We arrived in Siem Reap late morning, but didn’t plan on visiting any temples. Given that the husband was still not feeling great, we headed to the hotel, and were able to check in a little early. I love this hotel! Yes, the Shinta Mani has a pool,
nice clean rooms, and a restaurant with cool outdoor swings,
but the customer service makes it one of my all time favorite hotels I’ve ever stayed at.
We spent the afternoon swimming in the pool, relaxing, and taking naps. As good as the kids have been, the 14 hour time change is pretty brutal. All three girls passed out after swimming, and when it was time to wake them up for dinner, none of them wanted to get up. It took lots of poking and prodding to rouse them out of bed. For dinner, we went to this huge banquet hall that served a buffet dinner (I know! But this time the husband stayed away from any and all raw seafood) and put on a traditional Cambodian dance show. This time it was Erin’s turn to fall asleep at dinner.
The next morning was our first day to visit the temples.
It was also the first day of the Cambodian New Year. We knew it would be busy, but we had no idea just how many people would descend on Siem Reap. We got our first taste when we arrived at Angkor Wat, which is the biggest and best known of the Cambodian ancient temples. It was crowded not just with foreign tourists like us, but also thousands of Cambodians celebrating the 3-day New Year.
At 8:30 a.m. Angkor Wat was already packed with people. Thank goodness for our tour guide who helped us navigate through the masses. The guide peppered us with fantastic history of Angkor Wat, but most of it was lost on the kids, with the exception of Erin who listened with great interest about the wall carvings depicting war scenes. Olivia may not have been into the history, but she was totally into the photography of Angkor Wat. That meant she didn’t want us taking any pictures of her.
Or maybe that was just her ‘tweendom coming out. After about 1 1/2 hours at Angkor Wat, the heat was getting to the kids and the husband, and the crowds were getting to me.
We decided to cut the tour short and resume in the afternoon with a stop at Ta Prohm,
also known as the Tomb Raider temple because it was featured in the Angelina Jolie movie.
It’s not just famous for the movie, but also for the huge trees and their massive vines that have grown in and around it. It’s interesting to see how much has changed at these temples in just five years. These temples were left untouched for centuries, but now that they have become tourist destinations, the wear and tear has taken its toll, so a big conservation effort is underway to restore them.
That means removing many of the iconic trees, which if left untouched would cause Ta Prohm to crumble even more than it already has. The renovations also caused many areas that we saw five years ago to be roped off this time around.
I’ve got to hand it to the husband. He felt terrible and should have stayed back at the hotel, but he didn’t want us to go alone, so he ventured out. In addition to the bad stomach, he had a bad reaction to the antibiotics, causing his glands, tongue and face to swell. His mom gave him an Alka Seltzer to take for the ride, which in hindsight was probably a mistake. At one point, I looked back at him, and he had his head resting on the back of the seat. He was looking a little green and was groaning a little. I asked if we should pull over and his non-response gave me my answer. The driver quickly pulled over to the side of the road, and husband promptly hurled while his mom rubbed his back. She’s much more nurturing than I am. He said he did feel better, and made it through the tour of Ta Prohm. He opted out for dinner so he could get some peace, quiet, and some rest. When we returned around 8 p.m., he was dead asleep.
The next day, the husband thankfully felt much better, and we took a two hour van ride to Phnom Kulen, which is a mountain region complete with a reclining Budha, a river with lingas (phallic carvings) carved into the river bed, and a beautiful waterfall complete with a flowered swing. We came here five years ago as well, and it was one of the highlights of the trip. This time, not so much. It turns out, we weren’t the only ones with the grand idea to head up to the mountain. Since the Cambodian New Year is a national holiday, literally thousands of other people also ventured up the bumpy dirt road. At least we were in an air-conditioned van. Many people drove mopeds, carrying several people on it. Others packed so tightly into trucks, cars, and vans, it was a wonder they made it up the mountain. I was as awestruck at the number of people as I was at the Reclining Budha,
and since I was one of the few Westerners at Mount Kulen, people looked at me awestruck. People pushed and shoved their way to the top of the stairs to see the Reclining Budha,
which seems the opposite of what you should do when paying respects to a Budha. We finally made it to the top, patted its head,
and made our way back down. By this time, we were ready to enjoy the river and the waterfall, but the place was far from serene.
There were people everywhere, along with their trash. At one point, a wooden bridge filled with people popped, and I was convinced it was going to plunge into the water. By some miracle, it didn’t. Knowing that to get to the waterfall, we would have to take a precarious hike, we decided not to push our luck, instead pushing our way through the crowds of people back to our van. There was only one problem. To get to Phnom Kulen, you take a dirt road that goes only one way. We had to wait for the police to stop people from coming up so we could go back down. That was supposed to happen at 12:30, but didn’t happen until 1:30. Then, with the thousands of people all trying to get out one way, it took us two hours to move a quarter of a mile. I’m far from a patient person, but the zen of the Reclining Budha must have had an effect on me because I didn’t lose it. I sat in the back of the van with Erin peeling and eating Kulen fruit, which are kind of like lychee, and have a sweet and sour taste.
I’d compare it to a sour gummy bear with a big pit in the middle. By the end of the neverending van ride, I became a master at peeling the fruit and getting all the flesh off the pit.
The kids wanted to head right back to the hotel after the van ride, but I wanted to check out another temple, Banteay Srei.
It was just a small detour, and it’s a beautiful temple made out of sandstone well worth seeing. I’m sure when the kids are adults they’ll appreciate us taking them to yet another temple after such a horrific van ride down from the mountain right?
After surviving the Phnom Kulen adventure, we decided to torture ourselves and the kids even more with a 4:15 a.m. wake-up call so we could see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Hey, everyone’s body clock is so messed up already, we didn’t see any harm in rousing them at o’crack hundred hours. This hotel is so kick-ass in its customer service that even though the restaurant wasn’t open, they set out pastries, coffee and tea, and sent us on our way with to-go breakfasts. The pastries were a god send for us because they placated the kids, and either they were on a sugar rush or so sleep deprived that they didn’t complain about the early morning adventure. Even at 5 a.m. it’s hot here. At least it wasn’t oppressively hot. At least not yet. By this time, we knew we’d have plenty of company at Angkor Wat, even at sunrise, and we were right.
The place was filled with amateur photographers who lined the moat leading into the temple. This included my budding photographer who’s face lit up as much as the sun did, as she snapped away on her point and shoot camera.
As early as it was, I’m so glad we did this. It was truly a spectacular sight to see the sun rising up over Angkor Wat.
We did a little more exploring of Angkor Wat
and the kids did their best Apsara poses before we headed out.
As iconic and beautiful as Angkor Wat is, the Bayon is my favorite. There’s just something about seeing all those faces from multiple angles that captures my attention.
Unfortunately it didn’t capture the girls’ attention as much as it did mine, and the only way we got them to pose for pictures was through threats of taking away privileges.
If the girls would have had their way, we would have ended our temple tour after the Bayon, but I wanted to see a couple more, namely the Terrace of the Elephants and the Baphoun, which recently reopened after renovation. The kids didn’t get too far. They were hot and tired, but I got a closer look at Baphoun.
After climbing and climbing and climbing I made it to the top.
Well worth the climb and gallon of sweat that came out of me while trudging up the many steps.
By 9 a.m., we were hot and templed out for the day. I know I’ve written a lot about the heat and humidity, I don’t think I’ve experienced weather this steamy before. Not in Minnesota or Missouri in the Summer. Not even Corpus Christi, Texas.
Even though this trip to Cambodia has been vastly different from the one five years earlier, it has been unforgettable. The girls have truly embraced their Cambodian culture and even said they would like to live here, although I think Carrie only wants to move here because she thinks she wouldn’t have to go to school. Once we told her she’d have to go to school here too, she was a little less than enthused.