After a journey back from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh (involving a two lane road turning into five lanes of traffic, because Cambodia) and a night back in the capital, we were headed to the one place everyone heads to in Cambodia: Angkor Wat.
Our bus plonked us somewhere “just outside the city” of Siem Reap, and we were invited to get to our final destination 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, when 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 as we eyed up the lack of infrastructure surrounding us – but thankfully only for a second because there, the second building down, was our hostel!
And after our moment of panic and uncertainty – 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! The hostel, Funky Flashpacker (great name, right? Almost as good as “Lovely Jubbly” where we stayed the night before in Phnom Penh!), is actually run by a British expat, so it was pretty cool that he injected some British traditions into it.
We even ate our meal on a hammock bench, and over the course of the next 5 days we lounged in the pool atop bean bags while drinking $2 cocktails.
This. This was the life! Though our abrupt lazy life was partly prompted by the fact it was SO BLOODY HOT in Siem Reap 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 Phnom Penh 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).
*sorry, I’ll never use that word again
We were having so much fun that on Tuesday (our second full day), we realised we still hadn’t actually arranged to go to Angkor Wat.
But as 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), 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 wasn’t our phones – it was the delightful lads on tour. (Favourite quote, by the way, was one of them saying there was no point going to Angkor Wat because “it’s just a bunch of rocks innit”… I have no words!)
Naturally, we picked totally the wrong day to see the sunrise. Because there WAS no sunrise; only the sky getting vaguely 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:
Soon after this, it started 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 the place, the prominence of the front of it; I preferred this place to Angkor Wat.
We moved on again, exploring a couple of lesser known temples, Thommanon, and a slightly larger one, which I now can’t remember the name of. There are so many temples in the Angkor archaeological complex that it’s hard to know where to start! But the good thing is – it makes it easier to go off the beaten track!
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. BECAUSE OF COURSE I DID. 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!!!
And so I couldn’t climb the steps of Ta Keo. And I had to be veeerrryy careful in my 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, much busier than Angkor Thom) but for good reason – I loved the way nature has reclaimed the temple and made it iconic.
I unleashed my inner Lara Croft clambering around, and I couldn’t stop taking photos of trees!
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 had seen a lot in six hours. Unless you are seriously into temples, I honestly wouldn’t bother with the three day pass. There IS such a thing as being templed out.
The following day, we had something a lot more special planned.
I had originally googled something 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 in town, casually picked up the monk, and sped off towards a bigger temple out in the Cambodian countryside.
Sinet was a lovely, cheerful but reserved young man, who seemed fascinated that we would want to spend time with him.
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.
We spent some time exploring the temple, and he explained the stories of the paintings. Young monks passed us. I wish I’d taken more photos!
After a while, Sinet introduced us to the head monk of the temple, who then gave us a full water blessing.
It was definitely surreal, sitting at the back of a temple with water sloshing over our heads. The monk was chanting wishes of good luck, and even though we didn’t understand any of it, something about it felt special. I don’t know how long it lasted.
And then, as we were drying off, our monk guide invited us to meditate with him.
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 and later that evening, tucking into a Hard Rock Café meal – because now Ash can say the first one he’s ever had was, of all the places in the world, in Siem Reap.
We absolutely loved Siem Reap. We spent almost a week there, which I thought could have been far too long. I planned side trips (like Battambang) that never happened because we were having too much fun, and at the end of it, I was sad to leave Cambodia. We’d had no idea what to expect from the country; we’d heard mixed things about theft and poverty. What we found instead was a country full of interesting and jubilant people; a country that left nothing but a smile on our faces.
Yes, it’s got its problems, and it’s faced much worse in the past. But the people today are kind, and we were vigilant as we were open.
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. Unfortunately it looks like this company has closed down! 😦 There is a similar type of tour with Backstreet Academy who I’ve read great things about. If you have a great experience with someone, let me know!
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