Cambodia Part 1 – Siem Reap and Tonle Sap Lake

Day 241: November 8, 2018

We were up at 5:30 am for breakfast in our Bangkok hotel. We met our GAdventures CEO, Happy, and the rest of our group. There are 13 of us on the tour. We started our drive out of Bangkok at 6:30 am to try to avoid the traffic.

After two hours of driving we had a bathroom break and filled out our arrival cards and visa applications. Others had previously completed e-visas, but we hadn’t had time as we had been confirmed on the trip only two days before.

Another two hour drive and we stopped at the Cambodian consulate and our driver got our visas completed. It cost almost double to get it completed express. A five minute more drive and we got off the bus and went through Thai immigration.

We then had to walk through crowds and vendors to get to the Cambodian immigration. Apparently if you go later in the day the line is crazy. It took one group four hours to get through previously.

A public bus was waiting for us on the other side to take us to a bus station where our private vehicle met us. Another 45 minute drive and we stopped for lunch. We ordered beef lol lak, a Cambodian dish. Then we continued our drive to Siem Reap.

Most of the group went quad biking, but we stayed in the room and chilled. At 7:00 pm we met the group to go to a local community for supper. We rode in sets of four in a trailer with benches attached to a motorbike.

The place we went was called Phila’s House and it supports the education of underprivileged children in the area and is run by locals. We sat like a family on the floor and were served many different dishes.

After supper we had a chance to play with some of the local children. Most were more interested in our phones than us. Danny worked up a major sweat playing soccer though. After we took the same mode of transportation back to the hotel and went to bed.

Day 242: November 9, 2018

We were up at 4:00 am to leave at 4:30 am for Angkor Wat Temple. We purchased our tickets and our pictures were printed on them. Then we walked to the temple in the dark.

There was already quite a crowd of people in front of one of the pools. We found a spot along the side and took some pictures and waited for the sun to come up. The mass of people kept getting bigger.

Sunrise crowd at Angkor Wat

At 6:20 am we met to go into the temple with our guide. Most people were then returning to their hotels for breakfast so it was prime time to visit.

Angkor Wat was built between 1113 and 1150 under King Suryavarman II. He built it for the Hindu God, Vishnu, and it was to be the king’s temple and capital city. It is the largest religious temple structure on Earth. Most temples face east, however, this one faces west which is the death direction. This is because the temple also acted as a tomb for the king.

Sitting on the steps of Angkor Wat

The temple had three levels. The first represents the underworld, the second the earth and the third Heaven. The stairs to the third level are steep and tall because it is hard to reach Heaven. The temple represented Mount Meru (Mount Everest) which is the home of God.

The foundation is kept wet because of a nearby lake. There is a built in drainage system to take water to the surrounding moats. Cambodia only has dry and wet seasons. It was currently the dry season so there would not be rain until April.

The temple is built of sandstone from a quarry 40 km away. The largest stone weighs 10 tons. Water canals would have been used to transport the stones on bamboo rafts. Stones were cut on the ground then placed on top using a pulley system. Carvings were made in place taking lots of precision and patience.

The exterior carvings on the temple show pieces of the Hindu stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. There were also carvings of 1,800 apsaras or lady dancers.

Carvings of Hindu stories

The temple compound is 1.5 km x 1.3 km. It was originally built as a Hindu temple, but turned Buddhist in the late 12th century. The original name of the temple was Vrah Visnuloka, but when it became Buddhist it was named Angkor Wat, meaning temple city.

We walked around the temple then out to our bus. We were returned to the hotel and had breakfast around 8:30 am. We were given some free time so I called my parents. Then at 10:30 am we headed back out with our guide. We went through Angkor Thom Gate which had 54 demon statues on the right and 54 God statues on the left leading up to the entry.

Angkor Thom Gate

Angkor Thom or Great City was the last capital city of the Khmer empire built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII. In 1432, the city was abandoned.

Within Angkor Thom was Bayon Temple also built in the late 12th century. It has 54 towers each with four faces of Buddha. We walked around inside enjoying the carvings.

Bayon Temple

Next we boarded the bus and drove to Ta Prohm Temple. Tomb Raider was filmed there in 2001. Civil war in Cambodia lasted until 1998. After filming the movie, Angelina Jolie stated the country was safe and that brought many tourists to Cambodia.

The temple was built in the late 12th century for King Jayavarman’s family. There would have been wooden houses within the walls with 12,500 people living inside.

There were spung trees growing on the temple that are 200-300 years old. They have soft wood and are hollow inside. It was getting very warm out walking around the temple and it was very busy there as well.

We had lunch nearby and then returned to the hotel for some free time. At 4:00 pm, two masseuses came to our room to give us massages. They focussed much more on the feet than other massages. They used a nice lotion that smelled like Vick’s.

We relaxed until 7:00 pm when we met the group and took tuk tuks to the Pub Street. We had supper at a restaurant there then Danny and I went to the Night Market to do some shopping. We found a vendor selling scorpions, snakes, tarantulas, crickets and silk worms. We tried them all and the scorpion was the most tasty and meaty. It tasted similar to shrimp. Once you get your mind around eating insects it wasn’t that bad.

The vendor said he gets 20 kg of water snakes at a time. For the scorpions, he has to dig then skewer them and he gets about 10-20. For the tarantulas, he only gets two to three. We each bought some clothing then took a tuk tuk back to the hotel and went to bed.

Day 243: November 10, 2018

We slept in a bit then had breakfast and met the group at 8:30 am. There is another tour doing the same tour through Cambodia, but they continue through Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. We joined forces for the next bit of the tour.

We drove about 1.5 hours to Tonle Sap Floating Village. During the wet season, the lake is 14 m deep and 10,000 sq km. During the dry season, it is only 2 m deep and 3,000 sq km. There are more than three million people living in and around the lake. Fishing and agriculture is how 90% of them earn a living. Anchovies are popular for farming on the lake.

Houses of Tonle Sap Lake

The Cambodians live in stilted houses and the Vietnamese that migrated during the war in their country live on floating houses. We took a boat ride out on the lake to view the different villages. We went out until all you could see was water in front.

Primary and secondary schools are present in the communities. There were many groups of children in uniforms paddling boats together. High School would only be in a larger centre, but most children don’t go that high in their education.

Children paddling

We stopped at a temple and walked through a local market. The heat was killer especially in the sun. The boat took us back to the bus for another 1.5 hour drive to our lunch stop. Then we were back on the bus for another two hour drive to an insect market. There were huge piles of tarantulas, scorpions, silk worms, crickets, grasshoppers and more. Some of the group bought a tarantula and ate the legs then no one wanted the body so Danny and I ate it. It was better than the tarantula the other night. It had a sweet and sour sauce on it.

We continued our drive to Phnom Penh. We arrived around 7:30 pm and took our bags up to our room then met the group to walk up the street for supper. We had a private room at the restaurant and made our own karaoke party. We all sang along to some classics which was super fun. After we came back to the room to sleep.

Cambodia so far has been quieter than Thailand. There is more space between towns and less people. The cities also are less developed. We have some time in Phnom Penh tomorrow to learn more about the history in Cambodia specifically linked to the Polpot regime. I am very much looking forward to learning more.


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