After four days in Bangkok, we finally took the bus to Siem Reap, in Cambodia. In fact we knew almost nothing about this country, but we were pleasantly surprised with how nice people are here (apart from the scams at the border).
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries of South East Asia and, even though it was once the center of a great civilization (The Angkor era, from 802 to 1432 DC), it was always a country torn by war with neighboring countries. Even after it’s independence, in 1953, it suffered one of the most terrible social restructuring of all times. This dark period in the history of Cambodia is known as the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979), and it was responsible for the deaths of around two million people.
Angkor was the city that reached over 1.000.000 people, at the same time that London was a small city of 50.000. But, like the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, also this civilization came to ruin. The temples were abandoned, and rediscovered by the french in the beginnings of the 20th century.
By then the jungle had taken over these magnificent constructions. Only the temples remain from the Angkorian era since, following the beliefs of those times, stone construction was only fit for gods. Men lived in wooden or leaf housing, even the king!
Fortunately, the Khmer Rouge didn’t destroy these temples, and until very recently numerous renovation works were carried out, allowing the tourists to witness the beauty of this place.
There are dozens of temples in Angkor and, according to our Lonely Planet guide, to spend only a day in Angkor is sacrilege! Therefore, we opted for 3 days, and we used three different kinds of transportation to visit the temples.
In the first day we booked a guided group tour, in a minivan, which was very worth it. We visited the three main temples of Angkor and learned much more about their history since the days they were built until the present time.
Angkor Thom: Bayon Temple
In the second day we rented a bike (by far the cheapest option). Unfortunately, the intense heat (temperatures around 35 C) and the high humidity, tripled the effort required to travel the 35km we did on that day. Therefore, we next day we set aside the option of renting a bike again.
On the third and last day we went by tuk-tuk.
Sunrise in Angkor Wat: lots of tourists start coming in starting at 5 in the morning to watch the sunrise behind this temple. We were expecting something prettier, but it was a good experience!
Banteay Srey: the crown jewel of Angkorian temples regarding the bas-reliefs.
Three unforgettable days. Three days that made us forget the chaos of Bangkok and allowed us to dive in the history and origins of this suffered and humble people, that once was among the most powerful in the region.
Nevertheless, Siem Reap is not only temples. This town also boils with energy. At night, the river margins become full of street food stalls where you can eat for $1. The children also help their parents in the business, from very little. It’s incredible to watch their efficiency, competence and kindness. I had never witnessed anything like that, and in Europe it would be more than forbidden. To watch a girl around 5 years old delivering the orders, receiving payment, giving change, collecting the plates, separating the trash, cleaning tables, arranging the chairs, was something that deeply impressed me and I will never forget. And after all that energy, being able to sit for a few seconds of break, reading a book!