Angkor Wat: Part I

For those unfamiliar with Angkor Wat, it is to Cambodia what the pyramids are to Egypt.  It is absolutely amazing and deserves a visit if you’re ever in the area. This part of the trip found its way to the top of our wish list and we made sure to make time for it. Once we arrived in Siem Reap we looked at the available tours. It looked to be about three days to see all of the different sites throughout the entire area or one day to see a select few sites. Not content with either plan, we set out to see everything there was to see within a day. We also said to hell with the tour and rented bicycles to make our own tour.

To ensure that bikes would be available we awoke extremely early, had a quick breakfast in the hotel, and then headed off to the rental shop.  It is lovely how cheap things are in South East Asia, once you get a plane ticket there isn’t much left to worry about and the bike were a typical example of this, costing only a few dollars for a full day’s rental. 
Lacking a tour guide, our next stop was to locate a map. Once we had this in hand, along with my compass purchased prior to the trip, we headed off in the direction of Angkor Wat. We arrived to huge lines of cars and Tuk Tuks [Link to previous article] waiting to get in. Luckily, since we were on bike, we were able to pass them to the non-car line.  Due to, what I’m assuming are ticket scalpers or something, we were required to get a ticket with our picture printed on them. Surprisingly, the process of getting a photo ID was relatively fast and we continued on the road leading up to the temple.

Welcome to Angkor Wat

The road was lined with trees and continued on for some time. Eventually it opened up to an absolutely amazing view of Angkor Wat. A moat formed the perimeter,  so we rode our bikes around to the entrance, locked our bikes, and walked in. Since I couldn’t possibly do justice to Angkor Wat with words, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Angkor Wat from the outside
Angkor Wat from the outside.

Angkor Wat Statue

Angkor Wat art
This was some of the art along the walls of the Wat.

Angkor Wat Hallway
Hallway of Angkor Wat.

Sitting on the steps leading up to one of the rooms.

The whole place was filled with beautiful architecture.

A view from the top looking down back towards the entrance.  

Monkey
The wildlife are also welcome to hang out.
Once we finished up with Angkor Wat, we headed back out towards our bikes. About this time, the heat made it known that the rest of the day would be very hot.  The best way to see the other temples we deemed was with a giant loop along the path that would typically be completed over three days.  Along the way as we rode to the next Wat, we noticed many children dressed up on their way to school. One girl was very friendly and talked with us while we rode to the next destination. Her English was amazing, she learned only by talking to people as she went to and from class. We didn’t have much time to get into conversation before we arrived and she continued on to school.
Cambodian Girl
My friend and the Cambodian girl talking.
Stay tuned for Part II.
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Finishing up Phnom Penh with Pictures

After finishing up our tour of the grave site, we took the mellower route with the rest of the day and checked out some of the great architecture of the city along with our tour guide.

Phnom Penh Royal Palace
The Royal Palace
Phnom Penh Royal Palace
No shoes allowed inside

Phnom Penh Royal Palace Gate
Pattern on one of the gates inside the Royal Palace.

Phnom Penh Royal Palace Wall
This painting extended the length of the entire wall of the Royal Palace.

Stopping for a drink, we were not used to such hot weather after leaving the Shanghai winter behind.

Building inside of the Royal Palace with Beautiful patterns. Definitely my favorite building from traveling.

Motorcycles are the number one mode of transportation in South  East Asia. You can fit your entire family  on one, attach your entire shop to the back, sit your dog between your legs, etc. 
Cambodian frog legs
Several years ago I wouldn’t eat anything, if you don’t know read this. Now I’m eating frog legs…

Cambodian ox tongue with red ants
and ox tongue with a side of red ants!

Phnom Penh

We woke early in the morning and headed downstairs to schedule a Tuk Tuk driver for the day. Tuk Tuk’s have many different names throughout the world but they all refer to the same thing, a motor taxi with three wheels. Since we would only be spending one day we decided to get ourselves a driver to show us around the city. 

Before heading out we stopped to get some breakfast. We found a nice little restaurant that opened up to the street. Two things that surprised us when we started looking around the restaurant was that the prices were all listed in American currency and the menu was heavily based around American and French cuisine. (I would later learn that the French and Americans have had a huge impact throughout South East Asia. Also American currency is more more stable than local currencies so it is more popular.)

Cambodian Steet
Street where we had our breakfast
Cambodian Money
Change from breakfast
Tuk Tuk driver
Our Tuk Tuk driver

After breakfast we returned back to the hotel to meet our Tuk Tuk driver and then headed off for our first day in Cambodia. 
When I first decided to travel I thought that it would be best to find a book based in each country I was visiting and this book started us off on the journey for the day. For Cambodia, it was recommended that I read First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (A great read, I recommend it) by Loung Ung which tells the real life story of Loung’s childhood under the Khmer Rogue. By the time they were removed from power, they had managed to kill almost a quarter of the population. Mass graves are scattered all over the country and our first stop in Siem Reap was one of the larger sites right outside of the city.

Khmer Rouge Monument
Monument to those that died under Pol Pot’s regime
Mass Grave Skulls
Inside of the monument

During high school history, I read so much about different atrocities and I felt so desensitized after spending years learning about different atrocities committed throughout history. This was the first time I got a first hand look and it was incredibly moving. 

After taking a long break to digest what we had seen, we got back into our Tuk Tuk and headed off to our next stop.  

Oops

Our flight was set to arrive in Phnom Penh at 11pm. By the time we got our visa and passed through the various checkpoints it would be rather late. Quite possibly, too late to find a place to sleep. I sent two different guest houses reservation inquiries. I declared the matter settled and left it at that.
The next day, the day of departure, I checked my email and found no reply. At this point I became a little nervous. I had no idea what we’d be in for if we didn’t have a hotel. With the use of Skype, I made a call to one of the hotels that I’d emailed the previous day. The connection was so bad but I managed to say I’d email him and he promised to reply. An hour later, I had no reply and in two more hours, I’d depart for the airport and have no hotel. I found a list of hotels and made inquiries to most of them. I finally got a response and confirmed the room.
I met my friend at the bus station and we headed off to the Airport. Along the way he asked me why I’d put down his number for the hotel. I did this because I wasn’t bringing my own phone. This matter is insignificant but what is, is that he confirmed the room but the first hotel was the only one I put his number down for. Now we were confirmed for two hotels and two hotel pickups. I decided to remedy this situation by giving the second guy at the airport a few dollars for his troubles and apologize for the inconvenience.
After making our way through the checkpoints, we walked out to the waiting area. Three pieces of paper waited with my name on it. About this point my brain shut down. I got the guy of the hotel I confirmed myself and the three of us left the airport. I pretty much sprinted to the shuttle. As we sat in the van and my friend laughed at my failure I realized I didn’t pay them any money. Sorry Cambodian people that your first impression of me was of an asshole.

The story of my Travels

As I sat trying to come up with new stuff to write about, I realized I never actually wrote about my travels through South East Asia. I touched on two stories and that was it. While I will continue to write about non-travel related things, I would like to recount stories of my travels when writer’s block stops me from talking about other things. The first article has already been written and I’m going to pull that up from the past and then I’ll begin to sequentially tell my stories starting in Cambodia, then passing through Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and China.