For Part 1: Please refer to Arriving in Cambodia
Being an early riser I was up before the rest of my classmates. Deciding to use the time to sight see around our hotel neighborhood during sunlight hours I ventured out again. I was greeted by our hired tut-tut driver along with a few other drivers hired by other guests at our hotel. Having a friendly conversation I learned that our driver was from a very rural area of Cambodia and had moved to Siem Reap to earn a living. He was not alone. Many tut-tut drivers were not Siem Reap born natives, almost everyone working in the area seemed to come from somewhere.
After re-grouping with my classmates once again we hopped onto our tut-tut car and our tut-tut driver headed out with us towards Angkor. Once we arrived at the park’s main gate, we all purchased the 3-day tour pass and continued on our way.
I remember dressing fairly casual, however, I wore sandals instead of sneakers(*which I later regretted). Ignoring my poor choice of footwear I returned to viewing the scenic roadway we were traveling through. Along the route were so many lush green trees. Upon reaching the next main road our tut-tut driver made a left hand turn and suddenly we were passing by the man-made island and iconic main complex known as Angkor Wat. Just as beautiful as described in any travel guide or seen in any postcard, the majestic Angkor Wat lay before us. I started feeling like Laura Croft, who also explored Angkor in the 2001 film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
With a 3-day pass our tut-tut driver told us that there were many walking course routes we could follow. However, being our hired driver/guide he decided to take us to the 6 best course routes he knew during our stay. Our tut-tut driver dropped us off by some small vendor shops in front of the Preah Khan temple. From there we made our way through our 1st course route. The course took roughly 1 hour due to us starting out at the south gate and taking the trail course to the the east gate. Me and my classmates took some pictures together, but after a few minutes or so we parted ways. While my classmates were off taking selfies I chose to explore the ruins and read the set-up informational posts.
Another reason for deciding to go my own way was due to my classmates making negative comments about people of darker skin(*as they were light-skinned in complexion) & calling darker skin individuals ugly. Though the comments were not directed towards me they were said in my presence with disregard to having decent morality and respect. Truthfully, me and my classmates were simply only classmates. Out of the four of us only one classmate in the group was an actual friend. However, due to his partner and friend’s skin tone remarks along with favoritism in putting them first in terms of event planning, our friendship fell apart on the trip. Nevertheless, it was inevitable even upon our return to Seoul.
While on my own I got to see so much more, enjoy the tranquil surrounding environment, and get to meet & chat with Cambodian locals who were selling items along the course route or guards at the temple. After completing our 1st course I remember we were taken to the 2nd course, Neak Pean – an artificial island with a Buddhist temple, and then to the 3rd course, Ta Som – an un-restored smaller temple with much vegetative growth, before leaving Angkor for the day to grab lunch. Upon returning to Siem square I remember joining my classmates for lunch, but leaving lunch early to find an international ATM to withdraw $USD for the rest of my trip. After successfully withdrawing some money I re-joined my tut-tut driver and classmates and we returned to our hotel for some r+r.
That evening, I joined my classmates to explore Siem Reap’s Old Market quarter and visit its famous night market with hundreds of vendor shops. After eating crocodile burgers with some tropical drinks on Pub Street we spent the rest of the evening walking around the night market area. I was excited and enthusiatic in finally being able to buy some souvenirs on the the trip. I recall buying cloth tapestry paintings, little statues, traditional dolls, flower-shaped soaps, etc. Happy with receiving additional discounts from shops I visited I met up with my classmates when the stores began to close. Together we hired a night-time tut-tut driver to take us back to our hotel since it was nearly midnight.
It may have been an ill-planned decision to stay out late on Day 2 since Day 3 we were scheduled to wake up at 5:30am & head to Angkor to see the sunrise over the temple. Fortunately, I was up and ready by 5:45am that next morning, but my classmates were nowhere to be found. Thirty minutes later they arrived. Leaving our hotel by 6:15am we left in the dead of night back to Angkor for our final day. We were fortunate to arrive by the front temple main complex entrance just in time. As soon as our tut-tut driver pulled up to the bridge crosswalk he told us to enter into the enclosed field area for a perfect view of the the sunrise over Angkor Wat. We were glad to take his advice and went inside. Within a matter of moments the sun had started to rise over Angkor, and engulfed it in orange light.
After taking a mountain-load of pictures I decided to head on up into the main temple. I loved that we arrived so early. It provided more ample time for picture-taking without tourists popping up in the background. Along my solo temple walk of the main complex, which was the 4th course in our itinerary, I got to spend time admiring the architectural work of the early Khmer empire and monks who once resided in Angkor during its prime. I relished in being apart of that moment in time – laying my own footprints and creating a new memory. I must have spent close to 2 hours walking throughout Angkor Wat’s main temple. Somewhere in the middle of it all you might think you were standing inside a fortress. Angkor Wat’s size was truly astounding.
After 2+hours of touring the main temple I crossed over the bridge back to the mainland and met up with my tut-tut driver. Since I was the first one back he told me to sit back and relax in the shade as the sun was already scorching. Thirty or so minutes later my classmates emerged. Unfortunately, for them there was not so much enjoyment after the sun-rise event. Once we were all seated in our tut-tut our tut-tut driver left the main temple area and took us to the Angkor Thom area where you could pay to go on a short elephant ride, or pet some of the wild, but friendly monkeys hanging around.
Much more smaller in size compared to the main temple we were told we would have 1 hour to tour the Angkor Thom’s popular Bayon temple, our 5th course route, before visiting our final course at Angkor. I remember feeling perplexed about the design of the Bayon temple. Unlike other courses that were flat and dealt with little inclines the Bayon temples main artwork/designs lay at the top of it and therefore required all visitors to climb up steep steps to get to the top and again use the same steep steps to descend down.
I, like my classmates, followed the crowd up to see the smiling Bayon temple face carvings at the top of the temple’s towers. Along the way, I passed through a small shrine area were money donations count as 1 prayer. After depositing some money I was given a prayer bracelet and allowed to make a prayer. Once I passed thru the shrine I reached the other side of the temple. Since I did not want to get lost walking around I turned around to climb back up and down to return to our rendezvous location. However, along my way back I got somewhat lost. As I was trying to figure out the correct path to take I was called over by an Angkor monk passing through.
Dressed casually, and not in traditional robes the Angkor monk approached me, and asked me if I had lost my way. Feeling a little embarrassed I told him I knew what direction to walk in, but due to the various trail-ways alongside the temple I had turned the wrong way. He then offered to escort me to the front entrance. As the monk guided me through the Bayon temple he occasionally stopped to tell more about the temple’s history. I appreciated receiving a personal tour, but felt like the gesture was made in order to receive something. Trusting my intuition the monk took me to a less crowded area and asked me whether or not I could help fund the temple’s students education with a donation. I was not surprised that he would ask directly for money as he was not the first Cambodian to approach me in Angkor.
For anyone traveling to Angkor, please be mindful that you will come across Angkor employees, vendors, monks, etc. who will solicit items or charity papers and ask you for some for of donation or payment. They may even provide a gesture of service to you without your permission and through that gesture make the request for monetary compensation. Realizing that I had walked into that type of situation I reluctantly decided to chip in & donate to the school that the monk has described.
After compensating the monk he told me to continue down the trail we were on to find the exit. Thanking him again I continued on my way and eventually located the path I had used to originally enter. Once I reached the tut-tut I realized that I was the last person to show up. My classmates, however, didn’t seem concerned by my absence. After taking my seat we were off to visit the last course for the day where the temple ruins had been left un-restored and possess the most tree/jungle growth as seen in the Tomb Raider film.
Reaching the final temple ruins of our Angkor exploration, Ta Prohm, our 6th course route, I was very excited. I don’t remember how long the trail through this temple was, but I remember our tut-tut driver told us that we’d probably spend the most time exploring this one. He was certainly right. On my own again I remember walking through the ruins and admiring the trees growing over them. After some time I once again lost sight of my classmates, but stumbled into another travel group being led by a robe-clothed monk. These travelers, however, were locals who seemed to be exploring Angkor with the monks.
An old woman from the group noticed me and gestured me over to the group. She smiled at me, and held my hand indicting that she wanted me to join them on their walk. Feeling grateful I smiled and let her her lead me along the trail with the other group members. After 20 or so minutes that group stopped to listen to a brief historical story from one of the monks leading them, and I drifted away to take some pictures of the ruins. It amazed me how old the Angkor temples were, and how much jungle growth has engulfed the temples since the 14th century. After another half hour I eventually made my way to the exit and discovered a side market, with a number of vendor shops selling items I had seen the night before at the night market near Pub Street.
Deciding to check out what sort of items were present I ended up seeing some beautiful elephant patterned clothing in a small shop. Upon going inside I was welcomed by a lady who I had actually met at the night market the night before. She automatically remembered me since I was one of her final customers, who ended up not buying anything from her store due to receiving no discount. Upon remembering me and noticing my eye fixated on one of the outfits in her shop she smiled and said she was happy that I returned to her as a customer. I was a little surprised to see her once again. After having a short conversation I learned that she owned the shop we were in and the shop back in Siem Reap, however, 1 shop was a day-shop and the other a night-shop. Offering me a big discount due to meeting again I decided to buy two outfits from her shop. When visiting Siem Reap travelers quickly discover that Siem Reap is a small city. You are bound to run into or see familiar faces all the time due to the city size.
After perusing around some more I was contempt with my purchases and returned to the tut-tut parking area located in front of the shops. By this time I had arrived by the same time that my classmates had found their way out of the Ta Prohm temple trail. Feeling famished they all wanted to return to the hotel for lunch. Deciding to join them we boarded our tut-tut and departed back to Siem Reap leaving Angkor.
Back at the hotel I began to start packing since it was officially my last night in Siem Riep. My classmates were also planning to leave Siem Reap as well. But they were planning to go to Phnom Penh while I was leaving Siem Reap and returning to Bangkok to start my Thailand trip. Due to packing I ended up arriving late to lunch. But, I got to enjoy the rooftop restaurant views all to myself. The view of Siem Reap was incredible, with so much visual art in the architecture of our hotel’s neighborhood. Not too long after lunchtime our tut-tut driver returned to pick me & my classmates up again and take us to some popular tourist attractions for our last day. That afternoon we were scheduled to visit a Crocodile Farm, go to the Floating Village located on Tonlé Sap lake, and end our day at the popular Koulen Restaurant where dinner is buffet style and includes a live on-stage Khmer Traditional Dance and Performance show.
Unfortunately, a few things did not go as planned in our final day schedule. For one thing my classmates split up and I ended up tagging along with only one classmate for the rest of the day. Together we visited the local Crocodile Farm, which was not as popular as described, but interesting. Afterwards, we did not get to go the Floating Village due it being too late to see the sunset over the lake shore. So, instead our tut-tut driver showed us around like a local by taking us to a large Cambodian farmer’s market where we bought some local produce for our separate upcoming trips.
Afterwards he took us to the Wat Thmei/Thmey temple, which houses the remains of Cambodian citizens killed during the Khmer rouge. Remembering all killed, the temple is a sad reminder of Cambodia’s bloody past when millions were killed under a purge.
With dusk approaching our tut-tut driver brought us to our final destination, the Koulen Restaurant, where we would eat dinner & then watch the Khmer Traditional Dance and Performance show. The dinner and show combined was certainly a great way to end my stay in Siem Reap & Cambodia. I was especially happy to be able to see so much Cambodian culture – from touring Angkor, sightseeing around Siem Reap, and enjoying a traditional Cambodian Aspara dance, which depicted a traditional Cambodian story.
By the mid-evening hours the show had ended, and my classmate and I decided to walk back to our hotel since the restaurant happened to be in the area. Once we returned my classmate left to join the others while I went to the reception desk. At reception I inquired about their bus service & buying a bus ticket to return to Bangkok, Thailand. The receptionist was very helpful. He informed me of a midnight bus that would be leaving Cambodia early in the morning, and asked if I’d be interested in securing a seat. I informed him that I would, and the reservation was made.
Upon returning to my room I realized it was nearly 10pm. Having only a few hours left before my bus would arrive I took a shower, started packing my travel bags, and decided to return my room key and check out. After checking out I dropped my belongings in the lobby waiting area and sat down to rest a little on a sofa. Sometime while napping I could hear some people talking in the background by the reception desk. It turned out to be my classmates. Apparently, they had made their travel reservations earlier & chose to leave on a midnight bus as well, but for Phnom Penh. They seemed to be checking out and in a rush because their bus had already arrived. After dropping their keys at the reception desk they left without saying goodbye or messaging me. I did not care too much. I had gotten used to exploring Cambodia majorly alone. So, I was contempt with traveling back across the border alone as well.
About 1 hour later the receptionist tapped my should to wake me up. He informed me that my bus had arrived outside. I thanked him for his assistance, grabbed my bags, and headed out. It was pitch black outside, but I could see the bus lights, which helped guide me. After boarding the bus I fell asleep again. Sometime later I recall my bus pulled over and I was transferred onto a bigger bus that was already half full with other western foreigners sleeping. After finding a new seat I looked around to see where the driver was. It must have been 4 or 5am, and we must have been close to the Cambodian-Thai border. But, due to the border office still not being open we were stuck waiting until just around 6-6:30am. By then a car arrived and a gentlemen disembarked. He boarded the bus and turned on the engine. Then we were off.
Unlike my experience 3 days prior I was familiar with the procedure with exiting and entering countries. Once off the bus I grabbed all my stuff, making sure to have my proper papers. After clearing through the Cambodian customs & border office I followed a group of travelers like myself across the Thai-Cambodia Poipet bridge crossing. Entering the Thai customs & border office I had all the arrival papers in my hand. This time I did not want to be unprepared. However, upon approaching the Thai border official I was told to provide residence or hotel information on my entry document. Since I did not yet have any hotel reservation booked I just listed a Thai hotel address that I had saved. Once I filled out that section I was approved and permitted entry. After I exited the compound I located some travelers from my bus waiting on the sidewalk. They informed me that we were transferring onto another bus, which was why the previous driver had informed us to take all of our belongings with us. Some 30 minutes or so later a new bus bound for Bangkok arrived. I boarded along with the other people waiting and the bus quickly departed.
This bus ride lasted exactly 6 hours in total from 8am-2pm. Upon arrival in Bangkok, I disembarked at a drop off spot located next to a BTS subway line. After disembarking I transferred to the subway line and headed north towards Don Mueang International Airport (DMK). From DMK I planned to purchase a round-trip plane ticket to Phuket – to visit an old Sogang classmate of mine in her hometown & afterward return and explore all that Bangkok had to offer. During my inner country flight I thought about how jam packed my 3-day weekend was. I had left on a Friday night from Seoul to Bangkok, traveled by bus across the Thai-Cambodia border for 12-hours on Saturday, explored Angkor Wat & Siem Reap on Sunday & Monday, and returned to Thailand for the next leg of my 10-day vacay trip.
Cambodia is definitely a must-see destination for anyone adventurous enough to trek through the country and step foot in ancient temples such as Angkor. I am sometimes astonished that I got to see, touch, climb, rest, and enjoy Angkor in all its glory. In addition I was also lucky to spend a few days in Siem Reap and learn more about the history of Cambodia, eat authentic cuisine, and meet many local natives. Visiting Cambodia was one of the most exciting, exhausting, and adventurous trips I had ever been on; and one in which I will never forget.
To summarize my Cambodia trip:* Flying into Thailand was due to cheapest flights found at the time. In addition to hearing about the feasibility to travel between Bangkok and Siem Reap. But, traveling this way is not highly recommended.
Day 0: (Fri) Departed Friday evening from Seoul, Korea to Bangkok, Thailand
Day 1: (Sat) Arrived just after midnight in Bangkok, Thailand. Traveled with my classmates to the Mo Chit Bus station where we boarded a 12-hour bus across the border to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Once in Siem Reap I checked into the hotel/ exchanged my Korean won for Cambodian riel/ bought dinner/ went to bed
Day 2: (Sun) Went on a mid-morning tour of Angkor Wat temples/ had lunch in Siem Reap with classmates/ withdrew $USD at an ATM/ relaxed during the afternoon at the hotel/ ate dinner on Pub Street/ visited the nightmarket for souvenirs shopping/ returned to the hotel
Day 3: (Mon) Woke up at 5:30am to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat/ visited more Angkor temples/ visited a vendor market outside the temples/ returned to the hotel for lunch/ spent the afternoon touring local Siem Reap attractions, markets, and temples/ attended an evening buffet dinner & traditional Cambodian Aspara dance performance at a theatre/ returned to the hotel/made bus reservations to return to Bangkok
Day 4: (Tues) Checked out at hotel reception at 12-midnight/Left Siem Reap on a midnight hour bus bound for the Thai-Cambodia Poipet border crossing/ in the early morning hours exited Cambodia & re-entered Thailand/ boarded a new bus bound for Bangkok/ returned to Bangkok again/ headed to the DMK airport/ boarded a local flight to Phuket/ met up with friend/ traveled to Patong, Phuket.