Sunday, January 20, 2013

Travels with M&M Part 3: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Back to the blog! We left off in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at the end of the last post, so I'll pick up from there and relate the last bits of our trip.

The bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was much better than the one from Laos to Phnom Penh - the door stayed shut and sealed, for one thing, and there was no bathroom, ergo no nasty fumes, either! On this bus ride (which was somewhere in the realm of 8 hours...but at this point I don't remember exactly), we met up with a couple who was using their life savings to travel around Asia. They were from Canada, and were eventually going to end up in Australia, where they planned to work for a year or so in order to earn the money to go back to Canada. They had some pretty interesting stories about their experiences in various countries! That's one of my favorite parts about traveling; you never know who you might meet up with. We ended up meeting up with this couple again two days later; we also took the same bus from Siem Reap to the Thai border.

Overall, we felt much more comfortable in Siem Reap than in Phnom Penh. We arrived at night, but had a nice hotel booked in advance. For the record, a nice hotel means we paid $13 per night - definitely on the upscale side for us, compared to our previous $5-$10 locations! The hotel was called the Secret Garden Inn, and maybe not-so-ironically, it really was pretty secret. The tuk-tuk driver didn't know where he was going, and we ended up passing by the sign two times before we finally saw it and turned down the right lane! It was in a quiet corner, had a wonderful atmosphere, and absolutely incredible service. The guys who ran this hotel were the best that we had the entire trip, and were some of the best that I've seen in the little traveling we've done in SE Asia. They did everything they could to make us comfortable, to keep us informed on available meals, and to help us plan our trip for the next day. It was such a relief after having spent the last couple of days feeling uncomfortable and a little edgy wherever we were.

We spent one full day in Siem Reap, and our purpose there was to visit the Angkor complex of temples. There are so many temples in that complex, though, that one could spend a week there and still not see all of them! We arrived at the entrance gate around 8:00 or 8:15 in the morning, and we didn't leave to return to the hotel until 4:00. In that time, we saw somewhere around 10 different temples. Actually, that's completely a guess. I have no idea how many we saw - they all started to look the same after a little while, so I lost track!

I was glad that we spent only one day there; by the end of it I was sort of "templed-out". I don't think I'll want to go see any temples for quite a long time, actually. However, it was really fun to wander around the ruins and see different things. The first one we went to was the biggest one: Angkor Wat. I wasn't aware of this before we got there, but Angkor Wat (the temple, not the whole complex) is surrounded by a moat - we had to cross a bridge in order to get to it. I guess that goes to show how important it was, way back in the day. In general, I would describe Angkor Wat as HUGE and VERY BUSY. The temple itself and the surrounding area is pretty much the only major tourist attraction in Cambodia, I think, if that tells you anything. We did climb the stairs way up to the top, though, so we could see quite a lot around us.

My other favorite temple was Ta Prohm. This one was also incredibly busy, but it was worth seeing despite all the tourists. Many of the other temples were in the process of being (or had already been) restored to resemble what they originally looked like. Ta Prohm was left mostly in the state of ruin it was found in. The cool thing about it, though, is that the jungle has grown over top of the walls and temple areas. Everything was covered with trees and green plants and who knows what else, and it made for sort of a real feeling of exploration (except for the aforementioned tourists, that is!).

After visiting the Angkor complex, we headed back to our hotel a little early to chill out, play some cards, and just relax on our last night in Cambodia.

The last day of traveling was Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, it was the most frustrating day of our whole trip (in my opinion), which made it a disappointing way to end our travels. We left our hotel at about 7:40 AM, and based on things we'd read on the internet, we expected to be in Bangkok by 5:00 PM, more or less. It turned out to be a little more for several reasons, and we didn't actually make it to Bangkok until 9:00 PM, and we were finally home at 10. Phew!

So, where did the extra four hours come in? It was frustrating, but this is a good story to tell, especially those of you who have never traveled in Asia before. We arrived at the border of Thailand by about 12:15, which was the expected amount of time. It took us an hour to get through the line to depart Cambodia (which was longer than expected), and another 2.5 hours to make it through the line to enter Thailand (which was WAY longer than expected!). While we had our place in line, and a couple of us went to look for food, but the only things the street vendors were selling were alcohol (in various forms) and cigarettes. At first it seemed silly, but I think I now understand why those two items might be popular at the border crossing...!

It's hard to truly express what we felt as we were waiting in that line, but I ended up getting bored (and frustrated) enough to write a song about it, which might help you understand our sentiments. I titled it "Border Crossing", and it should be sung to the tune of "Jingle Bells". Keep in mind this was written on Christmas Eve:

Dashing through the border
In a single file line
We thought we'd get through faster
But it's taking a long time!

We're waiting, waiting, waiting
For the line to move
It might not be 'till Christmas Day
Until we make it through!

OH~~Customs man, customs man,
Can we get through today?
We'd like to make it to our bus
And be on our way ~ hey!

Customs man, customs man,
Can we get through today?
We'd like to make it to our bus
And be on our way!!

 I know, I know, I've got some talent. Anyway - I sang it a couple of times in line and got some chuckles out of the people around us, so that was worthwhile, I guess! Another thing we did to keep ourselves entertained was to play cards. It was kind of windy, so we had to make sure to hang on to all the cards pretty well, but playing a game of "Up and Down the River" really made some of the time pass a little more quickly.

Once we passed through the border, things continued to be frustrating for a few hours. The driver of our 12 passenger van (which took us from the border to Bangkok) didn't seem to be in much of a hurry; we were told that it would take four hours to get to Bangkok, and that the van wouldn't stop the entire way. That, of course, seemed a little too sweet of a deal. No stops, in this case, translated into five stops. Our driver had to stop to get his wife (1), stop again 15 minutes later to get some water for his wife (2), about an hour later we stopped at a gas station for gas/bathroom break (3), 20 minutes later we stopped by the side of the road so the driver could do his business in the woods (4) (not kidding! By the way, I really hope you're laughing at this by now - the irony here is hilarious!), and finally, an hour after that, we stopped to get gas. Again (5). The driver wanted to sit down and eat dinner at that last stop, too, but everyone in our van was really angry by this point...I think the driver got the hint after several angry customers chatted with him about it!

Eventually we made it, and that, I guess is what counts. Besides, now that I'm looking back on all these things, they really do make good stories. The things that go wrong when you're traveling tend to be upsetting for a while, then they usually seem funny afterward. I'm glad that we had these experiences, just so that we can look back on them and laugh (and share them with all of you, of course!).

Christmas day was a great day for us, and it made up for all the frustration of the day before. We spent it hanging out with the families and co-workers who remained at GES for the holiday, and even though they aren't our blood relatives, they are definitely our family in Thailand. Spending holidays with family, no matter who or where they are, is always rewarding, and I'm glad that we made it back from our trip in order to do just that.

So, thus ends the "Travels with M&M" escapades for a while. We'll be sure to keep you updated on our regular lives, though! Please enjoy some more of our pictures - these ones are from the Cambodia portion of our trip, including both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

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