(I prefer the Afrikaans: Kambodja)
My visit to Cambodia has definitely been the highlight of my trip. I honestly wish that I could have spent more time here, I would have loved to describe my experience in Cambodia for the magnificent trip that it was, but alas, I am not a writer. So here is my best attempt in writing about what I wish I could write about, which was my trip to Siem Reap in Cambodia (good luck following that train of thought).
Cambodia, Who? I mean what?
- Cambodia’s name changed 7 times since 1963.
- Cambodia was Colonized by France (and gained their independence in 1953).
- The Cambodian flag is the only flag with a building on it.
- People do not really celebrate birthdays here.
- The Genocide (1975 – 1979) under the Khmer Rouge Reign murdered close to 25% of the population (1.5 to 3 million Cambodians)
- Due to the genocide, +- 60% of the population is below 30.
- The average age of marriage is 22 for women and 25 for men.
- Angkor Wat is the main reason people visit Cambodia.
- Angkor Wat is one of the Worlds’ largest the religious buildings.
- Tomb Raider was filmed at Angkor Wat
- There are around 4 million landmines in Cambodia
- There is no McDonalds (But there is Burger King and Starbucks)
|Who:||Me, myself and I (And Shiraz /Shirah/Sirrah– my awesome Tuk-Tuk drier).|
|Where:||Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia|
|How:||Air Asia flight from Bangkok (Don Muang Airport – 45-minute flight).|
|Angkor Wat Ticket:||$37 (1 Day Pass)|
|TukTuk:||$30 (from the airport to Angkor Wat, temples and back to Siem Reap)|
Shortly after take-off in Bangkok, I fell asleep, Exhausted! The jet lag of the past week is taking its toll and the thought of being in bed was much more pleasant than on an international flight (it was the jetlag talking, not me! Judging myself as I am writing this). Waking up with the view of the Cambodian countryside, as the sun rose, through the airplane window was the perfect way of (re)starting the day. Not long after landing I was already in love (yes! love at first sight!!). Nothing significant happened. I didn’t see anything exceptionally beautiful. It must have been something in the air, maybe it was all the smiles I saw? The Cambodians’ smiles are infectious, and you cannot help but smile too.
Friendly, Friendlier, Cambodian Friendly.
At the airport, I met Shiraz*, a Tuk-Tuk Driver who said he’ll drive me around for the day for $30 (best plan ever). Siem Reap was incredibly warm (34C with a humidity of 60%), the ride in the Tuk-Tuk made the super-hot-day more bearable. Most tourists, and even those who consider themselves travelers, get Tuk-Tuks**, it is convenient and a great way to experience the town and temples.
As a side note, I didn’t pre-arrange a Tuk-Tuk as my plan for the day was “winging it”, and if you know me, I do not wing, there is always a plan with lists, times, dates and tick boxes, but in Cambodia, you have to wing it, it is part of the fun (that last sentence you’ve read is called: personal growth).
Reasons to havea tuk-tuk for the day:
- All sights and areas are quite far and you won’t be able to walk (+-20km)
- You can enjoy the scenery
- You don’t have to worry about getting your next ride
- It gets really warm (the shade and wind on the Tuk-Tuk helps to cool you down)
*(This is what his name sounded like, I struggled to hear, and after my 4th attempt he laughed and agreed with Shiraz)
**You can rent a bicycle (but not ideal for a 1-day trip).
Shiraz stopped at what I assumed was a cold drink stand, until I saw him fill the gas tank with “Pineapple Fanta”. No, it wasn’t Pineapple Fanta but in fact: Fuel (nifty creative business men). Filled with Fanta we were heading for Angkor Wat (yay!)
A Portuguese monk said “it is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen”.
I couldn’t agree more!
The first vision of Angkor Wat is slightly confusing, you don’t see the 5 towers, but as you slowly cross the bridge the whole temple realizes in front of you. Quite captivating you cannot help but walk closer (also, it is quite a natural act to walk towards the thing you came to visit). It is overwhelming that this temple is nearly 850 years old. It felt like I was in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
It was initially built as a Hindu Temple, which was later converted into a Buddhist temple and is regarded as one of the oldest and largest religious sites in the world. There are still Buddhist here, and if you want, you can get a blessing from a Buddhist monk. As part of its initial design as a Hindu temple, it was made to resemble the universe. For more insightful information click here 🙂
The Bayon was built in the early 1200s under Jayavarman VII and is one of the most renowned end prestigious religious sites in the world. There are 54 pillars with heads on 4 sides of each pillar, however, just 39 of these are standing today. It is incredible to see the details on these heads, and surely a favorite among tourists (I would know, I was one). There aren’t a lot of shade, so best to visit this early morning or late afternoon. For more info: Bayon!
The first noticeable thing is that you have to walk through a “jungle” to get to the temple. Slowly the sound of the tuk-tuks is getting quieter until you only hear the sounds of the birds and the wind in the treetops above you. Enormous trees grow everywhere, taking over the old buildings and reclaiming their territory. As you walk around the “village” temple, you can see all the trees growing out of buildings, on buildings, through buildings. For more info: Ta Prohm.
If Temples aren’t your thing, you can go and do the following in Siem Reap:
- Night Market,
- Pub Street,
- Fishy Foot Spa’s,
- Street food, and
- Even a theatre.
- Currency: Have Dollars in Siem Reap – Cambodian Riels won’t help you much
- Withdraw money from the airport if you do not have currency with you (at the departures terminal there are 5 ATMs (Visa, Maestro etc.)
- Get an E-visa (the visa on arrival cues are long and take time)
- Driving: Get a tuk-tuk driver at the airport to escort you the whole day
- Visit Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm
- Dress appropriately (shoulders and knees covered) for the temples
- Bring water (+- 2 liters at least)
- Have a hand fan (to cool yourself down)
- Bring a book explaining the Reliefs
- Negotiate (almost everything is negotiable, except your plane ticket)
- Stay 24 hours (this is a visa requirement, and you cannot leave the country in less than 24 hours)
- The loo (have tissues with you) – there is no 2 ply
- Wear comfortable shoes (flip flops would be fine)
- Have sunblock
You do not have to appreciate Art, Archaeology, Khmer or even Buddhism to enjoy the time here – someone anynoymous
Top 10 things about my visit
- Friendly people & their warm smiles
- The green jungle
- The Tuk-Tuk Ride (and the wind in my hair as we drove)
- Watching Shiraz fill his Tuk-Tuk with “Fanta”
- Sitting and writing in Angkor Wat
- Seeing the trees taking over the Ta Prohm
- Watching the Faces on the pillars of The Bayon
- Struggling to communicate with the Cambodians
- Trying to Translate the different Reliefs
- Starbucks Frappuccino (yes!)
I have tried to put in words the time I had in Cambodia, it is oddly difficult to do. Somewhere between the sincere smiles, the chaotic traffic, the TukTuk drive and Filing Station, there was this wave of peace coming over me ( I do realize that this sounds very eat pray love).
It felt like one of those cheesy videos you see of people’s trips with emotional music, except, it was real life, and an experience I have never had before. This was a truly emotional experience being here. Nothing “eat, pray love”, just a re-wakening of life, where I am, what I want to be, and who I have become: so maybe it is a bit eat pray love (and oversharing).
That is the thing of traveling on your own, you only have your own company, and you somehow confront yourself by spending time with you. Talking about the stuff that you should have, but didn’t have the time because #lifehappens.
This post has taken an odd emotional turn.
It is my wish that everyone has the chance to have the experience I had at Siem Reap in Cambodia, it doesn’t have to be “Cambodia”, your “Cambodia” might be at home, in the Midlands, a desert, Paris or even at the beach, but Cambodia might be a good choice.
Love, Lien xxx
I told Shiraz to just “wing it”
Confused he looked at me and said; “I do not have wings”.
Roelien: “No Shiraz, I just mean, I just want to do 2 more stops, but you can decide what will work best”.
Shiraz: “I am not too sure Miss Caroline, I don’t want an incident”
Roelien: “An incident?”
Shiraz: “Yes, like an accident, you want me to fly to the airport, to be very quick”
Roelien: “No No No, I meant we only need to be at the airport at 19:00, it is a South African way of saying we will take things as we go along…”
That didn’t clarify the situation. (imagine laughing emoji)