asia · cambodia

An Incredible Week in Siem Reap: Angkor Wat and Meditating With a Monk

After a journey back to Phnom Penh (involving a two lane road turning into 5 lanes of traffic) and a night at the cutely named Lovely Jubbly hostel (not as good as Mad Monkey but a dollar cheaper), we were headed to the one place everyone heads to in Cambodia: Angkor Wat.

Our bus plonked us somewhere “just outside the city” and we were invited to get to our final destination in Siem Reap via the many tuk tuks waiting at the bus station. I felt sure this was a bit of a scam, but for only $2 it took the hassle out of finding where we were.

We headed into town, and suddenly our tuk tuk veered off the main road and down an uninviting dirt track. “Oh my God, we’re going to die” ran through our minds – but only for a second because there, the second building down, was our hostel!

AND WHAT A GREAT HOSTEL IT WAS. We were arriving on Easter Sunday, just in time for their Easter special – A ROAST DINNER!! There are few times we have felt this excited about food!

We even ate it on a hammock bench, and over the course of the next 5 days lounged in the pool atop bean bags while drinking $2 cocktails. This. This was the life! Though it was partly prompted by the fact it was SO BLOODY HOT that we couldn’t walk around for longer than a couple of hours before having to come back and cool off. We also met our Geordie friend from PP and had a bangin’ Monday night out on Pub Street where we got our arses kicked at beer pong by a Colombian (who then tried to go home with our friend).

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On Tuesday (our second full day), we realised we still hadn’t been to Angkor Wat. We were being woken up at 4.30am every morning by some horrifically and constantly drunk British guys stumbling back into our room (being British, we naturally had to apologise for our compatriots), so we might as well actually get up one of those times.

And so Wednesday, we were up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the entrance to our hostel at 5 in the effing morning. And right on cue, our alarm hadn’t been our phones – it had been the lads on tour.

Of course, we picked totally the wrong day to see a sunrise. Because there WAS no sunrise; only the sky getting lighter. However despite this, the place is ABSOLUTELY STUNNING. We explored the temples while it was still relatively quiet, and by the time we came out, the sun was peeking out through the clouds.

So while it’s not quite the classic sunrise picture, I did manage to take this:

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Soon after this point, it was getting much busier and we moved on to my favourite temple complex: Angkor Thom. The faces that never stop appearing, the air of mystery about it, the prominence of the front of it; I preferred this place to Angkor Wat.

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Then we moved on again, to a couple of lesser known temples, Thommanon, and a slightly larger one, which I now can’t remember the name of. It was, almost thankfully, in one of the smaller ones where we were virtually alone, that I managed to rip my trousers from the knee right to the crotch. This is among one of the more embarrassing things I’ve ever done (along with inadvertently sending a business email from a Corporal Wobblebottom) and it’s the kind of thing that would only happen to me!!!

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Of course, Ash had to get into the picture but apart from that we were completely alone! If you’re wondering, I ripped my trousers while climbing the steps to that part to the left.

And so I couldn’t climb the steps of Ta Keo. And I had to be veeerrryy careful in my next favourite temple, Ta Prohm.

I adored Ta Prohm, and it kick started – and I apologise because this is going to sound SO hippie – my love of trees. It was one of the busier temples (perhaps it was the time of day, but it was much busier than Angkor Thom) but for good reason – I loved the way nature has reclaimed the temple and made it iconic.

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We managed to get to one last temple on the way out of the Angkor park, and even though it had barely gone midday, we were exhausted! But we got a lot done on our one day there. Unless you are SERIOUSLY into temples, I wouldn’t bother with the three day pass. There IS such a thing as being templed out.

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The following day, we had something a lot more special planned. I had actually googledsomething about etiquette around monks, and accidentally stumbled across a website advertising a tour where you spend an afternoon at a temple with a monk.

So after a relaxing morning on our final day in Cambodia, we set off in a tuk tuk with the same guy who took us to Angkor Wat. We stopped by a temple, casually picked up the monk, and sped off towards a bigger temple out of town.

We talked about what it’s like to be a monk, what you have to do to become one, how long he’d like to be one for and what he plans to do afterwards, Buddhist culture in general, Cambodian culture in general, and our lives in general. It was one of the most interesting and educational days I’ve ever had.

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He introduced us to the head monk of the temple, who then gave us a full water blessing.

And then, as we were drying off, our monk guide invited us to meditate with him.

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Honestly, as experiences go, this is one of the best and most unique we’ve EVER had. And what a way to say goodbye to Cambodia, eh?!

Well, that and tucking into a Hard Rock CafΓ© meal, because now Ash can say the first one he’s ever had was, of all the places in the world, Siem Reap.

To book a tour with a monk, visit this website and email an enquiry over. They run various tours and experiences – ours was the Spiritual Tour. It cost us $35 per person in a tuk tuk.

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