Our six month journey through Asia is nearing its end! :-( Leaving Bali behind, we decided to spent the last month of our trip in Cambodia and Laos, giving each country about two weeks. We discovered that Cambodia, for such a small country, is an immensely diverse place, with the greatest temples of in the word, some of the most beautiful beaches and serious possibilities to spot wildlife. So here it is, our 2-weeks itinerary through Cambodia!
Day 1: From Bangkok to Siem Reap
So flying to Bangkok to start our trip there was obvious. Getting to Cambodia not quite so much. We have heard all sorts of horror stories about scams before, at and after the border (much like in East Java). So in the end, we decided to go with a reliable international bus company, which would take us all the way from Bangkok to Siem Reap. And to be honest, the Giant Ibis bus we opted for was one of the best bus journeys we had so far! It was spacious, they offered food and had even (kind of working) wifi!
It did come with a heavy price tag ($32 + $5 for bulk processing of visas) but we thought it was a fair investment. The border is indeed mega-chaotic, unlike anything we have seen so far (even worse than the Iran-Azerbaijan border!). In the no-man’s land, there were literally casinos and hotels and hundreds of people. It was also not entirely clear where we would get our Cambodian Visa. In any case we were glad that Giant Ibis was taking care of us until we got safely to Siem Reap!
Day 2 – Day 5: Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor
After arriving at Siem Reap and checking into our hostel, we headed straight to the old market for street food. Sure, food on Bali was amazing, but to be honest, the local street food (variants of Nasi Goreng) didn’t convince us entirely, so the variety we got in Siem Reap was amazing!
The big draw of Siem Reap however, are the temples of Angkor. Really the only reason of Siem Reap’s existence are the temples of Angkor. The temple complex is huge and it takes multiple days to visit the main sights, so it makes sense to buy the 3-day ticket. There are two main ways to get around the temple, one is by renting bicycles and the other by hiring a tuk-tuk. To save money and to work out a little bit, we decided to go with bikes. On the first day, we simply took the bikes from our hostel (the really nice Rosy Guesthouse), which turned out to be a pretty bad idea: Nicole’s bike was basically unusable after her mudguard broke apart and was then stuck on the tire. So we had to take the bike to a workshop in the middle of Angkor to fix it. The next two days, we rented brand-new GIANT bikes and were then saved from more troubles.
The typical 3-days itinerary (if you don’t plan on visiting any faraway temples like Banteay Srei) goes something like this: The big circuit on day 1, the small circuit on day 2 and the highlights, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, on the last day. For lack of better options, we more or less stuck to this plan.
So on the first day, after getting our tickets from the ticket office, we continued on to the royal bathing “pond” (more a lake) of Sra Srang before continuing to Pre Rup and the water temple Neak Pean. That’s also where we had lunch which works something like this: There are loads and loads of small restaurants everywhere around the temples and their menus mostly quote something like $7 for a dish. But once you negotiate, they usually drop down for $3, which is way more reasonable! We finished the day with a visit of Prea Khan, the perfect Hinduism-Buddhism fusion temple. Now, if that sounds like a lot for one day, it is. And spending only an hour or so at each place is really underappreciating the amazing temple. But here is the thing: If any of those places where anywhere but Angkor, they would probably be the biggest touristic thing of that region. But in Angkor, they are really overshadowed by what’s to come.
On our second day, we continued with the small circle, which was already getting more crowded than the first day. We visited Ta Prohm, the Tomb Raider temple, where the main attraction are the awesome ancient trees taking hold of Angkor. We then took our mountain bikes to a test and cut through the jungle to a place called Preah Khan Viewpoint, to take in the epic size of the lake in the middle of Angkor. We rode back through Angkor Thom, taking in some of the smaller temples on our way back to town.
The third day was the highlight of them all: Angkor Wat at sunrise! Unfortunately, Nicole had to skype very very late for a flat in Germany, so when we woke up again at 4:15 in the morning, we were super groggy and not feeling up to the 11-km bike journey. When we arrived at Angkor Wat about half an hour later, we found one of the last free spots in front of the reflection pond to the left of the main entrance, the spot to be. Maybe 20 minutes later, the magic started. And Angkor Wat may be one of these places where the expectations are simply so high that in the end, you must be disappointed. But to be honest, this is really one of the rare once-in-a-lifetime experiences, when the sky behind Angkor turned from black to blue and then to all kinds of red, pink and yellow.
After sunset, we strolled through the actual temple of Angkor Wat, which is indeed massive! We ended our Angkor journey at Bayon, the weirdest of all Angkor temples with hundreds of Buddha faces smiling down on you!
Day 5 – Day 6: Phnom Penh
Coming back from Angkor, we headed straight to Phnom Penh in the afternoon. Getting around in Cambodia is usually quite comfortable (exception below) and we allowed us the luxury of taking a Minivan from Mekong Express, one of the best and most reliable bus companies.
There is certainly some stuff to do in Phnom Penh to keep you occupied for a day or two but we were starting to be short on time. So the next morning, we directly caught another bus to Sihanoukville to transfer to the Cambodian archipelago.
Written by Kevin and Nicole, Si Phan Don