On April 16th I flew from Siem Reap to Jakarta, Indonesia to meet up with Lauren and Natalie, my travel buddies from Elephant Nature Park. My original plan was to head up to Laos, but the idea of going to Indonesia was appealing because I would get to travel with the girls again, and because it was surprisingly $100 cheaper to fly to Jakarta than to Luang Prabang. Actually, I never had any plans to visit Indonesia on this trip. I made the decision three days in advance and booked the flight two days in advance. Such is life on the road sometimes. Spontenaity and flexibility can pay off.
The temples of Angkor are ancient, massive, stunning feats of architecture. Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer Empire from the 9th century until the 15th century and may be the largest pre-industrial city in the world. “Angkor” is actually the Khmer word for “city.” There were more than 1,000 temples that made up the Angkor complex, although now many of them are just piles of brick and rock. The ones that still stand and have been restored include Angkor Wat (the world’s largest single religious monument & Cambodia’s #1 tourist spot), Bayon, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm. They are now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
On April 12, I took the bus to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh. It left three hours late, and even though it was an AC bus (which are more expensive), the driver never turned it on. So it was a long, hot eight hours, but I finally arrived and checked in at the Siem Reap Hostel well after dark. My first impression of Siem Reap was that it was very smoky and smelled like a blazing fire. I never did figure out where it came from, but it was indeed smoky the entire time I was there. My second impression of the city, after exploring it on foot, was that I was going to like it. It seemed fun, hip, easy to get around, and full of restaurants, markets, and bars. I had specifically planned to be there for the upcoming Khmer New Year because I had heard that it was the only city in Cambodia that really celebrated the holiday with a bang.
I used Phnom Penh as a jumping off point for getting down to the southern coast, the CPOC volunteering gig, and Siem Reap, so I was there a total of 3 nights, but never consecutively. PP is incredibly hot in April, which made doing anything in the city a real drag. It was almost unbearable to be out and about between 10am and 6pm. Since those are the hours when I tend to be most active, I don’t have much to show for my time there. But I did manage to make it to the Royal Palace/Silver Pagoda (which are part of the same complex), Sisowath Quay (the historic riverfront area), and I saw (but didn’t enter) the National Museum of Cambodia.