On reaching Cambodia
We reached Cambodia airport around 4 PM and were greeted by a beautiful building, which looked nothing like an airport. It probably is the cutest little airport that I have seen so far. I knew now what Siem Reap had to offer! We entered the airport and saw people filling up forms. On inquiry from the immigration officer, I got a visa form, which I filled and submitted to the same officer along with immigration form and my passport for visa stamping. I received my passport with the stamp in about 20 minutes and headed for immigration clearance. After clearing immigration, we exited the airport to hire a taxi. However, we hired a motorbike as it was cheaper (8 USD). Note that Cambodia mainly uses USD. So make sure you have enough USD for the trip. The motorbike was a combination of a motorbike and a rickshaw. We reached our hotel in about 20 minutes and asked the same driver to pick us up the next day at 5 AM. Yes, 5 AM! You read it right :). For someone who hates getting up early and has always been late to school, college or work, this was not something I was looking forward to. So I decided to stay at the hotel and catch up on the much-needed sleep. We agreed for 25 USD for the whole day.
As soon as you reach, buy tickets for Angkor Wat for the next day. The ticketing counter closes at 5:30 PM. The same ticket is used for entry in all temples. So keep it handy with you at all times and do not lose it.
The visit to the tourist spots in Cambodia
The next day, we woke up at 4 AM and left at 5 AM (I was so proud of myself!). Our driver was waiting for us outside the hotel and I felt sorry for him that he had to wake up this early too and this was probably his daily routine. We greeted him and left for the ticketing counter to buy the tickets for Angkor Wat and other temples. The ticket cost us 37 USD each. The ticket was in the form of an ID card with our picture on it. If you are in a group, make sure all of you go for the tickets as your picture will be clicked. The ticketing counter was quite crowded for 5:15 AM, which gave us a hint of how crowded Angkor Wat would be.
Visit to Angkor Wat
Our first destination was Angkor Wat to catch the sunrise. However, it was quite bright by the time we reached and we wondered if we will be able to see a good sunrise. We decided to go in and sit near the two small ponds where most photographers were stationed with their tripods. That seemed like the best place to take the perfect shot. But I looked for other less crowded places too, which could be better for taking pictures. Just as I got into another smaller part of the temple, the Sun rose behind Angkor Wat and then I knew that it was totally worth it to wake up early and also why people traveled from all over the world to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Just when I was thinking these thoughts, I heard strange sounds from a lady behind me. It was more orgasmic than filled with awe ;). So you can imagine how beautiful the sunrise was! Clicked few pictures from this spot and went back to the pond to see how sunrise looked from there. Most pictures are apparently taken from this location as you get a reflection of Angkor Wat and also the water looks golden with the sunrise.
After clicking the pictures, we went to a food court nearby and had the packed breakfast from the hotel, which consisted of toast, 2 boiled eggs, and butter. We ordered coffee with milk for 2 USD. Just as we were having lunch, a young girl about 9 years came to me and asked me if I was interested in buying the souvenirs she was selling. She spoke very good English and I wondered what she could become with all that confidence, impeccable English, and great business skills. She managed to sell the fridge magnets though I was least interested in buying at that time.
After having breakfast, we entered the temple. It was huge. There is so much to explore. I felt it was a lovely spot for taking portraits. I saw many Chinese nationals and I felt so at home. Staying with Chinese for 4.5 years in Singapore, I feel so connected to them. Just when I was thinking about this, a group of Chinese tourists sat next to me, while I waited for my friend to climb a series of stairs to an upper chamber. I decided to sit and rest as I had swollen feet. All of a sudden, my neighbors decided to click pictures with me. They embraced me lovingly and said something in Chinese and asked one of their friends to click the picture. I completely felt like a celebrity! This was probably the second time someone wanted to pose with me. The first time was in Taj Mahal when I was 2 years old and a British couple held me and clicked a picture. I still wish to get hold of that picture. Getting clicked at this age is sure a mystery to me. While my friend was touring the upper chamber, I took some pictures and asked some people to click my pictures. They had absolutely no idea how to take pictures. I positioned them along with the camera at the right spot and told them where to click. Viola, they did a great job!
We then relaxed near the steps and just observed different tourists passing by. Some were busy clicking pictures with the locals, others getting instructions from their guides and some others knew exactly where to get their portraits clicked and were dressed for the occasion. I realized that bright colors looked great in such locations. People who caught my attention were in blues, reds, whites, and yellows.
We then left Angkor Wat and headed to the next temple Angkor Thom. It has two structures across the street. I decided to take some rest while my friend covered the other side of the road. While resting, I had an interesting conversation with our driver on politics, politicians, education system and the future of Cambodia. It was great to know how the driver kept himself abreast of all the latest news. My friend returned and we walked towards the temple, which was a 7 minutes walk. So do get your hats and dab on that sunscreen. The temple was full of mystery with extraordinary roots of the trees and ruins of the building. I was reminded of Jatar Block in my school which was our secret hideout during Physical Training (PT) classes. I had a sense of pride when I saw that Survey of India had taken up restoration work of the temple.
Our next spot was another temple. By now, I was completely tired and was unsure if I even wanted to visit the temple. But my love for photography has made me go the extra mile, go out of my comfort zone and also see the world in a different light. In this temple, the only way to see anything was to climb some steep stairs, which looked anything other than scary. So, as usual, I decided to wait while my friend surveyed the place and got me the news of how beautiful it looked from there. She encouraged me to climb and I climbed the hot stairs made of stone. I took wisdom from the monkeys and climbed the stairs holding the railing with one hand while taking the support of the stairs with another. By the time I reached the top, I felt I had climbed the Mount Everest. Now, I wondered how I would get down, which looked scarier. I left that thought for later and decided to see the temple. There were more stairs to climb but I dreaded the thought. After clicking some pictures, I got down with some strategy. Believe me, it was a balancing act with my heavy backpack.
We left the place and headed to our next spot – a restaurant. I was so relieved that finally, the ordeal of climbing stairs and getting roasted in the sun was over. I ordered Tom Yum soup and fruit punch while my friend ordered a local delicacy and coconut water. We got connected to wi-fi and reconnected with the world again. Finished our lunch and met our driver, who told us that there is one more temple which is a must visit. I wasn’t too keen and wanted to head back to the hotel. It was the heat and my swollen legs, which didn’t allow me to enjoy the trip. Else, I love architecture and would have been very excited about the whole trip. After much prodding by my friend, I agreed to the driver’s plan of visiting the temple.
The temple was extraordinary. It had several faces carved on stone. I had seen pictures of the temple on Instagram before. I was glad that I checked into the temple. I saw the temple and then rested in a shady place. This was a photo spot and I saw many tourists stopping there to click pictures. The tour guides turned photographers. It was fun to watch how everyone posed. Just then, I saw a little boy wearing blue shades staring at me. My friend also sat next to me. He then kept looking at us as if he wanted to strike a conversation with us. My friend gave him a high-five and he immediately returned a high-five Barney style! He looked very cool and knew how to charm women for sure. I was completely floored and did what I have never done before. Grabbed him and asked my friend to click a picture with him while his mother watched. It looked like his mother was used to this female attention her son gets. He waved at us and left. We left too to finally rest in the hotel.
We left the hotel at around 8 PM to have dinner near the night market. The night market is a shopper’s paradise. There are many night markets close to each other. We shopped for some local stuff. I bought a lovely skirt, a painting, and a T-Shirt with an elephant printed on it. Indians and their love for elephants! Pub street is also nearby but we could not cover it as we were late. For another time!