Videos from 2012 trip to Cambodia--Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, and Phnom Penh

Siem Reap, Cambodia; Angkor Wat; Ta Prohm; Bayon

Part of my trip to SE Asia in 2012 involved a few days in Siem Reap, Cambodia to visit the ancient ruins enshrouded by dense jungle.

Siem Reap has become a bit of a backpacker’s party town, sporting a vibrant nightlife and action-packed entertainment.  One bar was on a roof of a 3 story building with a half-pipe and skate ramps!  All of the restaurants have open views to the street, and occasionally street performers would arrive.  One street performer had a steel ring welded onto a 4.5 foot stand with rusty, menacing daggers framing the circle with their blades jutting inward.  He would light the ring on fire, then do a head-first dive through the ring, tumble on the street, and then jump up and collect tips in a hat.  We also had some exotic dishes, such as alligator, rattlesnake, and frog legs.  Every place in Cambodia advertises and accepts USD, so it was quite impressive seeing places advertise happy hour pints for $0.25!!  Testing your wallet on those prices does make for some rough nights, though….and eventually loss of recall of the night’s events…  I still wonder what the motel employees thought when they saw me awaken on the bench out front at sunrise and then stumble in a stupor to my room as they opened the office…

The primary attraction to Siem Reap is Angkor Wat….an unbelievably massive complex of unbelievably massive temples surrounded by a huge moat and dense jungle filled with deadly and carnivorous wildlife (big cats; big snakes).  The buildings here were occupied by none other than their gods….people would worship here, but people did not reside within the temples.  They were built by the Khmers as Hindu temples, but were eventually converted into Buddhist after wars between tribes led to Buddhist occupation of the area.  Comparing their size to a human standing at the top of a building’s gigantic stone steps leaves you in awe wondering how they were constructed back in 12th Century without machinery.  Even the road to the temple complex is impressive, as the road is guarded by heads of Buddhist warriors on either side and elephant rides are readily for sale.

The most common activity, however, is gathering with thousands of other people around the moat and nearby ponds to watch the sun rise behind Angkor.  As impressive of a sight as it is, it is much better to explore the grounds of the temples while everyone else acts like sheep so that you have the serene temples to yourself.  You can then rush back to the moat as the sheep mosey their way into the temples after about 15-25 minutes of sunrise.

As equally impressive as Angkor Wat is Ta Prohm.  Part of Lara Craft Tomb Raider was filmed here due to the eerie vibe instilled by the roots of fig trees overtaking the temples.  The tree roots grow from wherever the seed can gather nutrients, even on moss, which means they have snaked their way down the roofs of the temples, down walls, around doorways and windows, and have even burst through some structures.  It’s really an incredible feat of nature to see.

Another exciting set of temples is Bayon.  This is where a mosaic of stone has been created with several dozen faces of Buddah and certain ancient leaders having been carved into the stone in various ways.  Some of the faces are extremely large and were created by portions of the face being carved into individual stones and that were then  set in their proper places…almost in the manner of how an artist draws in sections to complete the entire piece.  A couple of historical scenes are also carved into the stone to tell a story of great warriors heroically fighting for their people.

Despite how much time can be spent getting lost wandering through these incredible structures, we hit them all in one day.  We didn’t bother with a high-priced, fancifully-marketed reserved tour.  We just asked our hotel employees to give us a referral for a local tuk-tuk driver and he whisked us to each location with ease.  While we didn’t have guided instruction at all the temples, we did tip a security guard for some historical lessons at Bayon.

After we left the temple complex, our tuk-tuk driver asked us what we wanted to do next, so I told him “find some monkeys”….and he knew of just the spot!!!!  We purchased 4 bunches of bananas from a push-cart and our driver zipped to a spot where a family of rhesus macaque monkeys lived just about 20 yards off the road.  I got to experience handfeeding an entire family of monkeys (about 8 of them, including a newborn) as they walked towards me cautiously and curiously took the bananas from my outstretched hand one by one and then walked away to chow down.

The town itself had even more attractions!  On the north edge of town there is an crocodile farm (sadly, right next to a leather products store…).  At the farm you can purchase things such as dead fish and live chickens to throw into the pit and watch the crocs crawl over each other for the food.  Of course, we didn’t go the heartless route of tossing live chickens into the pit, but we did have fun tossing dead fish like Frisbees into their open mouths.

There is also a large outdoor night market where people hawk all kinds of products from clothing, to spices, art, religious artifacts, mystical life accessories, and other curios.  The local art school is quite interesting as well, as you will find artwork and statues created to honor religious deities and myths constructed in a calm and serene courtyard area.

I tried going to the floating market, but that turned out to be a bit of a debacle, unfortunately.  I should’ve known something was up when Gordon preferred to sleep rather than experience it a second time.  It’s about a 45 minute drive and the open carriage of my tuk-tuk forced me to endure an onslaught of stomach-churning smells as we sped past houses on stilts over swamps where the locals fish off their balconies and hang their catch on the walls to dry.  When we finally arrived I was subjected to a veritable shakedown by both a boat driver and a guide.  I didn’t feel comfortable with these guys so I refused to be hassled and asked the tuk-tuk driver to just take me back.  I figured since I saw how the locals lived during the drive I didn’t need to be stuck on a boat alone with two local guys who I was not confident would’t rob me.

Nevertheless, I had a blast hanging out in this little city and I would most definitely return.  I especially would love to explore more of the less-popular temples in the jungle that are off the normal tourist path.