Hello again my friends! First and foremost this is my 50th blog post! Like whoa! I started this blog to journey our time aboard, but didn’t expect it to become my outlet. I love writing it and I just hope that everyone enjoys reading it as much as I love blogging it! Believe it or not we are coming up on a year and half in Japan and almost two years since I started Operation Wanderlust. I think it’s held up to its name, so far it’s been a wild ride. So I hope you enjoy blog post number 50, Cambodia! If I had to choose a post to make number 50 I’d say Cambodia is a good one. So for those following along at home, enjoy!
The finale of our trip to Indochina, Cambodia. After an adventurous week in Vietnam, I was ready for a change of scenery and the ancient temples of Angkor, which was the primary reason we decided to visit Cambodia. However, it turns out Cambodia is much much more. We arrived in the evening and ended up resting up to begin our two-day tour of the Angkor Wat Temples. It’s hard to believe how big this historical park is until you actually get there. For those planning a trip it’s helpful to know that the cost of a three-day pass doesn’t come cheap, it’s around 60 USDs. However, it should be noted that tourism is at an all time high in Siem Reap and they need a way to preserve these temples as much as possible. So my advice to you, suck it up and pay it. It’s well worth the cash.
To be frank I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to visiting Cambodia. Things I’d learned about the country prior to my visit were mostly related to the Vietnam War and the killing fields. I’d heard of corruption, the Khmer Rouge, fields filled with landmines, and an extremely poor and under developed country. I’ll be honest that on top of that, the U.S. has a lot of travel warnings and notifications for Cambodia, so going into it we were both a bit unsure what to actually expect.
I’ll go into the temples of Angkor shortly, but I think it’s important to highlight what we actually saw and learned during our short four days in Siem Reap. My first observation was the level of compassion that Cambodians have for one another. It speaks volumes compared to many countries I’ve visited before, including my own. They are supportive, kind and caring, and the level of pride they have for their country is unmatched by anywhere I’ve visited before. The genocide that this country went through, the horrific history that it had to endure, and the corruption that the government still perpetuates has hindered a lot of the development of this country. The people you encounter are certainly still effected by this, however, the level of dedication and compassion that the locals have to help one another out is inspiring. Of course I’m generalizing based on the short few days I was there, as well as the people I encountered, but from what I saw and experienced I was truly moved by this place and completely fell in love.
THE TEMPLES OF ANGKOR WAT
Alright let’s get down into the nitty gritty. We booked a two-day tour and attempted to fill them as much as possible with getting in the sights. Our first day started off at the infamous Angkor Wat Temple, which happens to be the largest religious monument in the world. The temple complex is filled with more than just Angkor Wat, however this one I think comes to most people’s minds when they think of Angkor Wat. The religious complex itself is the largest in the world taking up a whopping 402 acres. So biggest religious temple and biggest religious complex, and it certainly met our expectations. It was hard to believe that these temples were built-in the 12th century. Take a look a few snaps below.
Next up we hit the temple that was made Hollywood famous by the movie Tomb Raider, Ta Prohm or otherwise known as the “Jungle Temple”. What has made this temple so interesting and popular among tourists are the large trees growing over much of the temple. I had to google it, but these trees are called Tetrameles or so that’s what Wikipedia told me. Have a look.
We ended our day at my favorite temple in the park, Angkor Thom. I’m not really sure what made this temple my favorite, maybe it was the smiling faces every where, maybe it was the look of it, or maybe it was the story our guide told us about a moon light religious ceremony he went to with his grandmother as a child, but there was something magical about this one. I didn’t mention it before but most of the temples in Angkor Wat were originally built as Hindu temples, however, they were all eventually converted to Buddhist temples at some point early in their history.
The next day we were supposed to wake up bright and early to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, but due to rain and clouds it didn’t really pan out for us. I’ll be honest looking back I’m a bit bummed we missed out on seeing this, but then I remind myself I’m lucky to have been able to see it to begin with. Reality checks can be helpful!
So instead of starting our morning with a sunrise, we headed to the first temple of the day, Preah Khan. Since it was still early in the morning we basically had this temple to ourselves. Which made for some legit picture-taking. I’m probably overloading this blog with pictures, but the morning light, and the peace and quiet, made this place pretty mystical.
Before we headed to the last temple we’d see in Angkor, we took a pit stop at the Land Mine Museum. As I somewhat highlighted above, Cambodia has a pretty devastating history of genocide, but on top of that they were also subject to war during the Vietnam War. Essentially, Cambodia was carpet bombed with landmines and unfortunately it’s been a struggle to rid the country of them ever since. It’s unclear how many landmines are still littering the country, but one thing is clear they have had a devastating effect on its people.
I realize this isn’t exactly the happiest of places to visit, but in my opinion it’s hard to vacation in a country with a history like Cambodia’s and not do it justice by learning about it. The man who owns this museum spent his adult life trying to rid Cambodia of landmines, even after being subjected to the Khmer Rouge. Remember when I said how impressed I was with the compassion and camraderie that Cambodians have for one another. Well its the people who who risk their lives for the betterment of their country, absolutely amazing to me. The take away point from this is, take the time and learn about a country’s history, even it’s a dark one.
The final temple we visited is called Banteay Srei, or otherwise known as the “Lady Temple”. The significance of this one is that is was made out of pink sandstone and much smaller than most of the other temples. Check it out!
Last but not least on our two-day exploration was to visit Tonle Sap (the largest lake in Cambodia) and a floating river village. This is well worth the visit if you have time. I’d say the one thing that go me with this little side trip, was that pre-teen kid was our boat driver. I asked our tour guide why he wasn’t in school and learned that most of the people in the village likely don’t have a school or they don’t prioritize education. As sad as it is, it makes sence given that the genocide began with the killing of educated people in Cambodia and since that wound hasn’t completely healed…I get it. But it was one of those moments that really challenged me. Take a look at the photos below.
In case you haven’t already noticed, Cambodia had a pretty profound effect on me. I fell in love with the country and just really wanted to find something that John and I could do to give back. On our last day we ended up booking a cooking class and market tour that also runs an orphanage and the majority of the proceeds go to education, caring for the children, clothes, and school supplies. John and I were so moved by the experience that we decided to sponsor a child at the orphanage. As small as this action was, it gave us the opportunity to give back to the people really trying to make a difference in their country.
Well thanks for hanging in there for this incredibly long post. I felt that I needed to do Cambodia justice. I really did fall for this country and the people I met while we were there. It really was an incredible place that despite their history the people have figured out ways to start moving forward. Cambodia is known as the Land of Smiles, and honestly I can see why, no matter where we went we were greeted by smiling locals and friendly people.
Below are a few more photos from our adventure, mostly in Siem Reap, the night life, and yes a tuk tuk ride. You can’t visit Cambodia and not take a tuk tuk.
Until next time! じゃまた！