finally time to head to the airport to pick up Thomas, my boyfriend. He had traveled for almost 30 hours and was just as excited as me to begin our travels together. This trip is the first longer trip where I am not solo the entire time and while the prospect of sharing my adventures with Thomas made me really happy, I’ll be honest and admit I was a bit hesitant too! Mainly because I was worried that I had gotten too used to traveling alone and that I might not have the patience to take another person’s wishes and habits into account when making travel decisions. When you get accustomed to eating when you feel like it, exploring when you feel like it and generally following your own impulses, the idea of having to include someone else can be daunting! On the other hand however I was really looking forward to having someone to talk through the day’s experiences with and of course to cuddling, laughing, eating and exploring with Thomas! 😉

No more solo!

Exploring Siem Reap

Twosomeness got off to a great start as we checked into Viroth’s Hotel in Siem Reap. Viroth’s has been voted the best hotel in the world on TripAdvisor in 2018 and it wasn’t hard to see why! From the airport pickup in a vintage Mercedes, to the absolutely stunning design and the impeccable service we received from the staff, Viroth’s was an amazing place to stay. Another huge plus was that the hotel was located within walking distance of Siem Reap centre where we went every night for dinner, shopping and drinks.

Viroth’s Hotel

Siem Reap is a really cool town. It has several amazing hotels of extremely high standard, a bustling midtown area and plenty of entertainment options. But it also has a local feel to it…it isn’t too polished or too touristy and while Pub Street is an absolutely crazy place, teeming with nightlife, beggars, salesmen and tourists, there are plenty of places where you can sit and enjoy the more authentic life of the locals. I really loved this little town!

Pub Street Siem Reap

Horse riding

On the first day after Thomas’ arrival we had plans to go riding in the countryside surrounding Siem Reap. Thomas had booked this adventure as a Christmas gift and I couldn’t wait. We rode out from The Happy Ranch Horse Farm (which is known for treating the horses really well) with our guide in the late afternoon and mounted on our trusty steeds Rambo and Baloo we ambled through rice fields and villages enjoying it thoroughly. It was fascinating to experience the little local villages where the children waved and shouted when we rode by, the magnificent water buffalos in the rice paddies and farmers herding hundreds of ducks across streams and fields. Everywhere we went people greeted us with smiles and waves and we of course reciprocated!

Happy faces everywhere

That night back in our hotel we were ready to sleep at 9 pm, tired from the fresh air and excitedly looking forward to finally visiting Angkor Wat the next day!

Driving around in style

New adventures on the horizon

Hi! I’m back! I haven’t written on this blog since returning from Vietnam last February. I’ve been on a few shorter trips since then (Ajman, Dubai, Bilbao) but now it’s time for another BIG one! I leave in a week. This time I will be traveling around South East Asia for two months, starting in Saigon, on to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia, then to Mandalay, Bagan, Ngapali and Rangoon in Burma, back to Saigon and on to Phu Quoc in Vietnam and finally I have 18 unplanned days…so we’ll see!

I just turned in my exams for university today so I haven’t really focused too much on the adventures ahead. But after turning in my paper this morning, reality hit me. Hard! I have so many butterflies in my stomach that I can hardly sit still. It’s a mix of excitement and also a little fear. The unknown can be scary and this will be my longest trip yet. This time however will be a little different as I won’t be traveling solo the entire time. Thomas, my boyfriend will be joining me and also my sister and her family will be flying out with our boys. I am overjoyed that I won’t have to miss all of the people I love for a whole two months and I can’t wait to share this adventure with them.

The preparations for this trip have been a bit more troublesome than the last time I went to Vietnam. This has mainly been due to the fact that I’ll be going to so many different countries and places. I’ve had to apply for visas to three different countries, book a lot of flights (which has proved to be a huge hassle in Asia) and do a lot of research on the best ways to get from one place to another. In this regard however, the abundance of travel blogs on the internet has been extremely helpful. Also I’ve been using an app called rome2rio that is great for checking out travel options.

I haven’t packed yet and packing for two months in one bag seems a bit daunting 😉 . But some way or another I’ll be ready in seven days…I have to be! I’ll be writing throughout the trip and I really hope you’ll follow me. Wish me luck! 

Sorry Mama 😉