We headed for the Thai Cambodia border and met some great and helpful people on the bus. We were a little nervous for this infamous border crossing, because of all the scammers at the border.
So here’s the scam: you get stamped out of Thailand no problem, then you have to walk across the border and get stamped into Cambodia. There are Thai agents on the Thai side of the border that will offer you an increased price to “secure” your visa for you. Luckily, we were on an international bus line and did not have to change buses at the border. Before you get to the actual Cambodia immigration office to get a visa, there are fake border guards in a booth that will say you need to get a visa and charge you more than it actually costs. The only thing you need to know is that the visa should cost 20 USD and if it cost more, you got ripped off.
We walked right across the border and it’s a surprisingly long way to the immigration office past casinos and other buildings. We saw the fake border people, but they must have been lazy that day or they were busy counting their money. We found the visa office (just an empty dirty room with a table and a window counter), and got visas. Easy. We even managed to snap this forbidden photo of the border.
Sidenote: an interesting thing about Cambodia is that they mainly use the US Dollar. USD comes out of the ATM in Cambodia. Everything has USD prices on it, and you only get Cambodian Riel as change. You end up having to use both currencies to pay for stuff.
We settled into our hostel in Siem Reap and chilled out for the rest of the day. Siem Reap is one of the most touristed towns in Cambodia, but not for the town itself. The town is the main jumping off point for exploring the ancient temples of Angkor. For those that don’t know about the Khmer Empire (pronounced “k-my”), don’t feel bad because we aren’t taught about it in American schools, but maybe its time for a quick read right now. The Khmer Empire pretty much dominated SE Asia from the 9th to 15th centuries and at its heart was the capital city of Angkor. At its peak it was the largest pre-industrial city in the WORLD… let that sink in. The main temple, Angkor Wat is also currently the largest religious monument in the world.
Angkor is what we were here for, and we spent the next three days touring the temples. There are over a thousand temples scattered over the massive area, so we focused on the main 10-15. One of the best ways to explore the temples is at sunrise and there are a few reasons why. The first being that sunrise at Angkor Wat is breathtaking… the sun rises right above high temples as viewed from inside the walls or even outside the moat (there is a HUGE moat around the entire Angkor Wat temple, and remember, moats are cool). The second reason sunrise is the best time is that the heat of the day hasn’t set in yet; it is unbelievably hot and humid in Cambodia during the middle of the day. Third reason is the lack of crowds; we had our first temple visit by ourselves in one of the bigger outlying temples.
To get around the temples, we hired a tuk-tuk driver on the street at 5:30 am for the whole day and told him we wanted to do the larger loop. Depending on your bargaining skills, it’s about 14 USD for the whole day in which the driver drops you off and waits for you at each temple. Here are some highlights from the larger loop of temples:
We were pooped after the first day (5 hours) of temple walking. Because of the early start though, it was only 11:30 by the time we made it back to the hostel. Tons of time for napping and recharging. We headed out with some hostel-mates to dinner and cheap cheap cocktails. Drinks are dirt cheap in Cambodia, with .50 cent drafts and dollar cocktails, it’s easy to buy a few.
We only managed to make it to the temples for sunset at Angkor Wat the second day… which gave us a tasty little preview for our third day. At sunrise again on the third day, we headed straight for the megatemple of Angkor Wat. We spent a peaceful early morning taking in just how massive this temple was and how skillful the carvings were on the temple murals. The rest of the time, we toured the main sights of Angkor in reverse of the main tourist path: Ta Prohm (the temple from Tomb Raider), Ta Keo, Victory Gate, Terrace of the Elephants, Baphuon, and Bayon.
Bottom line: If you ever come to Southeast Asia, make sure you do not miss this. Two days is enough to see the most interesting things, but more time will allow you to really immerse yourself into the Khmer Empire at its height.
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