December 31, 2014
On Monday morning we took a Giant Ibis bus to Siem Reap. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we knew it would take a while. The roads here aren’t in the best condition. There are a lot of potholes and in many places the asphalt has worn away completely. Even when we were travelling on the two-lane highway to Siem Reap there were large sections that were unpaved making what could be a much shorter trip a 7 hour trip. Even so, we enjoyed the chance to see the countryside along the way.
When we got to Siem Reap we hopped on a tuk tuk and rode to Jasmine Family Hostel. The hostel was really lovely and not at all a hostel. It was more like a small hotel. We had our own room and bathroom and there was a beautiful pool and patio area. It was off of the road a little bit so it was quiet and peaceful, the perfect place to relax after a long day of walking.
We had read that if we bought our one day pass into Angkor the day before we could go watch the sunset. So we decided to grab a tuk tuk and buy our pass for the following day so we could watch the sunset at one of the temples. I regret not doing some research on which places were best for sunset. We simply relied on our driver for a recommendation. He took us to Phnom Bakheng which was constructed between 889-910 and was the first of the mountain temples near Angkor. It is now an extremely popular place to watch the sunset – a little too popular for my taste. We walked up a fairly steep dirt path and eventually made it to the temple ruins. It was overrun with hordes of tourists! I was pretty under-whelmed by the whole thing and it made me skeptical of going to Angkor Wat at sunrise the next morning. But we had already told our first tuk tuk driver to pick us up at 5am so we were already committed.
After we left the Angkor complex we had our driver take us to the center of Siem Reap so we could eat dinner and walk around. Siem Reap is definitely a town that was built up expressly for the tourists visiting Angkor. There are several night markets, lots of shops and eateries line the streets, and there are several food carts selling mostly the same thing – smoothies, crepes, and occasionally insects and tarantulas! We walked around for a while and eventually ate some food, did some shopping at the market stalls, and got a fish pedicure. We went back to our hostel and sat on the patio with some Angkor beers and a pizza! Gosh, I’ve missed good pizza. Then we hit the hay to get a little sleep before our early start the next morning.
Getting up at 4:30 was pretty tough, but it was welllll worth it! I’m going to write separate posts about our visit to Angkor so keep an eye out!
We spent 7 hours wondering around 3 of the temples at Angkor. When our tuk tuk driver dropped us off at our hostel we weren’t very tired so we decided to go visit a silk farm in the area. Artisans d’Angkor is a company that has several workshops in the area and they produce fine, handmade products and they still use traditional Khmer techniques. They provide training and jobs to under-privileged youth in the area who haven’t had much opportunity for education. We visited one of their workshops where they do woodworking, masonry, painting, and much more.
They also provide a free mini bus to their silk farm and give a free one hour tour of the silk-making process. Thankfully we were able to get the last spots on the tour! At the silk farm we learned how silk is made and saw how they take the silk from the cocoon and turn it into gorgeous silk products. It was a fantastic tour and our guide was wonderful. I was very impressed and would heartily recommend it. Of course, I also felt that I had to buy something… Many of their products were a little higher than I could really justify spending, but I did purchase a plain silk scarf.
We were fairly sleepy after the tour but we had already asked our tuk tuk driver to take us out to Tonle Sap Lake for sunset. So unfortunately we didn’t have much time to rest. We were at our hostel for all of 5 minutes before we were out the door again and on our way to the lake. The ride out to the lake took us through less polished areas and it was a nice chance for us to see the surrounding countryside. Most people go out to the lake to take a boat ride to the floating villages but when we inquired about the price it was higher than we were willing to pay – $25/person! We weren’t that interested so instead we had a beer and watched the sunset with a Polish couple who was also unwilling to pay such a high price.
Once back in town, we had a cheap, delicious dinner at Khmer Kitchen and then wandered around a bit before going back to the hostel to collapse. It was quite a long day for us.