Cambodia had been on my bucket list for the past few years because I had seen a lot of great pictures of Angkor Wat and I thought it would be really cool to explore these temples – I was right! It was a great stop on our vacation…we absolutely loved our time in Cambodia! We arrived in the evening into the Siem Reap airport and were picked up by a driver from our hotel – the hotel** that I booked for us was outside of the main city area within one of the villages. We drove through many back roads to get there and I really got the feel that this was a third world country – there were a lot of small houses/huts and little businesses being run out of the front of their home. We pulled up to our hotel and fell in love with it immediately. It had gorgeous grounds, including a great pool and they hire and train people from the local village which we thought was really cool. The people there were the friendliest people that I have ever met in my life. The hotel was also very environmentally conscious, which we loved; they used renewable materials, locally sourced food, and solar panels to make the hot water. We grabbed an absolutely delicious dinner at the hotel restaurant and called it an early night.
We had asked the front desk to have a Tuk-Tuk ready for us first thing in the morning to take us to the main temple areas. This tuk-tuk was great – it was so nice to be out in the open air and he got us everywhere pretty quickly. Before we could go anywhere, we needed to go to the ATM to get some money and we were surprised when US dollar bills came out – this is what they use as their currency…in fact, most places couldn’t even give us any of the Cambodian Riels because they didn’t have any.
The first stop of the day was Angkor Wat which was awesome! The best part about all of the temples is that you can climb all over all of them – it really makes you feel like Indiana Jones which is so much fun!
We saw quite a few monkeys hanging around…many of them finding left over fruits or soda and chowing down – they’re hard to catch in pictures but we got a couple fun shots!
We also grabbed coconuts which are one of the most refreshing and delicious things I’ve ever had…we had a lot of these in Thailand and they were just as good in Cambodia. They taste much better than the coconuts in North America…something about Southeast Asia really makes them fantastic! The people selling them literally just cut the top off of the coconut and put a straw in so it is super fresh…and super delicious.
After that, our driver took us to Ta Prohm which is the temple where all of the roots of the trees are growing within the temple walls…it’s just awesome! It’s also where the movie “Tomb Raider” with Angelina Jolie was filmed so you may recognize it from there. It’s exactly like the “lost temples” you imagine in the middle of the jungle, just not lost.
He then took us to lunch and then over to Bayon Temple which was our favorite of the day. It has a Buddha face on the North, South, East, and West side of each column. It was really great! We tried to talk to the Buddha faces, but they don’t talk back like in “Legends of the Hidden Temple”…shucks.
The temples attract not only tourists but also Buddhist monks. It was really neat to see so many of them in their bright orange robes out walking around. I love this picture I got of one of them walking out of the temple!
We walked around the Angkor Thom area a little more and decided to call it a day as the storm clouds really started to roll in – it had a busy and fun day full of exploring!
The next day was Thanksgiving and we wanted to do something special to make this a really memorable day! I arranged for a sunrise bike ride to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. We met our guide at 4:45 AM (VERY early especially for vacation but somehow we knew it would be worth it) and we began our bike ride. Since our hotel was out in the village area, we started riding through the back roads in the village in the pitch black night with only little flashlights on our bikes providing any light for us to see…very crazy! Ryan rode up next to me and said, “Did you ever think that we would be riding bikes in the dark through rural Cambodia??” and the answer was: “No…I definitely never thought that I would be doing this but I’m so happy to be having this experience together!” As we got onto the main roads, we saw lots of tourists in tuk-tuks and cars – they took the easy route but we were fully enjoying our morning exercise. We got there before the sunrise and realized quickly that the word about how cool this was had gotten out because there were quite a few tourists there. We found a spot to enjoy the view for a bit and as the sun started to peak over the temples, we headed down to the edge of the water to get some pictures of the reflection as well – it was absolutely breathtaking!
On the way back to our hotel, the local guide took us a different way home because he wanted to show us his village which was really nice. Everyone was waving at us and at one point, a group of kids started chasing after us yelling, “Hello! Hello!”It was a wonderful morning – probably one of my favorite travel memories of all time. As it was Thanksgiving, we spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool and enjoying the warm weather (we knew that we would be coming back to cold weather in Korea). We had a great dinner just the two of us and ended our first Thanksgiving abroad.
The pool area where we spent the rest of our Thanksgiving day relaxing…
The third day, we decided to take a trek out to some of the temples that were further away. The first one that we went to was Banteay Srei which is a red sandstone temple and the carvings are very well preserved.
We also went to a few other temples in the area which were a lot less crowded.
This was one of our favorite pictures – in the distance is a local woman walking to the temple with her dog.
On the ride there, we got a good look at what Cambodian life was really like. Our cab driver also told us a lot of stories about what it was like to grow up here in Cambodia…especially during the terrible times that they went through. It was really impressive how a country who has been through so much can be so kind to everyone and hopeful for a better future – they are so willing and eager to share their stories and anything that they have. It’s one of those life lessons that you will never forget because it changes the way you look at your life.
On our final day, we got our last bit of rest and relaxation before we prepared to go back to Korea (which also means back to stressful and crazy work). At the hotel’s spa, we had the greatest massage that we have ever had – it was a Khmer massage (Cambodian style…it was very similar to a Thai massage but not quite as intense)…it was awesome!
I also took a cooking class at our hotel which was absolutely awesome! One of the local villagers showed us their home – she showed us where they grow some of their veggies and then her kitchen where she makes food for her entire family every day.
Then they took us to an open air pavilion where kitchen stations were set up for us to make our own meals. We made fresh spring rolls (which I now make ALL the time and absolutely adore them – so does Ryan!), Cambodian Curry (we even made the curry paste from scratch which was phenomenal) and finally, Nom Tong Noun for dessert (it’s kind of like a coconut cookie). All had the freshest ingredients and were absolutely to die for – I had a blast at the cooking class!
At the end of all, we had an absolutely magnificent trip and made some of the best memories ever! We will certainly never forget this trip and will hopefully be heading back this direction sometime in the future!
**If you want to stay at the same hotel as we did, it is called Sojourn Boutique Villa and we loved it!