Visiting Cambodia: 4 Days in the Country
I visited Siem Reap and immediately fell in love with all of its similarities to Thailand, but also with its differences. Since I was only there for four days, I just saw such a small glimpse of Cambodia. What I experienced was a city that was colorful and vibrant, with its locals just as friendly as the expats we met there.
My friends and I frequented the same place each morning, for a $3 breakfast of eggs, toast and coffee. Then, we traveled to a floating village, where we met school children with toothy smiles eager to converse in the little English they knew. We walked through a Lotus Flower farm, which seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime experience–beautiful and unexpected.
I had a manicure and pedicure for $10 by the friendliest woman who laughed and laughed, asked a million questions, and showed me YouTube videos while my nails were drying. Every time we walked past her that week, she greeted us with a shout and asked us where we were going.
I knew nothing about Cambodian food, so we took a cooking class to learn about it. We made three traditional dishes: fish amok, green mango salad, and coconut boil cake. Cambodian food is very similar to Thai food, but with layers of flavors instead of a spicy kick. Every time I ate, I found myself asking for chilies and wanting more food. It was some of the best food I’ve had in Asia!
We also went on a sunset quad-bike tour, which was the highlight of my time there. I didn’t drive, so I took plenty of photographs while zooming through herds of water buffalo, hilly rice paddies, waving children and puddles of mud with an insane sunset background.
We decided to skip Angkor Wat at sunrise since we received mixed reviews from everyone we spoke to about it. Instead, we went during the early morning and missed the majority of the crowd.
While riding to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples, we passed beautiful, gated resorts next to tiny huts surrounded by garbage and recycled cans with families living in them, looking more happy and content with their lives than I am. It made me think a lot about all that I have to be grateful for, and put this entire experience into a new perspective. I am very lucky.
On our last day, we visited Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. We decided to skip Angkor Wat at sunrise since we received mixed reviews from everyone we spoke to about it. Instead, we went during the early morning and missed the majority of the crowd. While the journey is accessible by bike, it just didn’t seem practical with the heat so we hired a tuk-tuk. Our driver took us on the “short tour,” stopping at five different temples, and giving us as much time to explore as we wanted.
First we visited Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, and the entire archeological park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Personally, I didn’t research the history beforehand, and we didn’t hire a guide for the temple, so I just marveled at its architecture and beauty. I do know, however, that it was built as a Hindu temple but was converted into a Buddhist temple. The style is very different, therefore, from the Buddhist temples you’ll find throughout the country and in Thailand.
Visiting Cambodia: 4 Days in the Country.
Next we visited Bayon, which is the temple with hidden faces. These faces, along with other incredible details, are intricately carved onto the rocks, with four being most prominent. The faces are said to belong to Lokesvara, who was a Bodhisattva of compassion. This temple was built as a Buddhist monument and was the last Angkor temple to be built, so it is not in total ruin, and is begging to be explored.
Just next to Bayon is Baphuon. This temple has a pyramid shape and gives you a chance to climb to the top tower for a great panoramic view of the grounds. Both Bayon and Baphuon are part of the Angkor Thom complex, as is the Terrace of the Elephants.
Preah Khan was originally a monastic monastery, but many of its Buddha images were destroyed by Hindu invaders. The religious images that we see now are carved over the original Buddhist images. Architecturally, it’s most similar to Ta Prohm, which we visited last.
Ta Prohm is the jungle temple, known for being featured in Tomb Raider. The ruins are deep in the jungle, with overgrown trees growing between ruins, vines hanging all around and tree roots jutting out in all directions and distinguishing it from all others. It’s almost like a maze, and I found myself wandering in circles trying to find the exit.
Ta Prohm is the jungle temple, known for being featured in Tomb Raider. The ruins are deep in the jungle, with overgrown trees growing between ruins, vines hanging all around and tree roots jutting out in all directions and distinguishing it from all others.
Throughout the week, we tried traditional Cambodian BBQ – grilling chicken, pork, beef, shark and crocodile (yes, really… and it was delicious!) on a personal grill in the center of the table. We spent the nights dancing with our friends at the Angkor What? Bar and many others on Pub Street. We ended our trip to Cambodia with a little night market shopping, delicious vegetarian amok and BBQ chicken, and getting drunk on 50 cent beers (again… really!).
With a $20 tourist visa-on-arrival for Americans, an efficient system, a beautiful city, and friendly people, I will definitely try to visit Cambodia again before my time in Thailand ends. Next time, I hope to see much more of it.
Visiting Cambodia: 4 Days in the Country
Have you traveled to Cambodia? How was your trip? Email us at [email protected] to share your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.
Photos by Unsplash and Nichole Baldino.