We arrived in Siem Reap midafternoon after another long journey on a public bus from Kampong Cham. Siem Reap is named so as Thailand (former Thai name Siam) was under Thai administration from 1795 to 1907. Reap means ‘recaptured’ or defeat so Siem Reap means recaptured from Thailand.
Our hotel wasn’t far from the main area off Siem Reap – pub street. As it was beer o’clock, me, Bill, my dad, Louise and Celine went for a walk to the Siem Reap brew pub for a beer! The beer was nice but not so cold and expensive! Still, it was a good choice to eat the heat. We also had a small snack again I should have seen the sign – being a touristy place it was pricier than the rest of Cambodia. Later that evening the entire group went for an orientation walk toward the night market and pub street. Siem Reap is a lot bigger than I imagined. There is not just pub street but two large main streets that connect around pub street, plus numerous little streets and alleyways. Its a pretty nice city, however I’ve seen documentaries about how mass tourism is affecting the environment, particularly ater supply as with all the hotels in town put increased pressure on supply and in fact Angkor Wat is sinking due to this.
However, the city lives on tourism and it must rake in millions to the economy. After our walk, we went to a traditional Aspara dance and dinner show. We didn’t have the best seats in the house but we were treated with a large buffet of international and Khmer foods. The dancing was wonderful – Khmer traditional dancing is very similar to Thai traditional dancing as Thai dancing probably has Khmer roots. There was also rural dancing such as a fishing dance. It was very nice, however I’m resolved dinner and dance shows aren’t worth it compared to just a dance show alone as with the dinner option there will always be people walking in your way getting food and wait staff walking around, and the food isn’t top notch anyway. And the drinks are expensive (but later I learned its pretty average for Siem Reap!!)
The next morning, new years eve, was an early 4am start! We got up at 4am to be ready to depart the hotel at 4.15am to visit Angkor Wat! Sunrise isn’t until about 6.27am but we were told that queues get heavy for sunrise and that was no lie. We me our local Angkor guide and about a 15 minute drive we were at the massive ticket office and there were lots of mini vans and tuk tuks out in the morning. The huge ticket office was also quite busy with tourists and tour groups, as well as market sellers. We had a 1 day pass included with our Intrepid trip (37USD) but we had to get our photos taken for the ticket as in the past dishonest travellers who bought the multi-day passes would share the ticket amongst their friends. After we got the tickets sorted we drove to Angkor Wat and then walked in the dark (the local guide wasn’t joking about needing a torch!)and crossed the floating bridge which felt so weird! We then waited for sunrise with the thousands of tourists jostling for a good position. Fun spirited coffee sellers were pushing their coffee service (“would you like a coff-eeeeh at Angkor Waaat?”) while dodgy book sellers were trying to sell over inflated copies of fake books. Finally, dawn arises – the sun didn’t come up directly behind Angkor Wat as it does this only 2 days a year March 23 and Oct 23. But still it was fantastic well worth the early morning! We reconvened with the rest of the group on the direct path to Angkor and went in.
Originally a Hindu temple built for the god Vishnu, Angkor was built by Suryavarman II in the early 12th century and later converted to a Buddhist temple towards the end to the 12th century. Angkor is the largest religious monument in the world (162 hectares), attracting millions of tourists and locals every year. Interestingly, our guide told us Angkor was costing the government millions per year (I guess quite a bit of money gets skimmed off the top judging by the number of luxury cars in the capital!) The guide showed us numerous carvings in the wall depicting gods and battles between Hindus and Khmers. We walked around the massive complex taking goodness knows how many photos. The 3rd level could be reached by only a steep set of stairs which we had to wait around 30 minutes for but it was worth it. My dad had previously been to Angkor 13 years ago but this was his first time seeing the sunrise at Angkor. We then went to the centre of the complex where there is a large square letting in natural light. There are numerous Buddha statues everywhere, as well as Buddhist monks giving blessings so I went to pray and give a donation as well as getting a blessing from a monk for the new year. I felt so good after that. After about 2 hours we left Angkor at about 9.30am and we saw a massive massive amount of group tours streaming in and we were so glad we came early!! It was so hot too. The floating bridge was extra bouncy lol. We then went for breakfast and along the way Pear bumped into her brother who was randomly holidaying in Siem Reap with his wife and one year old son (whom Pear has never met!) So cute! After breakfast we we were off to another temple complex Bayon.
Bayon temple was built in the late 12th/early 13th century as the official state temple of Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII. We stopped at the entrance of Bayon to take photos at the array of ruins there and continued to the large complex which again had lots of carving on its walls. Khmer temple ruins are fascinating and I have been to several in Thailand including Ayutthaya and in Phimai where my family is from. There are also massive smiling stones at the top of the temple which you can see as you are walking around. The third and last stop was Ta Prohm, famous for where Tombraider was filmed in 2002 starring Angelina Jolie was filmed (she then subsequently met and adopted her first son Maddox from a Cambodian orphanage after she finished filming). The temple is famous for (other than starring in a Hollywood blockbuster) the massive trees growing out of the temple. We got some great panoramic photos of the group there. Built in the same era as Bayon by the same king, it was built dedicated to his mother. We saw several missing Buddha statues in both Ta Prohm and Bayon temples, which our guide told us were removed when the temples went from Hinduism to Buddhism. We finished by about 2pm and as fascinating as it all was, we decided to call it a day and go back to town to rest and get ready for New Years Eve celebrations!
We all minus the Germans and Khalid went around the corner for a light lunch, and later Louise and I went to a nearby hotel to use their pool as they kindly let us do so. We had a nice swim there and cocktails in the pool! The Germans were there also had a nice chat to them. I talked Louise into getting her hair washed and dried at one of the many hairdressers which we did but I went to a different one as the nice one next to our hotel was constantly busy. We met our group at 8pm to head downtown for dinner which was getting quite busy. The restaurant was very atmospheric but cant say the same about the food. Pear left us to be with her family and Khalid then joined us (Germans did their own thing). We decided to go to pub st and it was CHAOS!! Cars, motorbikes, tuk tuks were just everywhere! Honestly its just insanity to drive on NYE at pub st why bother! We manoeuvred our way to pub st, then went back across the maddening road to get beers.
Take 2 at pub street we saw there was a mini mart on the same side of the road gaahh!! So countdown to 2018 – lots of people, many locals and some tourists and dance music of which a lot seemed like local Khmer dance music went off! After being up for 20 hours we were feeling a bit giddy, then midnight happy new year!!!! It was fabulous to spend new years in an exotic location overseas and with a great bunch of people I would say this is the best intrepid group I’ve been with!! So we left pretty much after midnight, streets getting less crowded. I must say for an iconic tourist area pub street Siem Reap seems less boozy and sleazy than a lot of party parts of Bangkok. I loved it! So we walked home and lost Canada on the way who went to a bar.
The next day we woke up at 10am! It was a leisurely day, so me and Bill went for a walk downtown and saw my dad and had a coffee. We then went for a walk along the river and the covered markets which was a mix of clothes/crafts and food. A bit of shopping and photo snaps later we meandered around town and little alleyways back to the hotel. The Germans were there waiting for their day tour to the floating Village and we saw Khalid and Pear too. Me and Bill quickly changed to go to the pool where we saw Canada (Tina did the funniest thing and fell in with her cigarette lol) and it wasn’t long before my dad, Louise, Celine and Andrea showed up. Drinks, cards, swim all a relaxing afternoon! Afterward me, Louise and Celine went for massages which was delightful. I had a Khmer massage which isn’t as intense as the Thai massage but the masseuse really dug in and kneaded my muscles! Went back and had a quick change for dinner we all (minus the Germans and Pear) went to pub St. I caught a tuk tuk there with Canada did a bit of window shopping on the way in the market and met the others. For our last dinner in Cambodia……Mexican lol. At (apparently) the best Mexican restaurant in Asia. The food ok, the beer 50 cents! They had Khmer food but hey…. when in Siem Reap eat Mexican! After me, Bill, my dad, Louise and Celine went to the container night market which is basically a whole bunch of two level shipping containers converted into mini pubs. We went upstairs and I had a Hoegaarden. We were the only foreigners there after another group left. It was fun but each pub was playing its own loud music so the sounds were quite conflicting – Khmer love songs, Khmer doof-doof that was played ay NYE and a live band! But it was great, this is where all young Cambodians come to sit, socialise and have a drink.
Now to today! As write this we are officially in Thailand! A non eventful ride there with a couple of stops, we shuffled into a hot crowded room in Poi Pet at the Cambodian side and got stamped out of the country. Our driver said goodbye to us and out bags were transported by cart to Thailand. A fair walk to the Thai side, we waited over an hours to get through immigration. As Bill and I are staying in Thailand for 17 days and Australian passport holders are now only allowed a 15 day free visa (to stop people crossing the borders multiple times to renew their visa) if coming by land; those that arrive by air get 30 days. So we had our $55 3 month visas in our passports and I get to the counter and they changed the rules again its 30 days visa free only for 2 border crossings a year!! What a waste of money. THEN the immigration official tells me my visa is expired – whaaaat? The incompetent staff at Brisbane’s Thai consulate wrote date of validity 14 Nov 2017 to 13 Feb 2018!! It was obviously a mistake but immigration wasn’t buying it. They tried to speak to Pear in Thai but she couldn’t understand ( I wish I spoke up in Thai I wonder if that would of helped!) I explained the situation multiple times to multiple people, and kept repeating I’m leaving on 18 Jan (are you sure? They kept asking) showing my onward plane ticket and telling them well it looks as if you can give me a free 30day visa that will suffice! Grrrr. Half an hour later, group waiting outside my dad and Bill kept asking Pear questions then the official ushered her outside. My passport, defunct visa and air ticket was photocopied then I was finalllly stamped in! Phew! It made me so angry though – we each spent $55on a visa that we didn’t even require plus $2 each for a photocopy! I kept thinking should I get my Thai citizenship and passport which I am eligible for and this is a classic example of where it would come in handy!! Anyway. Welcome to Thailand – we split into two minivans with our luggage and are enroute to Bangkok with heavy traffic due to New Years. Tonight is our final group dinner which will be very sad to see our little group fly home to different parts of the world. This definitely has been one of my favourite trips and group!!