The last day of June reminds me that it was one year ago in the same month when I quit my job in Taiwan and went to Southeast Asia for 3 weeks. Yet despite the long time that has passed, I’ve only reached halfway in writing about the trip – Cambodia.
After Phnom Penh, I was going to what everyone who visits Cambodia goes to – Angkor Wat. I would spend four days in Siem Reap, the booming town that is so precisely because of its proximity to Angkor Wat and the many other ancient temples and structures. Siem Reap is also near Tonle Sap, a large lake which features several fishing villages perched on stilts and expands during the … season.
I again took the Mekong Express bus to Siem Reap, and it was good service just like on the one I’d taken from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. I’d considered taking the boat up the Mekong to Siem Reap, but it took much longer than the four hours on the bus. I got picked up for free at my hotel by Mekong Express to get to the bus terminal, which was near the river and not Orussey Market, which I’d arrived at from HCMC. The pickup was uneventful, except that I was suddenly greeted by a “Konichiwa!” from behind. I turned around and saw several smiling young East Asians. I replied with a hello. “Konichiwa!” they repeated. Then eventually we both realized we were all Chinese. These youngsters were from Guangxi, which is next to Guangdong, and where the famous Guilin and Yangshou limestone mountains are located.
I didn’t sit by them during the ride since we all had prearranged seats, but this meant I had an English gentleman who happened to be a medical researcher working in Switzerland and who was on a sidetrip after visiting his girlfriend in Thailand. He was a decent chap who had quite a varied background – I think he was actually born in India or somewhere that was definitely not England.
Along the way, there were nice views out the window as the land became more rural and flat. We passed numerous villages with wooden houses built on stilts to avoid the periodic flooding. I also caught a glimpse of Tonle Sap, and this was unfortunately the closest I’d come to see of it. When the bus arrived in Siem Reap, it was dark and the “bus station” was in a small compound in a sparsely populated neighborhood in the outskirts. It wasn’t exactly the most comforting sight when one arrives in a new place, but I’d arranged with my hotel for a pickup and my driver was there. He took me on his tuktuk, the standard public transport here as in Phnom Penh, to my hotel. It was in a side road off a larger street, and it was nice, except that the road was an unpaved dirt lane and had pools of water large enough to swim in (I exaggerate a little).
Siem Reap was a bustling town, clearly benefiting from the Angkor tourism boom. There were large 5-star hotels, restaurants, night markets, boutiques, and even a bar street. It actually seemed better off and nicer than Phnom Penh.
I also met up with my 3 mainland China travel friends from HCMC who were also in Siem Reap. Their travel route was almost the same as mine, though they’d skipped Phnom Penh and gone directly to Siem Reap from Vietnam. By coincidence, they were staying at a hostel just minutes from my hotel. Their hostel was really cheap (US$1 a night for a dorm bed in a huge room with dozens of people) but it had a rooftop bar that sold draft beer for US$1. Needless to say, I went over to see them and hang out every night I was there.
In total, I spent the next 3 full days in Siem Reap, leaving in the early morning on the fourth day for Bangkok. I went to Angkor every day, going to Angkor Wat twice.
The first day, I met my China friends and we rode bikes from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat. It was a good plan except that somehow my bike tire went flat and I ended up cycling really doggedly in the hot afternoon sun. The second day, I declined to wake up early to go see the sunrise with those guys, so I hired a tuktuk and went by myself to other temples and complexes around Angkor Wat including Angkor Thom, the old capital city (Angkor Wat was a temple complex). The third day, I was tempted to rest for the whole day, but I hired a tuktuk again and went by myself to Angkor Wat again.