Ahh where to begin?! Well, we technically started our latest adventure in Thailand. We landed in SE Asia over two weeks ago and started by spending three nights in Bangkok to “get acclimated” and adjust to life on the other side of the world. We have been traveling now for nearly 9 months and SE Asia is on a whole other level!!
Our first 24-hours we were in complete culture shock. In fact, we weren’t sure how long we would last over here. However, we just decided to dive right in and we are sure glad we did. So far we have been to Bangkok (Thailand), Siem Reap (Cambodia), Hoi An, Sapa and Hanoi (Vietnam). But today, we our dedicating our post to our first real stop: Cambodia. Enjoy!
Cambodia was our first full country destination in Southeast Asia and it was truly incredible. If you follow our Instagram stories, you would have seen that we had quite the journey getting from Bangkok to Siem Reap. If not, the bullet points include a 9-hour bus ride, a broken bus, walking over the Cambodian border on foot, a new bus with bunk beds and eventually a tuk-tuk ride in the dark to our Airbnb in Siem Reap. Apparently, every single day is an adventure over here…
Siem Reap is a city located in the heart of Cambodia and is the home base for exploring the UNESCO World Heritage site that contains the world’s largest religious monument: Angkor Wat (some even consider it a Wonder of the World). This had been on our bucket list for some time and it did not disappoint! Over the next few days we would get our money’s worth exploring the temples, but more on that in a minute.
Before we get to the temples, we need to take a moment to discuss Siem Reap itself because it is like no other place we have ever been. The town was originally home to the Khmer Empire (5th-12th Century BC) and is now a major tourist destination due to it being the gateway to the Angkor Complex. In fact, it is said 50% of Cambodia's tourists come through Siem Reap every year.
Walking through town now makes you feel like you are in a third world country: endless mobs of mopeds, dirt roads, stray dogs and all kinds of strange sights and smells. However, pop into a nice looking coffee shop and you feel like you are on Fifth Avenue. The dichotomy is wild! Oddly enough, we never felt unsafe or remotely worried walking around. The people were incredible, the food was awesome and even though it’s a total cluster, we felt oddly comfortable. But yes, walking around we would often look at each other and wonder, “where the heck are we?!”
On our first morning we woke up at 4:30am and headed for Angkor Wat. We bought our tickets and headed to the site itself to catch the sunrise over the temple and…HOLY PEOPLE! If you have ever been to Angkor Wat for sunrise you know what we are talking about. Everyone is instructed to do this so at 5am there are hundreds upon hundreds of people vying for space to capture that nice sunrise shot.
Pro tip: if you want to see sunrise at Angkor Wat, buy your tickets the night before. This way, you can show up to the site itself right when it opens at 5am and get in early. Otherwise, you are looking at 5:30am best case and at this point it’s a lost cause to get front and center (we should know)…
We made the most of it and settled on the lesser-packed right pond and ended up with some different, yet beautiful shots of the light behind the temple. We then spent the next few hours walking through and around the temple itself, taking in the site. It was magnificent and was truly hard to imagine how something like that could have been almost a thousand years ago in the middle of the jungle.
Over the next few days we explored 12 of the temples within the giant complex and while we won’t cover them all, here were our top three:
1. Angkor Wat: just iconic, massive and awe inspiring. One of those things you see and read so much about that lived up to the hype when seeing it in person.
2. Banteay Srei: 10-century temple located some 45 minutes north of Siem Reap and yet worth the ride. The most preserved in the complex; it features insanely ornate carvings, statues and monuments.
3. Bayon: very near to Angkor Wat and features many tall monuments with carved faces. Very cool to see them up close and imagine what they looked like back in the day.
Aside from temple hopping, we took a day to explore the Kampong Phluk floating village and this was another experience in itself. To see how these people live their lives in the middle of the water with nothing around was truly remarkable. We watched as the villagers collected fish, traveled exclusively by boat and worked on their houses floating on the water. Incredibly eye-opening.
The last night in Siem Reap we went to Pub Street, which was wild...from the people, to the smells, to the music...it was sensory overload!! But totally a necessary experience if you are ever in the area!
The other thing about Cambodia is all the “in between” sights. Getting from one place to another is a total adventure. We traveled primarily by tuk-tuk and often found ourselves heading down dirt roads, through tiny villages and were just in awe at all the sights. Furthermore, getting to see and experience how people live on a day-to-day basis in this part of the world was amazing. You forget that Cambodia is still very much a third world country and experiencing the everyday life truly makes you appreciate all we have back home.
The sights were amazing of course, but some of our favorite moments thus far have been in experiencing these amazing cultures in person. It is a wild place and like nothing we have encountered so far. We can only imagine what the next few weeks has in store for us so stay tuned!