Siem Reap

The bus journey was rather lengthy, as the bus chose a very long route to take us to our destination. From Kratie, it first headed south, and when we were dangerously close to the capital, we were booted off the bus and picked up by another one heading North. There were no seats on the latter, so we had to spend about 2 hours sitting on kids plastic stalls on the isle. Eventually some people got out and we were able to take real seats. It did mean that we only made it to Siem Reap when it was already dark, but for the first time in 7 months we had actually booked a hotel!

My GPS showed we were only about 3km away from our destination, so we set out trying to find the hotel. The address on bookings.com was not accurate and only had the neighborhood for the hotel, so we asked around and tried to find it. On the way we passed quite a few full on New Year themed light displays. We walked for quite a while until we decided to walk into a random hotel and ask for directions. The girl at the front desk was very lovely and called the phone number on the reservation. Luckily they sent a tuk tuk to rescue us, so we were driven to a hotel. We soon realized this was not the place we had booked, but they proceeded to inform us both belonged to the same owner and they were “same, same”. We were not 100% happy with the outcome, but we could not help but laugh when they handed us the key to room 404. Other than the fact my knees hated the stairs, the hotel was fine, and we later on found that the whole town was pretty much booked out so our choice paid off…

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We were surprised and delighted by Siem Reap. I am not sure what we had expected, but it is a very cool city, full of amazing food options and all decorated for Xmas / New Year. Almost everyone was nice, polite and spoke English well – even at the local market, which was a welcomed surprise. Another point in its favour was the huge supermarket that offered any and all products we could dream of. This might sound quirky in the Western world, but there are 0 supermarkets in Laos, so we had spent quite a while without one, and were happy to shop around and spoil ourselves a little for new year. With this in mind we bought Indonesian instant noodles, crackers and blue cheese, along with a bottle of cinnamon spiced rum and coke – what a banquet! At the local market we picked up some bread and fresh produce to make sandwiches.

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After consuming our food we decided we needed more rum, so we went out again. On the way we also decided to eat a little bit of dinner, so we stopped at ‘ecstatic pizza’ where you can add 2USD to make your food ‘special’. Pizza was something we had not eaten in quite a few months, so we devoured it promptly. It was also happy hour, so we got two beers for 1USD to finish spoiling ourselves. We decided to walk around a bit, and headed towards pub street, where many bars cater to tourists and locals alike. We were marvelled to find it crawling with people dancing and celebrating. We then decided to go back to the hotel, drop everything, pick up the go pro and head back to join the spontaneous New Year party raving on the streets.

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It was an amazing experience. The crowd energy was pumping us full of positive energy, and I had never shared the countdown and raw excitement of the turn of the year with thousands of people like this. The streets were packed, full of happy faces ready to start the New Year together in community. We danced around, trying a few different music types and spots. At midnight balloons were released into the night sky and the cheer was deafening – almost like being at a rock concert. A nice closure for a year that started camping in the wild in Waikaremoana, playing beach volleyball, touch rugby, Aikido, Muay Thai, getting a work promotion followed by a series of heart breaking goodbyes, and took us through 7 amazing countries…

 

The 1st of Jan started late and with a pumping hangover that kept me moaning in bed for a few hours. To celebrate 2016 we decided to go to the movies to see Star Wars (again, no cinemas in Laos so we had not had the chance yet). The movie was perfect for a lazy day, and I quite enjoyed it, even if it followed a much used formula and had a rather obvious outcome.. I certainly place it on top of Episode 1, though the old movies still kick the new one’s ass…

The following morning we got up at 4.30am, picked up bicycles from the hotel and set towards Angkor Wat, to see the sun rise over the mythical temples. Unfortunately we were not the only ones that had thought of doing just that, so the place was swarming with tourists talking loud and shooting millions of photos just like everyone else.

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The first temple, Angkor Wat is very impressive and has some beautiful carvings on its walls, and we enjoyed walking around its premises, despite the hordes of people doing the same. Holes on the walls still show the marks left by guns and war. It is impossible not to wonder about the great civilization that once inhabited this place, and how time saw it dissolve into oblivion.

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Once we finished there, we picked up the bikes and decided to head to the next temple using a small sand road that goes around Angkor Wat. In a few minutes we were alone and in silence, and we stumbled upon a humble local community that resides there in the middle of the temple complex. The contrast between the crazy main roads with tour buses, bikes, cars and tuk tuks was incredible, and we loved the peace and quite of this place. Our bikes were not really prepared for the sand, but we managed to keep them upright while we made our way through this area. Back on the main road, we found a water wheel and a nice lake.

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The next temple was less well preserved than the previous one, which meant some parts where closed due to fallen rocks. There were fewer people roaming the halls and rooms, which gave you an eerie feeling of loneliness while exploring the ruins. I blame Lara Croft.

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The following stop was one the most famous, Angkor Thom. What makes it renowned are the multiple trees and their roots growing on top of the crumbling stone, creating a wonderful sight. It is interesting to see nature reclaiming what was once hers and burring the man made structures with its almighty power.

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We cycled around until we found a quiet spot where we could eat the sandwiches we had brought with us. We settled for another dirt road out of the way and sat down with a few geckos as company. By then we were already getting tired of cycling and walking around, so we rested for a while and gathered our strength. We resumed our exploration with yet another huge temple, going up quite a few steps to reach the middle layer. I was too tired to go to the very top, so we went around and got out at the opposite end. We followed a cute forest track back to our bikes, and slowly returned to town. We loved our time visiting the ruins and one day might go back to explore the other places we skipped this time around…

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Our last day in SR was pretty quiet. We checked out of the hotel room and hung around writing, reading and playing guitar. In the lobby we met a Japanese couple that had been cycling all over Asia. The man had been to 30 countries with his bike, and though they were tired we talked to them for a bit before they retired to their room. Certainly a source of inspiration! Eventually we were picked up and taken to the bus stop, where a sleeping bus was waiting to take us to Sihanookville, our next beach destination.

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