Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Angkor Wat?

Before coming to Cambodia I did a little bit of research on the country to see what I was getting myself in to.  I read a few things online, watched some YouTube videos and tried my best to learn a bit of the language.  However, being there, is completely different from reading about it.

When we arrived, we had to apply for our visa. What an easy process that was! In my past job I booked a lot of travel, so I applied for a lot of visas.  The process is always dreadful and takes forever and your visa can get rejected for the tiniest mistakes made on the application. In Cambodia, not so much. We handed them the money, a one page form and our passports, and then paid $2 extra since we didn't bring a photo. Then our passports were passed along a line of about 10 people, stamped at each stop, and then they called our names and we picked them up.  Took about 2 minutes. Wow.

I asked for a pickup from our hotel since we got in late. They were there with a sign and we grabbed our backpacks and headed in to the parking lot. Andrew made a joke saying "are we driving in a tuk-tuk?!"...and he said..."yes". AWESOME! So off we went in our tuk-tuk, through Siem Reap, Cambodia. We stayed at the Wooden Angkor Hotel. It was completely adorable and the staff was amazing. We took our shoes before going inside and they gave us a warm towel to wipe off with. When we got to our room, they had made us an adorable display since it was our honeymoon. So cute!

We decided to spend the next day sleeping in and then going out on the town to explore. We walked all around the town and went to markets, a few shops, and then we were starving so we went for food.  We decided to stop at a Mexican/Khmer restaurant...because Andrew wanted Khmer (Cambodian) food and I wanted Mexican...because who doesn't want to try Mexican food in Cambodia? After that we went to the local convenience store to grab something to drink and some chocolate.  As we were browsing the sweets I noticed some Cadbury chocolate and got very very excited...and then I found it...MY FAVORITE CHOCOLATE FROM NEW ZEALAND! Cadbury Black Forest...YAY! So we bought a few bars and headed back to the hotel to gorge on our chocolate and get a good nights rest.  Even though we had figured out what my stomach problem was (taking my malaria meds wrong), I was still suffering from it and wanted to take it easy to avoid making it any worse.  So we went to bed early to get ourselves rested and ready for our big day at Angkor Archaeological Park.

Angkor was absolutely amazing! We decided to go with a tuk-tuk driver rather than a scheduled tour or a bike rental. It was a quick way to get around yet they gave us enough time to explore at our own pace.  Funny enough, our pace was actually quite fast.  We left in the morning and started touring around 9am.  By the early afternoon we had seen all of the temples in the "small loop".  We started with Angkor Thom with our first stop being Bayon Temple. On the way we saw some funny tourists taking pictures of monkeys...walked by people riding on elephants...seemed like we were in another world. Getting there early was a great idea. There weren't that many people in the park so we got to take our time and take great photos. We wandered through Bayon and Baphuon, through Phimeanakas and then out through Elephant Terrace.  I think my favorite part was the ceiling. It was so amazing!  As we tried to leave, we had to walk through the dreaded vendors.  Goodness it's hard to say no! So many people selling the same things over and over. The worst part was how they enlisted their children to sell things for them. Oh it was heartbreaking. Surprisingly we were able to say no almost the whole way through.

A lot of the temples began to blend together over the two days. They were all a bit similar and we squished so much in to a short time. At that point I decided it would have been helpful to have a guide.  I'm sure there were lots of details that we missed.  However, there were some temples that stood out.  We jetted through Thomanon and Ta Keo, but the next stop was one of my favorites, Ta Prohm.  Most people know it as the spot where Tomb Raider was shot but I definitely see it as the tree temple.  And as all of you probably know...I love trees :) The temple was absolutely amazing. I can't believe how resilient the tree's are! They grow over the largest walls with roots surrounding the temple and touching back in to the ground. So beautiful!

We went quickly through the next temple, Banteay Kdei, took a look off of Sras Srang, got suckered in to buying some drinks from two kids who gave us bracelets, and then went to my favorite temple, Angkor Wat.  I really loved how grand it was. The entrance was gorgeous and the temple inside was huge!  We were able to climb to the top and the view was wonderful.  Unfortunately the pollution in Cambodia makes things a bit hazey, but you could still see throughout the temple which was really awesome.  All around the base of the temple were these carvings that told a story. That was definitely my favorite part.  We walked around the whole thing trying to understand what was going on. It didn't really work out for us, but after going home and googling it, it turns out the carvings were actually Hindu, which was surprising to me because I thought the temple was Buddhist.  It made much more sense after figuring that out though because I knew I saw Vishnu in there...

That night we decided to go out to the night market and try some food we found online.  Unfortunately we couldn't find the restaurant but we did do a bit of shopping.  Andrew found that he was quite the haggler.  It was like he was fighting back after sucking at it in Hoi An haha.  He was amazing! I would just leave him and let him do his thing...they would go back and forth and back and forth "there are lots of other shirts I can buy" (that was his line haha).  After some shopping we went and had dinner at a place on the legendary "Pub Street".  We decided to split some spring rolls and crocodile curry. Tastes like chicken ;) After that we went to the Blue Pumpkin for some ice cream and man was it delicious!!! Oh how I love ice cream shops. Especially ones that sell cinnamon flavored ice cream...

The next day we decided to do the "big loop" of Angkor.  The first stop was Preah Khan, right outside of Angkor Thom, which was our first stop the day before. There was basically no one there. It was so peaceful. The only person we saw was a guy reading when you walked in to the temple. This temple was pretty cool. It had lots of intricate carvings and some more fun tree's growing over the structure. The next temple was Neak Pean, built out on an artificial island. It was so peaceful walking out on the wooden bridge over the lake in to the temple area.  There wasn't a lot of people so it was nice and calm.  Little boys were fishing off the bridge. It was a really nice break from the chaos of the temples and the town.

Ta Som was the next temple and had some really neat carvings scattered around the temple. We also found another really great tree :) The next temple was East Mebon which had some lovely elephants hanging out on each corner. This temple was different from the others we had seen so far. It was a different color and it had a different feel to it.  The temple was very tall and had a wonderful view. We decided that giants with chicken legs (or tiny feet) built the temple because of the huge height of the steps vs. the tiny width of them. This temple was one of Andrew's favorites, so was Pre Rup, a similar temple and our last stop.  Pre Rup was rumored to be a temple where they performed funerals.

At the end of our tour we decided to go out on the town.  We started with lunch at a restaurant we found on Trip Advisor called Genevieve's Restaurant. I was finally feeling up to eating and wanted to celebrate so we went on the hunt for this restaurant that was a bit off the main street.  The food there was so delicious! I ended up ordering some Khmer noodles and Andrew had some sort of bean salad.  Those noodles were the best thing I ate in Cambodia! It could have been that it was my first real meal since my stinking heart burn went away (that I got from taking my malaria pills wrong), but either way, they were FANTASTIC!  Our waiter actually ended up being one of the owners. He was a nice Aussie guy and gave us great recommendations. He was really nice and didn't understand why people had given him such good reviews online. He said he was ranked the number one restaurant in Siem Reap by one Chinese reviewing site so he always had heaps of Chinese customers. He mentioned a restaurant around the corner that is also gets great reviews and said that they get so packed that you have to have a reservation to get naturally we were curious.

 On the way out we popped our heads in to the restaurant called Haven House which was actually the #1 ranked restaurant on Trip Advisor for Siem Reap. We put our names in for a reservation and sent Rebecca a message to see if she would want to join us for dinner.  We headed back to the hotel to rest because it's too hot in Cambodia to do anything in the afternoon.  Around 6 we headed out to meet Rebecca at the restaurant. The restaurant is actually a training restaurant for kids wanting to get in to the food industry. The staff was so attentive (unlike our past experience with Vietnamese and Cambodian staff) and the food was absolutely delicious.  Rebecca even bought a t-shirt. It was great!

After that we decided to go shopping in the night market.  By the end of it we were getting pretty pooped so we decided to try out the fishies.  We walked by them a few times and kept commenting on how we were going to do it but never did...well then we did. They sold us on it by telling us we could have 30 minutes and a beer for $3 haha.  OH MY GOODNESS IT TICKLES!!! I was screaming and hootin and hollerin and causing all the tourists to come by and see what the heck was going on.  It was the oddest experience. I highly suggest trying it.  While in the tank we got a few people to come join us and made friends. Turned out they were from the US so Rebecca and I got to talk about our job and handed them a business card ;)

From there we wandered across the street to a bar that had some interesting music playing.  We went upstairs and they had swinging tables and all kinds of fancy lounge chairs.  Some girls were singing covers of US pop songs on stage.  It was a fantastic spot to people watch.  Some of the strangest people were in that bar...from drunken kids to creepy old men who clearly had bought their dates :S  After a few drinks we gave up on the place and headed downstairs where Andrew worked his haggling skills again and managed to get himself a Beats Pill from $45 to like $17.  He was pretty proud of himself. It was the funniest exchange...I had to get a photo.  Then we went back through Pub Street and had a few beers, and called it a night.  The Cambodian heat sure does make it hard to stay up late. I was in bed by 10pm (sometimes as early as 8pm) every night. What a party pooper.

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