Well, Cambodia started off horribly, but has since redeemed itself. Crossing the border was a little problematic. The bus guide took everyone’s passport to presumably streamline the crossing, but once we got there it was very unclear where we were supposed to go and where our passports even were (we were especially concerned considering our past passport issues). When we finally where given our passports, we noticed our yellow fever vaccination certificates were missing.
Me: “Where are our vaccination certificates?”
Guide: “What certificates?”
Me: “We both had little yellow pieces of paper in our passports.”
Guide: “Oh, these?” as he pulls them out of his pocket.
Seriously? Anyway, after that, our eVisas, which we got through our hotel owner in Nha Trang, ended up causing some difficulties, but we were soon through and on our way to Phnom Penh. As soon as we got off the bus in Phnom Penh, my phone got pick-pocketed. Not only that, but when we got to our hotel, we were told they were full, but got us a room next door for the same rate. The room turned out to be pretty nice, but there was no wireless, which was the entire reason we booked the original place. I quickly proclaimed, “Cambodia sucks my balls.”
Since then, however, everything has been fantastic. That night we ate at a little restaurant with delicious food and refreshing Angkor beers (although we were visited mid-meal by a cockroach on the wall that sent Laura flying half-way across the restaurant in fear). Tuesday, we took a bus to Siem Reap and were greeted at the bus station by Sang, a tuk-tuk (see picture) driver who works for our hotel. Our hotel has turned out to be fantastic. It has a very cozy front garden with lounge chairs and hammocks and a delicious restaurant where we have had every meal so far (although that is going to change tonight!). Our room is nice, and they even covered our bed with flowers for our arrival!
Wednesday, we booked a tuk-tuk to take us around Angkor, and Sang was once again our driver. I was very excited to finally see the temples that are the entire reason we came to this country. When we finally pulled up to Angkor Wat, the grand-daddy of Angkorian temples, I was pretty disappointed to see that there was scaffolding all over the front of it (I was particularly bitter because the only other time I’ve gone to see a world-famous ruin, the Parthenon in Athens, it was also covered in scaffolding). But that turned out to be a minor blip. The temple complex is astounding. It’s surrounded by a 190 meter wide moat that measures 1.5km by 1.3km. Inside the main walls is a massive area of grass and trees that by itself would be interesting to walk through. The temple itself was also a sight to behold, as the five lotus-bud towers reaching towards the sky are infinitely more impressive in person than in a picture or video. We started by walking around the outer wall to look at the bas-reliefs. They were mostly scenes of battle, but the detail and quality of the carvings were remarkable. When we reached the rear of the temple, we realized the scaffolding wasn’t visible from there, so that’s where we decided to take our iconic photos of the temple.
From there, we finished looking at the bas-reliefs and entered the temple, which, although still cool to walk through, was kind of boring. There were very pretty views of the complex from the top level, not to mention a large set of very steep stairs.
After Angkor Wat, we made our way to Angkor Thom, the famous walled city that holds the second most famous temple of Angkor, the Bayon. The Bayon turned out to be more interesting than Angkor Wat. Although less impressive from a distance, once you enter the temple you come quite literally face to face with the king who built it. Bayon is famous for its 54 towers; each with 4 faces of the god Avalokiteshvara, that bare more than a passing resemblance to the king who built them. After wandering around under the constant gaze of the god-king for a while we wandered over to some other temples in the city. These were fascinating to look at as well, and there were some very pretty trees and small pools to walk around between them. After visiting the next few temples, we started to get a “same same, but different” feeling.
“Same same, but different” is a phrase we’ve come across a lot in Vietnam and Cambodia. It means that everywhere in this region (street vendors, markets, food, etc.) is basically the same, but a little different. After a few of the temples in Angkor, we started having trouble noticing the difference between them as they all were made from the same stone, were the same color, and in pretty much the same state of decay. On top of that, it was swelteringly hot (my shirt had been soaked completely through since before we were done with Angkor Wat). We also made the mistake of only bringing a few small bills so by midday we only had a $50 bill, which of course none of the vendors could break.
Thankfully, right when we had just about had enough, we reached Ta Prohm, which was actually different! This was due to the fact that the jungle hasn’t been as fully cleared from this temple as the others, so there were some very remarkable trees in the complex that are slowly swallowing up the temple.
After Ta Prohm, we stopped at one more temple with a pretty lake next to it before heading back to our hotel for a much needed snack and shower. Despite being, for the most part, “same same, but different,” the temples of Angkor were some truly astounding and breathtaking ruins to climb on and through.