After our Vietnam tour we went to Cambodia for a few more days. Being so close to the world famous temples of Angkor, we just couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Actually, we were already full of overwhelming impressions from the neighboring country, but we still had a little space! Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore Cambodia properly. But the four days in Angkor and Siem Reap were also worth the trip…
Since the temple complexes are a gigantic tourist magnet, we weren’t prepared for much solitude. Nevertheless, even in the area of the main attraction, Angkor Wat, we didn’t get in trouble with other tourists. It was fairly quiet in the outer areas of the complex, only the central temples were well filled. There is also a fun side of it, for example when you watch the crowds climbing up and down the narrow, steep stairs. Some people with a fear of heights only dared to slide down on their butt 🙂 We can definitely recommend anyone who visits Angkor Wat to take part in a guided tour – the tours with the official guides are also affordable for one or two people and you get a lot of interesting information.
The old temple complex Ta Prohm is completely different, but just as beautiful as Angkor Wat. Here the jungle has reclaimed what is its own. In Ta Prohm, early in the morning or in the evening at dusk, you can definitely be on your own. Because then the main stream of tourists climbs the temples, which promise views of a spectacular sunrise or sunset. You really don’t want to be there if you don’t find it attractive to be crammed onto a thin spire with thousands of other people. We preferred to flee very quickly… and so were able to enjoy the fairytale landscape of Ta Prohm with lots of animal sounds around us in peace and quiet. A great experience!
The ruins of Preah Khan are similarly “devastated” by the jungle as Ta Prohm – simply impressive to see how the huge trees crush the stone temples.
The former city of Angkor Thom, which was once home to a million people, is in better shape and much more frequented. Although today only the stone-built buildings remain, this place still exudes a majestic atmosphere. From the many towers of the Bayon temple, stone faces are watching you in all directions, making you appear rather small. An absolute “must see” place!
The best way to experience the interesting construction of the Angkor temples on your own is to climb the Ta Keo temple. Especially for small people it is sometimes really not easy to master the worn out high steps. In any case, we were quite exhausted when we arrived at the summit in 35°C.
Climbing Phnom Bakeng is also worthwhile. From here you have a beautiful view of Angkor Wat. At some point you think you’ve seen everything temple-like there is, but each facility is unique and worthwhile.
In order to appreciate the temples of Angkor properly and also to take advantage of the entrance fees, you definitely have to set aside a few days. Some buildings are far from Angkor Wat. But with the cheap “Tuk Tuks”, which you can rent including a driver for a whole day, the area can be easily explored.
A whole different world awaits outside the temples. Here you have to be prepared for a lot of poverty, which is much more obvious and depressing than in Vietnam. Like most visitors, we stayed in the city of Siem Reap. There isn’t that much to see here, but a visit to the market halls is worth it – very, very different from Germany!
Boat trips to the floating villages on the Tonlé Sap are also often offered, but we’d advise against that – quite a tourist rip-off. The excursions cost ten to twenty times what you pay for them in Vietnam.
But what is very interesting is to simply drive a little overland with a “Tuk Tuk”. On our way to the Tonlé Sap, for example, we discovered hammock restaurants: there are no chairs or tables in the houses built on stilts. When the river overflows its banks in summer, the floor of the restaurant is flooded with it. But you can still make yourself comfortable in the hammocks and fish out of the restaurant. What we remember most from this trip across the country is the hospitality of the people. Although we only wanted to have a quick peek into the hammock restaurant, the owners invited us directly for a beer.
Of course, in four days we only got a tiny glimpse of life in Cambodia. But we quickly realized that it is a fascinating country with an exciting culture, where the effects of history – especially the dictatorship of the Khmer Rouge – are still felt in everyday life. Amidst all the poverty, however, tourists have more than once felt out of place, because it is more than obvious that the money that tourists bring to the country does not reach the people who need it most.
Addendum September 2014:
I always believed that memories are permanent. That an once beautiful moment remains forever as a positive experience in our mind. But that’s not the case.
When you hear a faint whimper, while being on a journey somewhere far away from any civilization, and you find an injured and emaciated stray dog in a hole in the ground, pull him out, dress his wounds and share most of your provisions with him, than this experience is only going to be a wonderful memory until that dog jumps in your face and, out of sheer greed and selfishness, makes off with the rest of your rations.
You can forgive this mutt. Animals act mostly instinctively and outside of our moral values. That distinguishes them from us humans.
In September 2014 I discovered Julia’s true colours. The person she was pretending to be had very little to do with her true nature.
Since then, I no longer consider this blog post as a record of my favorite memories of Cambodia, but only as a reminder to never forget that it is not important whether you share a beautiful moment with someone, but with whom.