We woke up on Friday morning full of energy and ready to explore Angkor on our last day in Cambodia. But, we had spent so much time at Angkor that we never got much of a chance to explore the city! So, after another delicious breakfast at the hotel, we set off on our rented bikes to go check out the main city market.
The market was covered, but other than that, it was much like the markets we’ve seen in Chiang Mai (though on a much smaller scale). Vendors occupied stalls selling fruits, veggies, meat, sauces, and the usual noodles and soups. The main difference between this market and others we’ve seen is that it really was a one-stop shopping center! Besides all of the food, there were tons of souvenir shops selling various paintings, shirts, trinkets, and knock-off goods, practical stores like pharmacies, and even a nail/hair salon!
After exploring a bit, we decided to get some lunch in town. We had heard of a place called Genevieve’s that was supposed to be really good, so we headed over there. It was really busy (somewhat unusual in our travels so far), and we actually had to wait for a table! We sat down with the mindset of having a relatively fast lunch – it was already 1:30, and we realistically had to leave Angkor by 6:30 in order to bike back before it got completely dark. Julia ordered a duck salad, and I ordered the Khmer Curry (I love me some curry).
After a little while, Julia noticed that people that had walked in just before us got their food already. Julia was really hungry at this point, and I simply wanted to get our food so we’d have time to explore Angkor. Then, two different tables that walked in after us got their food! We were a little miffed at this point – and then a waiter (not even our waiter) noticed, and said he would check on our order. It turns out that it was never even rung up! To their credit, they got our food out very quickly after that – and it was worth the wait! Both of our meals are definitely one of the best that we’ve had on our trip so far. We finished quickly and asked for the check, but the manager came over and told us that there was no charge because of their mistake! We felt bad, since the food was amazing, the meal was only $11, and Cambodia is just so poor…but they wouldn’t bring us the bill! We ended up leaving money for our server on the table anyway.
By now it was already 2:30, so we headed immediately for Angkor at a brisk pace. Our main attraction of the day was Ta Prohm, which was featured in the 2001 Tomb Raider movie, and famous for having dozens of trees growing out of the temple foundation. It took us about forty-five minutes to get to the entrance of Angkor, and it was pretty hot out that day – maybe 90° – so we stopped at the first temple we came across, which happened to be Prasat Kravan. This temple is somewhat unique, because the bas-reliefs are brick instead of carved out of stone. Also, while almost all of the other temples of Angkor face due West, Prasat Kravan faces East (for reasons that still aren’t clear).
We got back on the bikes and headed to Ta Prohm. We read in the guidebook that we had bought the previous day that Ta Prohm was chosen as the temple of Angkor that would retain all of the overgrowth that occurred between Angkor’s abandonment in the fifteenth century and its discovery by the Western world in the 1860’s. That caused us to do a bit of a double take – we just thought that Ta Prohm happened to have a bunch of trees growing out of it, but it turns out that all of the temples of Angkor were like Ta Prohm before they were restored! The trees had to be carefully removed from the other temples, because the roots will grow right between all of the stones, and since there is no mortar holding the stones together, it caused the temples to fall over relatively easily. Trees are really the main reason that so many of the temples had fallen over – we had always assumed it was from the attacks that aided Angkor’s collapse over time!
Ta Prohm was simply gorgeous. It really demonstrates what all of the temples must have looked like before reconstruction began. Ta Prohm still underwent some reconstruction – but instead of removing trees completely, the buildings were reinforced so that the trees could continue to grow. We also happened to go at the right time of day, because the setting sun created beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, that meant that there were lots of tourists there – this was really the first time when we were at Angkor that we felt like there were too many people there (other than Banteay Srei, but that was just a very small temple). Thankfully, most of the tourists there were very selfless in waiting their turn to get pictures taken at some of the most picturesque spots. After we took our best pictures, we wandered around some of the outskirts of the temple area to get away from the crowds.
We left Ta Prohm, and decided to see a few more temples before we left. We managed to avoid the crowds at our next few locations, and were the only people there at Thommanon, the Suor Prat Towers, and Bapuon. Wanting to get home before the sun went down, we snapped a few pictures at each and headed home.
We headed back to our hotel – just before dark. Harry was out by the pool and we had a few drinks with him, as well as a Japanese college student who was traveling the world on his gap year! After some very interesting conversation, (primarily about world politics and natural disasters), we headed out to Pub Street for a very late dinner. Pub Street is the most touristy area in Siem Reap, and it really feels more like a European district than something from Cambodia.
We decided to go to a place that was recommended to us by some other guests at our hotel, an Italian restaurant called Il Forno. We got some delicious Italian pizza, which we haven’t tasted since we were in Florence back in 2007! And with that, our time in Cambodia was over. We took an early flight the next morning and were back in Chiang Mai by the next afternoon. Overall, Angkor is simply an amazing tourist destination – any trip to Southeast Asia really seems incomplete without at least a few days spent there. At the rate tourism is increasing at Angkor, now is the best time to see it before it gets too overcrowded! If you come in the next couple of months, we’d love to take you there!