Before leaving for Cambodia, Jamie and I had little to no expectations of the country and our only real goal was to visit Angkor Wat. When we arrived at Siem Reap International Airport, we were relieved to fall instantly in love with a beautiful, serene country hosting affordable transport and a sense of ease for the beginning of our adventures. For just $9*, we were taken by remork – the Cambodian equivalent of a tuk-tuk – to a unique little hotel in the middle of the city – though it felt more like being in the middle of nowhere. Our driver then offered to wait for us whilst we checked in and drive us to the Angkor complex for a few dollars more.
Walking into the hotel, we were on cloud nine with koi fish surrounding the fountains of the entrance and extremely helpful staff who, to our delight, spoke excellent English. The lack of language barrier was highlighted when we were presented with a welcome drink which included “ingredients such as lemongrass and jasmine” and with this sentence, our curiosity increased. I picked up the drink, parched from travelling on dusty roads all morning, and began gulping the fluorescent green fluid; I wish I could say that it tasted better than it looked but an hour later the bitter taste of what I would assume bamboo to taste like and a hint of flavour somewhat similar to rice still lingered heavily in the back of my throat. However, this not so appealing drink was quickly forgotten about when the hotel manager announced: “I’m so sorry your room is not ready… so we have upgraded you for free!”
As we climbed back into the remork, ready for our first proper tour of the trip, the smiles on our faces could not have been larger. We were told that we would be taken to three temples and then around to Angkor Wat which confused us at first as we hadn’t realised that there was more than one temple!
This place was beyond anything we could have imagined; stretching across some 400 km2, this complex was filled with some of the most scenic views and historic landscapes we witnessed on our trip. Though Angkor Wat itself was extremely beautiful, we found that we actually preferred the smaller, less well-known temples such as Baphuon (my personal favourite) as there were a lot less people around these hidden gems and in some areas it was just the two of us exploring as if we were in our own private towers!
What we found extremely interesting was the conservation and reconstruction of some areas within the complex. Many of the temples had crumbled to the ground and had later, through a process of piecing stone and bricks together as if part of a giant puzzle, been reconstructed to look as close to the original buildings as possible.
Overall, the day was full of excitement and surprises and we fell in love with the beauty of Siem Reap and the mysterious history embedded in the landscape. How could we possibly top this?
Floating Villages of course! Although Jamie would argue that this tour didn’t ‘top’ Angkor Wat, I have to say I feel this was one of my favourite days of the whole month. Driving through rice fields and open countryside we eventually reached a riverbank filled to the brim with boats of all different sizes and colours and for just a small price, we were escorted to a large wooden boat by a boy who looked around the age of 10 – this did seem a little odd and on more than one occasionI thought this is a bit dodgy but whatever we went with it. He drove us down the river, pointing out police stations, schools, churches, everything imaginable either on stilts or floating. This was an entirely different, extraordinary way of life and at that moment I realised studying geography was the right choice. I wanted so much to find out about different cultures and ways of living.
Further along on our journey through the floating village of Kampong Phluck, we were convinced to pay just $5 to be escorted round a flooded forest by a little old woman in a paddle boat. We were mainly convinced because the money was allegedly used in order to give children in the village an education and my strong belief in the matter of education was enough to bypass the thought that this could be a complete scam. But as we paddled into the forest, several other boats were anchored within the trees waiting to earn more money by selling us refreshments and other random objects. I decided I would buy a couple of things as I do believe this is their way of life and they rely on tourism in order to make a living. However, I later realised that the bag of sweets I had purchased ‘for my driver’ was given back to the seller to be sold on again and again – and though I felt I had been caught out, I also couldn’t help but think this was ingenious.
We only stayed two nights in Siem Reap, but on the third day we spent the day by the pool before taking a night bus to Cambodia’s capital: Phnom Penh, in the South of the country.
*The official currency in Cambodia is known as Cambodian riel but 1 pound is worth around 5229 riel and so the Cambodian people wish to use US dollars as an alternative. This means that though all prices are shown in dollars, if you require small amounts of change, you are most likely to be given riel which is almost worthless most of the time.