24 Hours in Cambodia

Only 4 or so of those hours were spent sleeping, so I think I can actually say I have “been to Cambodia”. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.

We arrived in Cambodia from Da Nang, Vietnam and made travel friends immediately upon arrival: two girls around our age from a town near Buenos Aires, Argentina. I very much look forward to meeting up with them again when they visit Singapore before heading home. There are so many joys involved in saying hello to the person you are sitting next to on a plane! Not everyone inquires about your marital status (see previous posts if you don’t get this one).

The primary goal of the trip to Siem Reap was to experience Angkor Wat, but I regret that I did not have more time in Cambodia. The rest of my group continued on to Phnom Penh, while I flew back to Singapore to study for midterms. From what I hear, Phnom Penh is also an exciting and culturally rich city.

Our place of stay in Cambodia was in downtown Siem Reap, which is about a 20-minute drive from Angkor Wat. Upon arriving at our hotel, we headed to “Pub Street” where all of the best markets and restaurants are located. It has become a famous destination among travelers.

I think my favorite thing about Pub Street was the food (this seems to be a theme across my blog…). I tried Khmer (Khmer being the primary ethnic group in Cambodia) curry with jasmine rice. It was rich, flavorful, and incredibly filling. I wish I had a photo! Better yet, I wish I knew of a Cambodian cuisine restaurant in the U.S. so that I can be sure I will taste it again before leaving Asia.

After dinner, we walked along Pub Street, where we met many children. Particularly memorable was a young boy who decided to show off by doing a handstand down the street as we walked. He was quite the cool kid. The Cambodian people, as a whole, were kind and hospitable, similar to the people of Vietnam. I did not once feel unsafe or threatened in any way in my time there, and it was somehow not shocking to see children playing in the street alone.

Other sightings on Pub Street included the below:

insect photo

Two of my friends tried the insects and reported that they “tasted fried”. I can’t say I regret not trying them, nor the snakes, etc.

We headed back to our guesthouse (these are very common in Asia. They might be equivalent to a bed and breakfast in America) around 11pm, just in time to take showers and get to bed. I enjoyed a cold shower in the dark because our room was having electricity issues. No matter! I was in Cambodia and at the end of an amazing weeklong trip during which I had spent only $8.47 a night, on average, with free breakfast every single morning!  No complaints here. It was close to 12:30 am when we finally went to bed, prepared for our 4:45 am wakeup call to get in to a taxi by 5 in order to see sunrise at Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat sunrise photo

This photo does not do the sight justice. (I think my only rivaling temple experience was when I explored a temple along with only two close friends in Yogyakarta, Indonesia because it was pouring rain and all of the other tourists had gone home. It was a very peaceful experience.) My only complaint about Angkor Wat was the amount of tourists present, but as a wonder of the world, what else could be expected?

I think my favorite temple was Ta Prohm, or the “Tomb Raider Temple”. This is the classic image that came to my mind when I thought about visiting the Angkor Wat complex. The image is quite the juxtaposition. There are very large trees growing out of this temple elsewhere, as well.

Ta Prohm photo

We visited several other temples that day. At nearly every temple, children selling small trinkets, postcards, and other small gift items confronted us. They told us they needed money for school. We eventually all broke down and bought a trinket of some sort. I can only hope that the money actually went towards schooling.

This excursion, overall, was well worth the lack of sleep and the heat (Siem Reap is as hot as Singapore, if not hotter!) because not only did we see Angkor Wat at sunrise and several temples, but also numerous monkeys and elephants.

elephant photo

Seeing those elephants is definitely up there in terms of my favorite life experiences, thus far. They were so beautiful.

By two in the afternoon, we were exhausted from a day of temple exploring and decided to head back to Siem Reap for another great meal on Pub Street before I headed to the airport to return home to Singapore.

As always, returning to Singapore prompted a bit of culture shock because of the developed city’s stark contrast to other parts of Asia. Nevertheless, returning to S’pore felt quite a bit like returning home.