There are places in the world, which should be a must visit, such as the Machu Pichu of Peru, the pyramids of Egypt, or the historic city of Petra. Cambodia is well worth a visit, although it is true that the vast majority, among which I am, simply add the excursion to Angkor Wat as part of a larger trip through Southeast Asia.
Angkor Wat is another place that the human being should visit once in a lifetime. The temples of Angkor is one of those places that you expect a lot, even fearing disappointment, but nothing is further from reality. They are even more spectacular than you can imagine. Cambodia, I owe you one!
Day 1 - Siem Reap
We get up without hurry and a tuk tuk takes us to the port of Luang Prabang where we will take our plane to Siem Reap. Our plane left at 10.40 and arrived at 12 noon. When the height began to decrease I could begin to observe the landscape being fascinated with the beautiful picture. All that covered my view were rice fields, palm trees and mountains leaving only small gaps without green color for houses and roads. We took a tuk tuk that take us to the center of Siem Reap. The streets were flooded since the heavy rains of a typhoon.
We reach the guest house without problems. The rooms were spacious and comfortable and there was wifi, as in all the hotels that we stayed throughout this month of travel. After keeping the backpacks we went directly to the center, taking a walk as we wanted to see the market.
We ate in one of the many bars on the sides and after that we decided to take a tuk tuk to enjoy the afternoon watching the sunset at Angkor Wat. We toured the site in the same tuk tuk that we had taken in Siem Reap and the scenery is beautiful. We enjoy inside the temple of Angkor Wat!
When the sun was almost hidden on the horizon the stones of the temple took an incredible red tone. It has been one of the most beautiful sunsets that I could see! We went back to the guest house. After a shower, we went to pub street with a tuk tuk. I have to admit that in Cambodia I found the prices much more expensive than in Vietnam or Laos.
Pub street, a street in the Kao San Road style of Bangkok is a very very touristy street, with bars made by and for tourists. So we decided to leave it and in a side street we found a great bar that we go with great prices and food cooked in front of us! The skewers and coconuts were exquisite! We had rice with vegetables and chicken, a beer and a coke.
Considering that we had not eaten anything since breakfast, it tasted great. And after this authentic dinner among Cambodians we take a stroll and see different places that offer excursions and others where they give massages and let the little fish eat the dead cells of the feet. We return and went to the bed as we were tired after such an exhausting day!
Day 2 - Angkor Wat
The sunrise is cloudy. At 7 our tuk tuk driver picks us up to take us the temples. After crossing the ruins of what was an entrance, and observe how some stones on the ground, covered with ferns and vegetation welcome me, I enter the domains of Angkor Watt. Along the way, dozens of monkeys come out to me, or simply swing from branch to branch.
On the outside, I only see a wall, and the enormous silhouette of central towers, which I have seen in hundreds of photos. I climb the stairs of the outer wall, the wall that surrounds the whole enclosure and I enter a space, where time does not exist, and the images carved in the stones, it would be said that they move for me. More than 2000 carvings of apsaras, or celestial dancers, move in their stony stillness.
We move to Bayon. I was overwhelmed! Those huge towers with their carved faces has something that moves me inside. It seems as if they are watching the four cardinal points! We spent a hour going around its terraces and inside. The apsaras, still dance immovable, when I leave.
A walk through an open forest, leads me through the Terrace of the Elephants to Phimeanakas, the palace area. In the surroundings we saw temples where monks purified Cambodians with water and prayers. I climb its steep stairs, and on top of everything in the temple, I see a typical image of a thousand films. I would need two whole lives to be able to see every corner. Already in the tuk tuk we continue to Preah Khan. We continue to Ta Som, and from there to Pre Rup.
From there we go to Ta Prohm. Without a doubt it was the temple that I most liked to see, because I loved the jungle and the imposing roots of the trees on the walls. At the entrance of the temple, a tree, a gigantic tree embraces with its roots the walls of the entrance. It cannot be real.
It seems to be born from within the stones. But it is real. Dozens of trees, of the most enormous trees that I remember, embrace, imprison, coexist, with the walls and stones. Cutting the roots would be to destroy the temple. The symbiosis is so perfect, so incredibly extraordinary, that I do not know if I walk through a temple surrounded by trees, or I'm up in a tree, where rocks come from.
The whole complex is a network of towers, courtyards, narrow passages and trees. The reliefs remain hidden covered with moss and climbing plants. There is so much vegetation, that even in an open courtyard, the sun's rays have difficulty reaching. To my memory come the images of adventure films shot here, and planted me in front of a door covered with roots, waiting for Angelina Jolie, appear between these walls, as in his movie.
My tour of Angkor, now takes me to Banteai Srei, or temple of women. The pond that surrounds the temple, allows me to obtain some wonderful photos, of an entire enclosure reflected in the water. Inside, figures and reliefs of women, lotus flowers, and some girls who pose as if they were living postcards, in exchange for a tip.
We ate in one of the many beach bars that are among the ruins. We have the amok, the nom banh chok, which are the traditional noodles and the kralan, a rice cake in bamboo cane. We try the sauteed frogs. I thought it was very expensive, but I recognize that being so touristy they take advantage and ask for what they want. We also bought a CD from some musicians.
We wanted to see the sunset in Bayon. So we asked the tuk tuk to take us there again to end the marathon of the day and unfortunately when we arrive and the sky was dark! It rained as it can only do in Southeast Asia! It's amazing how much water can fall in a few minutes!
Soaked we took refuge inside the tuk tuk and started back to Siem Reap, but we were satisfied by the wonderful day we lived among the ruins.
After a warm shower and rest we returned in a tuk tuk from the guest house to the center for dinner. In the end we enter a Thai restaurant, not so much because we like it a lot but because of laziness to look for something else. It is an excellent place because the terrace where the tables are is huge. After this, we could not forget our aching feet. So we looked for a massage center and we gave ourselves a foot massage for 45 minutes! We walked through Pub street. We return and get back to bed soon as we wanted to savor the experience of the day passed!
Day 3 - Bayon
At 8 o'clock our tuk tuk awaits us but the sky looks like having the desire to rain as yesterday afternoon. So we changed plans and decided to go to the lake to see the floating villages and then sunset in Bayon, which we could not see yesterday.
The trip in tuk tuk up there was great. The journey of few kilometers in such means of transport become eternal but we have the opportunity to see everything more calmly! When arriving at a town, the streets were flooded and we could not advance. We saw that some tourists ventured to walk along the water with mules but the boy of our tuk tuk was great. By going through the steeper side of the road he managed to advance without falling down arriving safely at the end to the town!
From there it was impossible to continue. We had no choice but to rent a boat to an area where they had boats with which to travel the floating villages to the lake. We found the price demanded by the boats to the floating villages and the lake exorbitant. In the end, after much dribbling, they lowered it! We pay and enjoy the views.
The town was amazing, with wooden houses, joined together and floating on the brown waters. All of them has boats nearby, with children leaning out of the entrances. There are vendors who come to the portals with different products. There is a church, a school, and the police, all this above the brown waters! It was great.
At the end of the two towns, we reach the Lake. It's huge, and almost looks like a sea! The boat tried to go down to a place where we can eat. In the end, after almost ten minutes waiting there, we started and returned to the dock.
We returned to Siem Reap and stopped to eat in a place we saw and told the driver of the tuk tuk to join us. He agreed to eat with us and we took the opportunity to learn about customs in his country. He was very quiet and was barely 19 years old.
As it was early on the way we decided that we would look for tickets to Phnom Penh for that same afternoon since we could not go to the temples because of the threat of tremendous rain.
In the center, we get a tourist bus ticket. We would leave at 16:30.
A tuk tuk took us to the guest house. After packing the luggage quickly we eat some sandwich since at 3pm the van would pick us up. At 15.30 a van took us to the Siem Reap bus station. To our surprise, what should be a super comfortable bus spending 6h of a trip became a trip that took almost 9 hours!
The positive thing was that we met locals on the bus, who were very nice. Almost everyone who was sitting around us tried to talk to us and play with us! In the end we loved the change! We even take our names written in Cambodian in our travel book and some people's. I love these letters!
We made two stops and in one of them at 7:00 pm, we bought a pineapple. We passed lots of villages where people got on and off. On one occasion, we were half dozing.
We arrived Phnom Penh around midnight and dozens of tuk-tuk harassed us to take us in search of a hotel. We took one and we left towards the guesthouse. The only problem is that it was farthest from the river area and to move we would need a vehicle. It is a very cozy guesthouse with few rooms and a covered terrace.
There they have a bookshelf full of books and cambodia travel guides. The walls overflow with photos and posters in which wecan read "welcome" in many languages made by the guests who are passing through there. We did not have to do it because it was already there. I have a very good memory of the woman who welcomed us.
She was very nice and was interested in what we wanted to see and do. She cooked us dinner and explained how to get to Tuol Sleng on foot. After undressing, we got into bed very tired.
Day 4 - Phnom Penh
We have breakfast on the terrace and left with the idea of walking to the museum. Soon we take a tuk-tuk that made signs so that we could go with him. He told us that if we went with him all day he would take us now for free. Since we knew that afterwards we would need one, we said yes.
And thank goodness, because if we had to cross the avenue walking we would not have arrived. And the fact is that the streets of Cambodia are chaotic. The traffic signs are rare and also non-existent in the eyes of the drivers and each one goes literally as it pleases.
It is not uncommon to see motorcycles that go in the opposite lane, tuk-tuks that make a change of direction in the middle of an avenue. The only rule when arriving at an intersection is to slow down. Surviving chaos has its merit. In a few minutes we arrived at Tuol Sleng, and the driver told us that he would wait for us at the corner of the street.
We started with this site because I really wanted to see it. I had read something about the history of this place and being there inside was as I had imagined, a chilling visit. I will not be the one to give readers a history lesson. I would not even know if I wanted to.
The history of this museum is linked to what happened in Cambodia during the four years that the Khmer Rouge ruled. Knowing this in advance we enter this place with the heart in a fist, and it does not come out better. We paid the entrance fee and started the tour of the building on the left.
Walking through the corridors of the building we relived the nightmare and the sensation was creepy. On one of the floors there were murals made with the photos of all the people who had passed by. We spent a lot of time taking photos and recording videos until the time we left with the driver.
On the way we could see Choeung Ek. To finish the visit we saw a small museum that is on the way out with more photographs and details of the extermination camp. Obviously we went where the driver took us where some tourists usually go. Weary after the whole day we returned to the guest house.
We stayed on the terrace of the guesthouse till the time it was raining. We see the photographs of several areas of Cambodia that were on the wall. We then leaf through the dozens of guides in several languages of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Burma. When the whirlwind gave a truce, the same driver who was still in the faithful door took us to the river walk area. We discovered the Royal Palace and the silver pagoda. In the royal palace
The only exciting thing I saw was a monkey that showed me all the teeth while we tried to take a picture. We roam around for an hour. We then head for the river walk and went in search of a bar to finish the day. In the end we ended up eating at an Indian restaurant on the corner of Blue Dog Street, which, even without as much decoration as the Kamasutra or as much atmosphere as in Siem Reap, was still just as good
Our legs are tired and we are enormously hungry. On the way we could observe the movement that is in the walk, with people walking, people selling all kinds of street food and people fishing in the Mekong. After recharging our batteries we returned to the guest house to buy a bus ticket for the next day to Kompong Cham. So while we were waiting for the woman to confirm it we sat on the sofa to play a game of chess.
We still had to wait a while. It did not take me five minutes to fall asleep knowing that the next day started the route through deep Cambodia.
Day 5 - Sihanoukville
The weather threatened with rain. So we cross our fingers and let a bit of breakfast go by. While I was eating milk with banana and muesli I looked at the sky almost begging for a ray of sunshine. At 6 o'clock in the morning and strangely punctual, a minibus came to pick us up at the guesthouse.
This one took a few turns and was picking up all the people who were getting ready to take the bus that would take us later on the next trip. We changed our plans and instead of going to Battambang, and always thinking about the budget and the weather, we decided to go directly to the west coast to Sihanoukville.
Once at the bus station, all the vendors stung us, trying to endorse us to a piece of bread while we tried to find out where we had to go. Up on the bus we were still waiting for the others for a while and moving from place to place while the reviewer tried to put everyone in their place. The trip was going to be long, rather long. We were going to cross Cambodia from top to bottom.
We left at 7 and in the first few hours we spent watching the spectacular scenery. We were going by a road that went through villages. At 12:30 we arrived at our destination. We stepped on the ground again and picked up the backpacks.
We were about to negotiate with a tuk-tuk when a man approached us, almost clandestinely and told us that he can take us on a motorbike to the guest house. The Lonely Planet says that there is an agreement between motorcyclists and tuk-tuks, but this man managed to make us the offer without others noticing. It was an offer too tempting to refuse.
So we started the journey. On the way, as expected, the older man in front tried to take us to a different place to collect the commission of another guesthouse. We convinced him not to do it and soon followed the course and took us to the agreed destination.
I got off the motorcycle and picked up everything, and right at the entrance of the guesthouse I realized that it really was a republic of monkeys. After doing the check-in, we went through the back of the bar, where there was a garden with modest bungalows.
And I say modest because the truth is that there were two thin mattresses on a wooden board, a fan, a bathroom with cold water and a porch with a pair of wicker chairs to rest in the garden. After the shower that we needed so much, we went again by the bar where we were invited to welcome beers in the evening. Built all in wood, in the purest style of a beach hut, the area was divided into three floors.
Serendipity beach was the first beach we visited. We just had to go down the avenue and cross a battered street of dirt and tunnels to get to the beach. The canvas imagined finally vanished. Before me appeared a beach where the water was neither blue, nor the sand was white and there was hardly room to walk.
Actually it was a stretch of sand about 4 meters wide full of loungers and with the bars attached. We started walking around one beach bar after another and when we realized that they were, all the same, we decided to throw ourselves in a chair. Suddenly the wind began to blow and a thundercloud arrived.
On the way to the guesthouse we stopped at a store and bought flip flops. We were looking at swimsuits, but they were all too flowery. That night we went to dinner at the bar. Without stopping much longer we sat at a table. It was a terrace covered by a wooden roof where we ordered a fish barbecue with squid, shrimp and Lok Lak, a meat dish with an exquisite sauce to go with the beer.
As expected, most of the dishes were western, well, actually fast food like hamburgers, chips, hot dogs, sandwiches, and baguettes. Although they also reserved a small space for Cambodian food, of which I must say, the Rolls were the best I tried throughout the trip. I still remember the taste of those spicy Spring rolls! To top off the dinner we ordered a banana and chocolate pankake.
It was during dinner when we realized that the atmosphere there had nothing to do with what we had been seeing. People were looking for relaxation on the beach and partying at night. The proof of that were the dozens of photos hanging on the walls in which a lot of people were seen in disguise and in parties.
Although we were not encouraged by that day, the beers that we drank during dinner had somnolent effect. Shortly after eating the sandwiches we were on the porch of the room waiting to go to sleep. We asked for a couple of drinks and went up to our beloved attic where we chatted in the hammocks until we fell asleep.
Day 6 - Bokor National Park
With the good weather the adventures returned. So the next day we woke up early and we were at the door of the guesthouse where the car was already waiting for us with our excursion companions. The man who convinced us the day before to make the getaway invited us to enter the car to leave, since we were the last ones. Already accommodated in the back of the vehicle we saw that apart from the guide and the driver there were five people. I can only say that they were a couple of girls that went together and three others that seemed like that too. We were going to the Bokor National Park also called Preah Monivong National Park, a few kilometers from Kampot, to visit the surroundings.
As we climbed, the 7 people behind us clung tightly to the seats devoid of belts, to avoid hitting the roof. I could not record anything because the camera stopped working, but not having both hands free prevented me from hitting my head repeatedly. This was not an impediment to enjoy the landscape offered by the mountain. It was populated by trees in abundance, among which was the tiger, which fortunately did not give us any scare. The trip was not long, rather tortuous, but we arrived in one piece.
The first stop was the Black Palace built for King Sihanouk and whose unique feature was the views from the viewpoint it has. There the guide was telling us things about the construction of the road and a bit of history from the Khmer Rouge era.
Next we went back to the vehicle. When we reached the top of the mountain the guide distributed us bags with sandwiches, bananas and water and left us free to visit the mountain station. It was an abandoned complex, built over Phnom Bokor during colonial times. Formed by several buildings and abandoned for decades its appearance today is phantasmagoric.
The first building we visited was the hotel casino Bokor Palace, which was as scary as the one in the movie. We accessed by the stairs of the main entrance and once inside we dispersed. After so many years of abandonment there were only remains of what was once a huge hotel for wealthy people in which there was nothing left. In the dirty, cracked and moldy walls there were holes that were probably originated during the occupation of the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge.
The great hall with its enormous fireplace was empty giving the same sensation as that of a sunken ship for decades. Walking around this one could almost imagine the guests dining or dancing next to the hearth fire. It was chilling. On the upper floors was what should be rooms and bathrooms, as some still had the tiles.
We went up and at the end we arrived at a huge roof. From there, a few meters from a precipice, we could see the mountain and the sea. Although it was a shame not being able to see the horizon, the show was replaced by another one just as beautiful. From that height we could see how the clouds rose in a column form the cliff as if it were the smoke of a bonfire. With those views we decided to sit down for lunch, so on top of the stone railing we took out our sandwiches and ate them.
As soon as we finished, and before the guide called us to continue the visit, we took the opportunity to go down to the back of the hotel and look out over the precipice. There I felt the first cool breeze of the whole trip.
The next stop was the Catholic church, abandoned as well as the casino. The guide told us that the Khmer Rouge took refuge there while the Vietnamese attacked them from the hotel. I suppose that's why the pieces of wall and glass were on the floor. The church only retained the structure and there was no image or figure as expected after so many years of neglect. From one place to another we entertained taking pictures in the peculiar landscape. It was as if we were among the set of a horror movie, and the fact of imagining people there entrenched even gave him more emotion.
We continued visiting the rest of the station through the post office that was reached crossing a small bridge. When it seemed to the guide that we had seen enough, he took us elsewhere. This time we went to visit a Buddhist temple, not very different from any other. It is very peculiar for its location on top of the mountain and the tranquility in which its monks lived. It was full of prayer flags that reminded me of those seen in Nepal in the base camps of mountaineers who climb Mount Everest.
In the interior of one of the enclosures there was a small altar full of figures of Buddha with his always relaxed appearance. To end the trip, we stopped at the Popokvil waterfalls. The views from above were impressive, as well as the vertigo that appeared. To reach the lowest level we had to cross the river with the sliding floor and down a mud path between the trees, and barefoot above. People were slipping but in the end we all got down. The red color of the water and its surface full of foam did not make the bath unappetising.
The guide approached the point where the water fell from the upper level and got under the jet with his pants on. Then he went to a point on the lake where the stones could be lifted and created a miniscondite under the water where they all ended up getting into.
The time in water was not very long, because at the time we already felt the coolness and we all left soon. There was only the return, which like the climb was the most entertaining jumping all there in the car.
When we returned to the guesthouse we were exhausted, and after taking a refreshing shower we take our well deserved fresh beer on the terrace. Later we went looking for a cyber to get information about the problem of the video camera. We were lucky and after a long time we managed to find out that by doing a reset it could come to play.
When we left there the streets were already dark like every night, and we went walking to the river. On the way, one of the restaurants that could have been anybody at that time served us to enjoy the night and dine in tranquility. Beer, rice, rolls and relax. On the way to the guesthouse we noticed that there was a local motorcycle rental. So we decided that the next day we would make our own excursion. We still get the strength to stay a while in the guesthouse lounge to discuss the day and write a little diary.
That night the surprise awaited me in the room. When I grabbed the backpack to take off my pajamas I saw that behind it was a huge and hairy spider that gave me goosebumps and made me jump backwards. We threw her out, deluded me thinking that she would leave, without thinking that she was going to live with us in the room and I would meet her again.
We got up early and after paying at the hotel we went out in tuk tuk to the guest house since there a van will pick up us at 7:30 am to take us to the ferry. We have breakfast. In the van we met two israeli girls and we chatted a lot. In the end, we share a boat trip with them!
The boat trip lasts too long. We travel for 4 hours in slow boat and 2 hours in speedboat passing the border with Vietnam.