Fortunately, our tuk-tuk driver in Phnom Penh had called ahead to his buddy in Siem Reap, so there was someone waiting for us at the bus station to take us to find a guest house. This saved us the huge hassle of haggling over prices while trying to find someone who would actually take us where we wanted to go, not just to the hotel that gave them a commission. We settled on Garden Village, the third guest house we stopped at, and after making arrangements for Khen, our driver, to meet us later that day, promptly collapsed into bed for the sleep that was well past due.
Hours later, we ventured out into the heat for some lunch at a nearby cafe. The pineapple fried rice with chicken was perfect, and I followed it with a mango shake that proved to be not so perfect. Up until this point, the fruit shakes were pretty much just blended fruit, but this place definitely threw some dairy in there that didn’t agree too well with me.
After wandering around the old market, we met up with Khen who took us to buy our temple pass and then into the park for sunset. We hiked up to Phnom Bakkheng Temple, a ruin situated on the top of a mountain, to watch the beautiful sunset. A storm was rolling in at the time, making for a great scene: the red, gold, and pink hues of the sun setting between the western patches of clouds while angry black clouds rolled in to the south, the misty shimmer of their rains approaching. Once the sun was almost down and the storm almost upon us, we headed back to town for some dinner. This time we opted for the cafe next door to the first one and I had the highly recommended (by the waiter) traditional dish samla ktiss, a coconut milk soup with pineapple, chicken, tomato, and rice. Definitely worth the hype.
The next morning we were up bright and early to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat Temple, one of the main temples in the park. The sunrise was certainly beautiful, rising over the towers and monuments. Next was Bayon Temple, the temple of the faces. If you’ve ever seen any rendition of huge faces carved in massive slabs of stone, this is the temple from which they originate. The faces are incredible, facing every direction and rising to the very peaks of the temple. The work it must have taken to carve and construct such a design is baffling, and such handiwork seems unlikely to make a reappearance in present culture anytime soon.
The next stop brought us to Ta Prohm, the temple that has become globally famous for being the site of filming for "Tomb Raider." Here there are massive trees growing straight through the temple ruins, a pretty heroic battle if you ask me. How they ploughed through stolid stone blocks is beyond me, but now they have become simply huge, their roots snaking down and through walls; now they are as much a part of the temple as the original carvings. Our final temple destination was Banteay Srei, a smaller temple about an hour away from the main ones. Banteay Srei sported a different architectural style, red in color with many intricate carvings.
We returned to town to relax for the afternoon. I chose the beef with ginger for dinner before taking a brief walk through the night market and then calling it a night.
The next day was filled with trying to make further travel arrangements, both in agencies and online. After being thwarted from purchasing my ticket from Kuala Lumpur to India no less than six times online — once by an internet crash, four times by the company refusing to process my credit card, and once from someone deciding to unplug the computer — I finally resigned to spending half again as much by purchasing it through an agency the next day. At this point there were only four seats left on the plane, but there was nothing to be done until morning. In the mean time, I grabbed some food from a street side stand and wandered the night market. The very-traditional style food that I was eating garnered quite the response from many of the locals; foreigners rarely eat their traditional food, so they were all very amused with me. At least this gave me an opportunity to find out what the tasty food was that I was eating from the little plastic bag: some sort of egg-pork-mystery mash with a side of veggies. While wandering the night market, I found a beautiful pair traditional Cambodian-style gold silk pants as well as a light cotton dress that will be nice for the sweltering days ahead.
The next morning I had stir fried noodles with egg, onions, and veggies while waiting for the travel agent I’d been working with to decide to unlock his doors. I managed to snag the last ticket on my flight to India! Apart from paying more than I really wanted to, it all worked out; I have a layover in Sri Lanka on my way to New Delhi, so I’ll get to see a bit of one more country AND see my friend who’s working there now! Perfect.
With that ticket finally taken care of, we bade Siem Reap farewell and headed to the airport to catch a flight to Luang Prabang. What would have been a 30+ hour trip via bus on miserable roads was much more easily managed in an hour-long flight straight to the heart of Laos. The little three-gate airport was quiet except for the 20 some people on our flight, but it was very nice. Added bonus: there were free public computers and air conditioning. Doesn’t get much better than that.