Cambodia Round 1: Siem Reap

With Thailand in the rear view, I was off to Cambodia! I touched down in Siem Reap on a sizzling Wednesday afternoon and was immediately confused. The visa process was easy enough at the airport and I was cleared to enter the country, but when I went to take out cash from the ATM i was greeted by Andrew Jackson’s face on fresh US 20$ bills. When I checked the exchange counter, the woman explained to me that in the cities the US Dollar is the desired form of currency and the Cambodian Riel is given in the form of change. Basically 4000 riel is 1 dollar, so when something was $4.50 and you gave a $5, you’d get 2000 riel in change. While it was nice to see a familiar currency, the riel change actually ended up being more of a nuisance than anything.

I’m not sure how much I can write on Siem Reap. I spent 4 days there and the city itself is a little underwhelming. It’s the most undeveloped city I’d been too so far. Many of the roads were unpaved, and those that were had not been attended to in some time. Even so, it had its charms. Down town there was the famous Pub Street filled with shops, restaurants, and bars always bustling with activity. You can lose yourself in the night market down there, and I mean that literally. I could not find an exit to the labyrinth of store fronts and food stalls for 20min.

Obviously there is one MAJOR attraction in Siem Reap; Angkor Wat. This UNESCO world heritage site is the largest religious monument in the world. Created in the 12th century by the Khmer Empire to honor the god Vishnu, the temple eventually became a holy Buddhist site. It’s massive size, attention to detail, and beauty make it one of the ancient wonders of the world. There are also monkey’s climbing and playing around every corner, making for an especially fun visit.

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Angkor Wat is not the only temple in the archaeological park of Angkor. You could probably spend 7 whole days exploring the temples but I only had 1 day. My tuk-tuk driver took me around for 5hours and I was able to see 2 other major temples. Bayon is known for the 216 giant smiling faces that are etched into the stone. The temple was built by King Jayavarman VII in the early 13th century and many believe the faces to be his own.

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The final temple I visited was Ta Prohm. This temple is also on the UNESCO list and is one of the most visited temples in the Angkor region. The ancient ruins are unlike any other in the area, as the trees and forest has weaved itself throughout the ancient stone. The movie Tomb Raider was filmed at Ta Prohm when Angelina was really in her prime.

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You could honestly spend days exploring the temples of Angkor Wat. There are so many secret corridors and ally ways to find. The carvings on the walls look the same as they may have 800 years ago. I feel lucky I was able to spend even a single day exploring such an important piece of ancient architectural history.

As a side note, Siem Reap is a GREAT place to party and I certainly took part in that. The mad monkey hostel is legendary. It’s rooftop beach bar is filled in with about 4 inches of sand and things get rowdy. Spent every night out on pub street having a blast with new friends from all over the world. While the scenery, temples, and culture are all essential, I’ve found the best part of the backpacking experience to be the people. The people you meet from around the world make this trip so special. I’ve learned so much about people from Europe, North America, Australia, the Middle East, and Asia. I’ve made friends and learned about their homes and their lives. It makes you realize that no matter where we come from, and how different our cultures are, we’re essentially the same. Especially as travelers, we have similar goals and dreams and ideas. We all see the world as something to be explored and experienced. We all look to learn about other people and other ways of life. We drink together, laugh together, travel together. No matter the religion, the nationality, the race

Back to Bangkok

So I’m back in the big city. This time however, I’m rolling solo. To be honest I was rather nervous to start my onward journey, relying on only myself. It was sad to see Chelsea go. She was a great travel companion and it would have been hard to adjust to SE Asia without her there to struggle with. But with two weeks under my belt already, I felt ready to take on the rest of my trip as a solo backpacker.

It’s been 12 days since I returned to Bangkok on my own and it has been fantastic. Often meeting new people is tough and striking up conversations with total strangers can be intimidating. Luckily the hostels here make that so much easier. Everyone staying there is a traveler, so you already have that in common. Plus most travelers like to drink, so you also have that in common. When you put a bunch of young people together who all happen to be on adventures of a lifetime and add in a few beers, they tend to become friends quickly. I met a great group of friends while going on the walking tour that the hostel provided. Not only that, but I gained a better understanding of the city. We took the water taxi’s, the metro, tuk-tuks, and walked all across the city. We saw temples and strolled through China town. We viewed the Bangkok skyline atop Wat Sakat, the Golden Mount (one of the holiest sites in the Buddhist religion. Bangkok has a unique skyline that’s filled with old abandoned skyscrapers. These were projects that were abandoned when the market crashed in 97. So you have a newer skyline with the modern city and old creepy towers. It’s also absolutely massive! Overlooking it, you might think it’s never ending.

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After settling in with a group friends we took to the Kho San road for a night of partying. I won’t go into detail, but that street is absolutely insane. There are things there that would NEVER fly in the States. It’s like the modern day version of the wild west. I don’t think there are any rules.

After 3 days in Bangkok, I’d met tons of people from all over the world and teamed up with a few travelers from the UK who were ready to head North. My friend Martin from Birmingham, England decided to join me for a day at Ayutthaya before we joined the group in Chiang Mai. Ayutthaya was the original capital of the Kingdom of Siam from 1351 – 1767 until it was burned to the ground during the 2nd Burmese war. Martin and I rented bicycles and toured the old ruins scattered about the city. It was about 90 degrees and we biked almost 15miles so by the end we were ready for a cold beer and a shower.

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Unfortunately, we had to settle for only the beer because we had to catch the overnight train up to Chiang Mai…