The bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was only a little over five hours but, overbooked, a disappointed Israeli couple were given small plastic chairs and told to sit at the front of the bus with the driver. Leah and I learnt early that the key to bus travel round SE Asia is getting to the bus before everybody else and also NEVER expecting the bus to look like the one promised when buying the ticket.
Honestly, after three months in Asia we are getting a little tired of temples and the like but we have kept some reserves for arguably one of the best in the world, Angkor Wat. We plan to spend just 2 ½ days here before we head back to Thailand. Our guest house, dirt cheap, has a swimming pool so we also intend to make full use of this. I’ve been here before and my best memory is walking around Angkor Wat before sunrise. It’s pitch black and wandering through the temple with bats circling above is incredible although creepy as hell. I recommend anybody who comes here to do this. Get to the ticket office at 5am sharp and then walk on your own into the temple. Just make sure you bring a torch and watch your footing (note – the drips from the ceiling are bat wee). When booking a tuk-tuk you will need to make sure they pick you up at 4:30am to get you there in time for a walk round then back to the entrance for sunrise. 99.9% of people arrive just for sunrise so you have to argue with a bemused tour agent that you want to be there when it’s dark.
Arriving at the hotel, we hit the pool and discover the bar sells Beer Lao so we get stuck in. Later we head in town where there is loads to do, with decent restaurants, street food, busy bars and endless markets, but we have to be up at 4am so make notes and head home for an early night.
4:30AM. After convincing someone to call the tuk-tuk driver to come pick us up when we wanted (yes we really did want it at 4:30 and yes we know it’s dark) we head off to Angkor Wat. Entrance is now sold in 1, 3 or 5 day tickets ( TIP – if you buy a one day ticket after 5 for the next day, you can use it that evening to catch the sunset).
Walking around the complex in pitch black is just as magical as I remember. We were the only people there walking from room to room and around tiny carved staircases of stone where the only noise is the resident bats. If you turn off your torch you are instantly drowned in total darkness – Tomb Raider stuff, literally, it was filmed here.
The sky getting lighter, we head outside to bag ourselves the best spot by the lake to watch the sunrise, it’s now Leah realises why I was so insistent on the early morning – the crowds arrive. By 6:30 it’s heaving, Angkor Wat is now firmly on the comfortable tourism map (and so it should be), it’s a huge American tourist destination – especially after Angelina Jolie bought some kids here.
As the sun comes up and the temperature rises we take some time to venture round and take it all in, the pictures don’t really fully express what the place is like, you really have to come here to see for yourself. Around midday we head back for a quick nap and then head back out in the cooler afternoon to mop up the rest of the temples. We squeezed everything into one day but I’d recommend a full two days to see all the big sights properly and take your time.
It’s Leah’s birthday!!
Still, we have a schedule so it’s up again at 4:30, as today we are heading out to Tonle Sap lake (the largest freshwater lakes in Asia )for sunrise, which is home to the floating village Chong Khneas. We have a boat and the lake to ourselves (TIP – most people come for the sunset ). The sunrise is stunning, there’s a few pics here. Sitting on the roof of a houseboat we watch locals head to and from the fish market whilst we scoff some out of date pastries we bought the night before. This houseboat is also home to about 10 crocodiles in a small pen. Me thinking how cool they are, Leah thinking handbags, I spend a few minutes winding them up with silly noises until Leah tells me off.
The rest of the day we spend by the pool and then head back into town to celebrate Leah’s birthday. Birthdays are a bit weird whilst travelling and it’s impossible to buy anything in secret so for both our birthdays we pick a nicer than usual restaurant and work our way through the menu. Dinner was great and included some snake (as expected, tastes like chicken). Strong cocktails + bottle of wine + 5AM start = knackered, no big night out, and we head home around midnight ready for our return to Bangkok.
Our plan is to spend the last week in Asia on a quiet island just a few hours from Bangkok, relaxing and taking stock ready for South America. So we jump on a bus to Bangkok, then on to Koh Chang (yes we now know it’s quicker to go straight from Cambodia,whatever) for the last leg of our Asia trip.