This week was beautiful in Cambodia and it was a week completely full of temples. We left Mondulkiri early in the morning and hopped on a shuttle bus to Kratie. The experience on this shuttle bus turned out to be absolutely hilarious. Our shuttle bus was pretty full and Nate and I were crammed into the back with very little leg room. We drove for an hour or two and then stopped at a restaurant for some food. We ordered rice with something. It was pretty good but full of bones. Then, another guy on our bus approaches Nate and tells him that he should go see what is happening with his bag. So, we walk over and the whole trunk to this bus is open now and they are strapping a motorbike to the back of it. Nate’s bag was right on the edge and one hard turn and it would have fallen out. He asked them to strap it down, but we still couldn’t figure out why this guy wouldn’t just drive his bike the last 2 hours to Kratie.
Then, we start going again and I start to hear a dog whining. It sounded like it was coming from below me which would of been the open trunk area so I was scared that as we were leaving or stopped a dog jumped in the car. At a rest stop Nate asked the driver and he showed up the dog was in this plastic cut up container in the trunk and said it was ok because it was a small dog. The dog was crying the whole journey and it broke my heart, especially when I saw the container he was shoved into.
We arrived in Kratie in the early afternoon, which was perfect because we were there to see the pink river dolphins that live just up the river from Kratie. The best time to see them was from 3-5 so we caught a tuk tuk with a Swiss girl and headed up river to find the dolphins. It was amazing to see the houses and just day to day life as we rode the tuk tuk about 30 minutes. The river is part of the Mekong Delta and the area is prone to flooding, therefore all of the houses are built on stilts up in the air.
We arrived at the place where we could catch a boat and went out on our own private motorboat in search of the dolphins. Dolphin watching is a bit like whale watching where there is a lot of sitting in the boat looking for the dolphins and when you see them you are mainly seeing just the back and top fin. You couldn’t even tell if they were pink or not. They looked a bit more grey. It was still really fun to watch them come up and occasionally they would do this flip thing with their tail. We actually saw quite a few of them, but the pictures will not do it justice.
It was beautiful as well because we are on this really wide peaceful river with a sunset in the background while watching for dolphins. It was a really peaceful experience. When we got back, we saw a local soccer game in progress. What amazed me was some kids were in cleats while others were playing barefoot and the field was just a patch of dirt and grass with lots of trash and even a tree in the middle. We rode back to our hostel and ate dinner there. I headed to bed for an early night because I was really tired.
Sunset on the Mekong
The following morning we woke up early and grabbed a mini bus to Siem Reap. We pulled off at one point and waited awhile because our mini bus was going to take a shortcut across the river to cut off a lot of driving time. We arrive in Siem Reap and of course they drop us off outside of town and then say we can take a tuk tuk into town for another couple of dollars. This is clearly planned as a way to make money. We spent the night in a really cool hostel called Onederz, but it was a bit pricey for a hostel. The first day we just spent wandering around town. We got a late lunch and were trying to figure out how best to approach the temples in the next couple of days. We also were looking for a place to stay for the remainder of our stay. Then, we decided to walk to the Peace Cafe and do some yoga. This place had a really cool vibe and I wish we spent more time there. It was a bit of a walk away from the rest of town but completely worth it. This was my first real yoga class with an instructor. Our instructor was from India and practiced very traditional yoga. There was a lot of time where we just saw there focusing our attention on different parts of our body including our “reproductive organs”. I was really relaxed afterward and I would like to try yoga again and see how it goes. Then, we walked back to town and had dinner at a Mexican restaurant which was just ok food. Then were wandering around all the street food and a lot of it looked amazing. Yet, Nate decides that he really wants to eat a tarantula. For what reason, I am unsure but he takes this task upon himself and I recorded the whole endeavor. He started with the legs which he said weren’t too bad. Then, took a nice chunk out of the butt from which he almost gagged. Yet, he did say the head part wasn’t too bad. Meanwhile, I was just watching and wanted to vomit.
The following day we moved hostels and went to more of a guesthouse that had a pool and we have a private room with a balcony called the Blossoming Romduol Lodge. They even let us rent bicycles for free. It also had a pond where you could put your feet in and have the fish eat off all the dead skin, which we did every morning.
We went back to our old hostel to hop on a tour of the “large circuit” of temples in Siem Reap. So, a little bit of background about Siem Reap. It used to be the capital of Cambodia for years when Cambodia had a monarchy. Throughout history, the kings would build these huge elaborately carved temples for the gods. Most of the temples have handmade moats around them which are in perfect squares. I have no idea how they could make the walls and moats into perfect squares when they are so large but they managed. All of the temples are so symmetrical from the doorways, windows, and even pillars. You can take a pano shot of a room and see how symmetrical everything is.
It was a mathematicians paradise. The most famous of these temples in Angkor Wat because it is in the best shape and has been renovated extensively. I think they said there are close to 1000 temples in this area. People usually do the temples in two full day tours, one for the large circuit and the other the small circuit which includes Angkor Wat (which many people try to see at sunrise). There are also many temples further out. You can buy a 1, 3, or 7 day pass to the temples.
So, the first day we were on a van with others from the hostel and went to 4 different temples. The first temple called Preah Khan was amazing to see. All of the walls were so intricately carved with images of people, flowers, or just designs. It must have taken years to complete. it was designed with a center and 4 identical walkways leading in the four opposite directions. There were beautiful pools worked in with the architecture, but everything had the aspect of abandonment and there were many rocks that had caved in.
Our second temple was the smallest called Neak Pean. We walked across a long walkway over the moat and inside were just a couple of pools. The pools were really green with algae and the pieces in the center had seen better days, but it gave the whole thing this creepy vibe.
Our second temple Neak Pean with walkway leading up to it
The third temple called Ta Som was a bit smaller than the first. Inside it was very beautiful, but my favorite part was the doorway in the very back of the temple. A tree had grown up and around the door frame and had grown straight into the rock. We had a good time taking pictures there.
Our last temple called Pre Rup is where we were going to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, due to clouds covering the entire sky we were not going to have a great sunset. This temple was the first temple that we saw built up high instead of just one level. The differences were the some temple were Hindi and the other Bhuddist and so the design was different with the exception of one temple that had aspects of both. We had a good time climbing the stairs here and taking very yoga zen pics on the edge. We wanted to wait until sunset despite the fact that it would be terrible so we found a spot and just chilled for an hour. Our driver wasn’t the happiest because he thought he would have an early night since there was no sunset.
Images from Pre Rup including my meditation pose
After the tour, Nate and I went back to our room and had a couple of drinks on the balcony then headed out to dinner. After dinner, we found this reggae bar in this back alley which was pretty cool and we chilled there for awhile. We decided to change up locations and went to the bar street in Siem Reap appropriately name Pub Street. This was a bit more clubby and so we danced a lot there and had a really fun night.
The following day Nate and I borrowed some bikes from the hostel and made our own tour. Usually people like to see Angkor Wat at sunrise, but due to the clouds we didn’t think it would be much of a sunrise so we went on our own time. We biked about 3 miles to Angkor Wat, grabbed some water, and finally got to see this legendary temple. It was everything that I hoped for and more. They had restored parts of the temple to make it look like it would have, but the majority was the original. It was gigantic! We started by walking across a pathway again over a moat.
After the original outer wall there was huge grassy spaces where we stopped at one of the vendors for lunch. The lady was awesome and she was really good at marketing and even gave us a free smoothie. This was right by the reflection pool. The reflection pool is normally where hundreds of people surround for sunrise every morning. It perfect reflects the building in its waters and is really beautiful. Then, you go into the entrance and all of the carvings on the wall and big built up temples. It is really hard to describe unless you are there and pictures hardly do it justice.
After Angkor Wat, we went to the biggest temple complex called Angkor Thom. It has many temples inside and we saw several of them. Our first one was called Bayon and it was one of my favorite temples that I saw. It had all of these pillars everywhere with faces pointing north, south, east, and west. The were all carved a bit differently and I could really see the expressions of all of the different faces. Also, here we found a high complex where the stairs were basically climbing a wall because the were so small and steep. We climbed up here (basically you can kind of do whatever you want) and looked out over the entire temple which was a really cool view. Then, we walked around in the temple trying to avoid the massive groups of Chinese tourists.
Looking out on Bayon
Our next temple we found by just riding out bikes down the street and seeing a beautiful wall covering in elephant statues that were coming straight out of the wall. This was called the elephant terrace. I wanted to stop to take pictures and we walked back into the woods and found another temple called Phnom Bakheng. This was was very beautiful and it was built very high up, but they were not allowing any access to enter.
The elephant terrace
Our last temple of the day again was a bit of a stumble upon type temple called Baphuon. It was an amazing temple and we could climb almost to the very top along steep stairs. Here they had balconies that went around the whole temple and you could look out onto this raised walkway where we saw monks walking. We also saw a spider web with a gecko and we were wondering which one was going to win out.
After this, we were really tired from the long day of temples so we rode our bikes home. Once we got home, we wandered out for a bite to eat. Then, we decided to get massages. We had walked down the massage street several times before and we knew that the massages were so cheap!! So, we talked the lady down to two 30 minute massages for $2 each. Now, of course these are not professional massages by any means but I would be willing to pay most people $2 just to massage my back for 30 minutes. It was quite a hilarious experience because we were taken up to the room where there were other people also getting massages. It was relaxing at first until a couple of drunk Aussie guys came up and were so loud! After the massage we made out way home and passed out.
The following day was our final day in Siem Reap. There was one final temple that we wanted to see which was called Ta Prohm and was the temple where they filmed the movie Tomb Raider. It was pouring rain all morning which delayed our start a bit. We ate lunch in Siem Reap first and then headed out. What I did not anticipate was the fact that we had biked about 16 miles the day before and now the temple was close to 9 miles away. My legs were really tired because I had not been doing much exercise and now it was also sprinkling. The final leg of the journey was down a muddy road and I was a bit grumpy and tired. It was all worth it thought. The temple was the coolest one yet with tree growing out of the top of buildings and through all of the walls. The trees were so large and around every corner was a new site to see. It was hard to see with all of the tourist groups, but still worth it. Then, we had to bike all the way back!
Once we returned, we had a quick shower and had to dry off as the last bit of the ride was in the pouring rain. Then, we made a quick dash to the night market to get some food for our long bus ride to Sihanoukville. We also wanted to do a bit of shopping and I am sad I left this until the end as this was the cheapest market I have still seen. We got some noodles and then I bought an elephant shirt and pants and then went to the bus.
The bus was quite a hilarious experience as it was a hotel bus. Therefore, everyone were in these beds that were slightly bigger than a single bed with curtains that really wouldn’t shut. Our journey was supposed to be 12 hours. Nate and I were laughing because we saw people get on there as single travelers and thinking about the idea of getting on there with some random person in this tiny bed would be an adventure. We stopped every like 20 minutes for someone to pee and they wouldn’t let us eat our noodles. So, on one pee stop we inhaled the all of the noodles so fast! I got a decent night sleep and then we arrived in Sihanoukville!