What Sunrise? Unfortunately the Manchester clouds have followed us to Cambodia! Despite the sticky heat (the kind that makes you sweat without moving. The glamour!) we’ve had nothing but clouds and rain. Our 4am alarm was not worth the hassle as we went to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat which obviously, being cloudy, meant there was no sun (boo). Thinking about it, our temple sightseeing didn’t get off to the best start! We arranged with the hotel for a tuk tuk to come and collect us in the morning. On our way, our driver made a turn down a very dark, very quiet country road with no street lighting! We had no idea where we were or why our driver was taking us a different way to all the other tourists. I was a little scared at this point, especially as we pulled up to a tiny shack with 4 men sat around with torches. As they came over to us I thought this was the end. Thankfully it wasn’t – they just wanted to check out tickets! A little further up the road our driver dropped us off and told us to walk straight ahead for about 15 minutes. With no lights and the area turning into a bit of a jungle I was starting to question the whole thing. Eventually, we saw our first glimpse of Angkor Wat, the dark shadow of this incredible building. Turns out we were dropped of the back way where it was quieter and we soon found the (100’s of) other tourists all lined up waiting to take a photo of the beautiful sunrise. After giving up waiting and exploring the temple we then went to one of the cafe’s to ask where we could get a map from. We were greeted by a Khmer man who goes by “Bond, James Bond – licence to coffee!” (he repeatedly said throughout our whole experience with him). He had a spare map in his pocket and gave it to us whilst also giving us advice on which temples we should visit and told us to tell our tuk tuk driver to take us there. This is where we incurred a slight problem – we sent our tuk tuk driver back after realising the hotel had booked for him to take us there and straight back in the morning (we planned to stay all day and cycle the route). Mr James Bond seemed quite concerned and explained that the route was quite long, and, with it being so hot we would get tired – also, there was nowhere to hire bikes from! On that note he offered us a lift to the first temple and would help us find a driver; “Bond, James Bond – licence to coffee, licence to drive!”. On route he showed us his village as we drove past it and explained that he built his own house! He also told us about his family (his wife has 10 siblings), music & the general way of life. Once we arrived we couldn’t find any spare drivers as everyone was already hired by other tourists that day. To help us out he offered to drive us to the other temples for the whole day; once we had finished looking around the first temple we could not find our Bond (Maybe he was saving the day on a coffee run?). We were stranded! A young tuk tuk driver saw that we looked a bit confused and offered us a lift to the East side of the temple to find a driver for us, after speaking to a few drivers a guy selling banjos offered to take us round for the rest of the day. He was a life saver. The rest of the day we visited the temples and he even suggested a few that he liked that we stopped off at.
In the evening we visited the circus Phare (anyone who knows me well will know i’m slightly obsessed with the circus since starting aerial hoops) and watched the show “Same Same but Different” which explores the differences and similarities between locals and tourists. To be honest, it just took the piss out of all the tourists in Siem Reap, but done in good humour with amazing talent and great storytelling! I couldn’t believe some of the things I saw, it was like a homegrown Cirque Du Soleil. The artists in the show are graduates from the specialist performing arts school which trains in music, art, acting, circus skills etc. The school was opened in 1994 by 4 Cambodian men who returned home from a camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. They found art was healing and offered classes to street children. Now, the school is still going strong, helping children on the streets have a better life through free education and training.
Day 2: Silk Farm & More Temples
Day 2 was a lot more successful – we organised for a tuk tuk to escort us all day and we knew what we wanted to see. In the morning we visited a silk farm and had a guided tour. The company makes all their silk by hand and each worker is trained for a year in a specialized field which provides opportunities and a good life for poor and local village people. At the factory everything is done by hand – they grow their own mulberry leaves to feed the silk worms. They then spew out fibroin to create a cocoon which is boiled in water and the strands are twisted together to create what we know as silk thread. Then through a series of different processes and machines the threads are dyed and weaved together to create the silk fabric that we all know. As we were driving back from the silk factory we passed a small van with about 12 (we genuinely counted 12) people crammed in the back, with the boot wide open, holding on for dear life not to fall out! A moment later we saw 5 people squished onto 1 motorbike! These were quite funny sights to see and make me love Cambodia more but unfortunately I did witness one bike with a cage stuffed full of dogs with pots and pans tied to the back. They had no room to move, their faces were pressed up against the cage with their bodies stuck at an awkward angle. It made me really sad to see that as you can only imagine their unfortunate fate.
Photos from the silk factory
As we arrived at the next lot of temples I preferred these a lot more – they were far less touristy and offered a variety of different sights; some were surrounded by water and others were smothered by tree trunks and crumbing down. Something I have noticed in all the temples is that a lot of the statues have their heads taken off, which was done by the Khmer Rouge to destroy all religious symbols.
In the evening we had our final night in Pub Street! After a couple of drinks and some food we had a full Khmer body massage and then went off to have our feet munched on by some fish! The perfect way to end the day…
The main temples we saw were:
Angkor Wat: I felt slightly underwhelmed by it i’m honest, probably because I was exhausted and there was no sunset & it is the most touristy of them all.
Ta Prohm: Also very tourist but Tomb Raider was filmed here. Is smaller but more enclosed and falling down in parts which makes it interesting to walk around.
Angkor Thom & Bayon: The biggest of them all but felt quieter then the others because it is spread out over a lot more land.
Preah Khan: This was my favourite, on the larger circuit meaning it was less touristy. There were lots of different areas to explore and it was so peaceful.
Neak Pean: Was so unique, it is very small but completely surrounded by water. Unfortunately it’s very touristy!