The second post in a brief series about our amazing Cambodia trip. Post 1, Sunrise at Angkor Wat, fits chronologically at the end of this post.
The flight from KL to Siem Reap is about 2 hours, with a 1-hour time difference. It was a really easy trip and with flexible dates you can find good deals on air travel. We spent a 4-day weekend, but could have easily spent a week. Angkor Wat was Micah’s choice of a “must do” trip and it didn’t disappoint! I think it’s a place we will go back to at some point. We did pack in a lot, but there was also a lot that we didn’t get to do. For example, we “only” did the main temples, there are several others in outlying areas that are historically older, but due to time and distance we didn’t make it. Another thing we would have liked to have done in Cambodia is visit Phnom Penh; we both felt guilty about going to Cambodia to see the temples without acknowledging the country’s more recent and troubled history.
When we landed in Siem Reap, we deplaned on the tarmac and had to walk to the immigration and customs building. There were some official looking people to make sure we were headed in the right direction, but otherwise we were on our own. We needed visas to enter Cambodia, and we chose to apply online and get e-visas, rather than fill out the paperwork and pay for them at the airport. It just seemed easier to have them in hand, and I think it made our processing time a little faster since we’d already been approved to enter the country. We had other customs declarations and things that we’d filled out on the plane as well. One of them went to the immigration official as we passed through but we still had the others as we collected our bags and exited customs. On the way out the door, quite literally about 20 feet away from the door to the outside, there was a box where we very officially dropped the rest of our paperwork. No one was even checking to make sure we complied. But of course we did. Goal #1 of our entire expat year: avoid causing international incidents. No point in testing the limits at this point, so close to the end.
Our hotel had sent a driver to pick us up and we found him really easily and trotted off to his tuk tuk. Our first time in a tuk tuk! The Cambodian version of this form of transportation is a motorcycle with a cart in tow. The cart has a roof, but open sides, and seating for 4 adults on cushioned benches that face each other. It was reasonably comfortable, but we learned several things about being tuk tuk passengers on the quick ride back to the hotel: Wearing eye protection was crucial and it was helpful to have a bandana or something over your nose and mouth as the streets were very dusty. Micah and I also felt more comfortable if one or the other of us put an arm across the back of the bench to make a little more shoulder room, too.
It was late afternoon, and very hot. We thought the temperature would be similar to KL since the two cities aren’t that far apart geographically. But the heat in Siem Reap felt more brutal. It was the kind of heat where the particular quality of the air and the light just look hot. It even smelled hot. KL is more humid, and while the humidity here is oppressive, the moisture in the air makes the temperature feel different. Not more bearable, just different. I guess it depends what you’re used to!
When we arrived at the hotel, we were offered a “welcome drink” of chilled apple juice as well as cool wash cloths. After the plane and the dusty tuk tuk ride, both of these things were a nice touch. We were then shown to our room, which turned out to be a really nice, freestanding villa, and quite large! We planned out our weekend based on Lonely Planet’s typically excellent recommendations, and went to the front desk to ask about hiring a driver for the next day to do the tour we had just mapped out. Through some combination of language barrier and the fact that the hotel offered set tour packages, it turned out to be quite difficult to just a hire a driver for the day. The prices for the tour packages were very reasonable, and it was clear that it would just be easier to book their pre-packaged tours. So we booked “the small tour” for the next day and tacked on sunrise at Angkor Wat, for both of us this was $23 USD. At a total cost of $48 USD for both of us, we booked “the grand tour” for the day after, plus sunset, and we also tacked on an extra temple in an outlying area. In retrospect we should have saved the extra temple for Monday morning when we didn’t have anything else planned. The extra temples, plus the grand tour, plus sunset made for a really long day.
With our tours booked, we went in to town and walked around a little. We walked through the night market, because walking through night markets is always good entertainment in Southeast Asia, and shopped a little bit. We knew we wanted to buy kramas, the traditional Cambodian scarf, and it looked like all of the stalls had approximately the same selection. So we picked a stall more or less at random and picked out two that we liked. We’re a little better about negotiating than we were in Thailand, but I didn’t bargain very hard for the kramas. I have a soft spot for female shop keepers, I always assume they are entrepreneurs and therefore I don’t mind paying an extra $1 or $2. We did successfully bargain for the other souvenirs we picked up though! (Sidebar: Cambodia uses U.S. currency. It was simultaneously weird and comforting to have American money in our wallets again. Especially when the prices ran on par with Southeast Asian prices, instead of U.S. prices.)
After shopping and a little bit of people watching, it was time to call it a night. It wasn’t very late, maybe 9:30pm or so, but our driver was picking us up at 4:30 the next morning. Early to bed for us! Micah had no problem going to sleep right away, however I had one of my periodic bouts of insomnia and ended up being awake until after 1am. There was loud music playing somewhere near by, and then some dogs started the midnight edition of the twilight bark, plus being in an unfamiliar bed and room…I was just awake. One strange thing that kept me awake was how utterly and completely dark it was in the room. No ambient light at all. Normally this would be a good thing, but ambient light filters into our hotel all night in KL. There’s a gap between the curtains and the wall, so at best it’s dark grey in our room. I guess I’ve gotten used to it and had a hard time sleeping in a dark room! Another instance of “it depends what you are used to” as the ambient light used to keep me awake in KL and now apparently completely dark rooms keep me awake, too.