Siem Reap

Following our very relaxing week at Melia Benoa, we left Bali on Monday 14th October heading for South East Asia and the final leg of our big adventure. Our flight provided us with a few hours at Singapore Changi airport before arriving in Bangkok at 2100 local time. In anticipation of being asked to prove that we were leaving Thailand within the 30 day visa, but not being prepared enough to have sorted out our visas for Vietnam, we had booked a flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia for first thing Tuesday morning. It would have been nice if the Tuesday flight departed from the same airport as we had just flown into, but this was not the case. After waiting in the sweltering heat for an hour we took the free shuttle bus from Suvarnabhumi airport across the city to Don Muang airport where we had a hotel booked. The shuttle dropped us at the airport terminal and we the hotel was only across the road from there. We checked in to our room (even getting a free upgrade to a suite), by which time we were both very tired and crashed out almost immediately.

Tuesday morning we were up and out of the hotel by 0800 and took a short walk to the check in desks in the terminal. Once we had checked in, we grabbed some food from the limited choice of eateries and then went through security. Once through security we discovered the error of our waves as there was a much greater choice of food air-side! We grabbed a McFlurry each to follow on from our waffle breakfast and waited for our flight to board. It was only a short flight and it felt that as soon as we had reached cruising altitude we were starting our descent into Siem Reap. Once we had our visa and bags, we were met by our tuktuk driver, Hongda. We loaded our bags onto his tuktuk and set off for the short drive to The Siem Reap Hostel. At the hostel we made plans with Hongda to go to Angkor Wat for sunrise the next day and follow this with a tour of some other temples. We ate lunch in the hostel restaurant while we waited for our room to be ready, then dropped our bags in the room and went for a walk. The old market area of the city was less than a ten minute walk from the hostel. We wandered around the market and got some cash – the ATMs dispense US dollars here and everything is priced in dollars, rather than Cambodian Riel – and then headed back to the hostel. We had dinner in the hostel restaurant, opting for local food this time and had an early night

Hongda picking us up from the airport

En route to the hostel

We were up very early on Wednesday morning as we had to meet Hongda at 0500 in order to be at Angkor Wat for sunrise. Unfortunately for us, the weather wasn’t in our favour and we didn’t see the sun all day! We did have lots of rain though, which provided a welcome relief from the heat and humidity. We spent just over an hour exploring the huge temple before heading to the Blue Pumpkin restaurant just outside the gates for breakfast. We met up with Hongda after breakfast and he took us to the next temple of the day – Bayon in Angkor Thom. Bayon is covered in more than 200 faces, which gave the place quite an eerie feel, especially in the rain.

Angkor Wat in the rain

One of the many faces of Bayon

Next stop was Te Keo, a smaller temple which was undergoing repairs. As we walked around the temple to find the steps to climb we somehow managed to get inside the safety barrier, although you couldn’t tell based on the response of the workers – they didn’t seem to mind at all! Our final stop was Ta Prohm, which was my favourite. Over the years trees have grown on, and in, the walls and it is a great demonstration of the power of nature. From here it was back to the hostel for lunch before we headed out to the Artisans Angkor Silk Farm in the afternoon.

Trees at Ta Prohm

The tour at the silk farm showed the complete process from farming the silk worms and harvesting their cacoons through the dying and weaving process. Each cacoon contains more than 400 metres of silk – roughly 200 metres of each fine and raw silk thread! The time taken from harvesting the silk through to the finished garment takes two and a half months on average. After the tour we had a wander around the shop before heading back to the hostel, where we spend the remainder of the afternoon relaxing and reading our books before enjoying dinner in the hostel restaurant.

Cleaning silk threads

On Thursday we had a quiet morning as we had booked Hongda to take us around some more temples during the afternoon. We visted numerous temples as part of the big circuit, and every temple was unique in a different way. The biggest was Preah Khan which had a moat around it and was built following two different design theories. We didn’t spend as long walking around the temples as our schedule expected – maybe because our legs are long and we took few steps! With the free time we had before our sunset stop we headed back to Angkor Wat to see it in the sunshine. For sunset we headed to Phnom Bakheng to watch the sun set over the reservoir and open landscape. Unfortunately there was some cloud on the horizon which obscured the sunset, but we were still treated to some fantastic views.

Friday was spent doing not a lot. We had a really lazy start to the day but did manage to head out for a wander around town before lunch. We had lunch at another of the Blue Pumpkin restaurants, rather than head back to the hostel to eat. We took a wander through the central market before heading back to the hostel, where we spent the afternoon relaxing and reading our books.

Angkor Wat in the sunshine

I spent most of Saturday morning trying to get this blog up to date – I was over six weeks behind – while Lindsay read her book. For the afternoon we had booked a Cambodian Cooking class, and we were picked up just after midday to be taken by tuktuk to the class. Before the class started we were taken to one of the homes in the village to see their cooking facilities, as well as to see how they use the various plants around the village in their cooking. In the class we cooked Cambodian Chicken Curry, Vegetable Spring Rolls and Crunchie Cake for dessert. We had a great afternoon cooking, but we also quite enjoyed eating our food afterwards! It turned out that we had cooked quite a feast and we were both stuffed by the end of it. We were taken back to our hostel by tuktuk where we rested for a while. In the evening we took a tuktuk to the Made in Cambodia market – a small market in the grounds of a hotel where every product for sale is made in Cambodia, as the name suggests! We took our time walking around here, trying to work of some of our dinner, before taking a tuktuk back to the hostel, packed our bags and then went to bed.

Ingredients for Cambodian Chicken Curry

Sunday morning we were up early as we were taking a bus to Phnom Penh – a frightening 6 hour journey which was best passed with your eyes closed and your ear plugs in!

Photos from our time in Siem Reap and the surrounding area can either be viewed below or at http://photos.andywicks.com/SiemReap?noredirect=1

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