After our whistlestop trip to KL it was a very early start for our flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. We got picked up at 4am from our hotel by our taxi driver, who informed us halfway through the drive to the airport that he’d been working for 18 hours already and we were the last job of the day. Not really what you want to hear!
But we made it in one piece, dropped our bags in for the flight and got on our way through the large KLIA2 airport to our gate a million miles away. I still don’t really know how it happened – likely navigating two tired, grumpy kids through the airport looking for something to eat and a big queue at security – but we arrived at the gate to a big ‘closed’ sign. Luckily for us they let us on the flight. Note to selves – speed it up a bit next time!
The two hour flight to Siem Reap was fine, but on arrival we had the next hurdle of the day that went something like this.…
Kylie (as I’m filling out the visa on arrival forms): Hey Mike, you know how I asked you to sort out what the story was with Cambodian visas and you said we could get them at the airport, did you see we needed a passport photo each as well?
Mike: Ummm I thought we had some in the documents folder…
Kylie: Ummm no we don’t…I was going to get some done for Vietnam when we’re back in KL, I didn’t know we needed them for Cambodia…..
Customs official: Passport photo?
Us: Ummm no
Customs official: Hmmm. You pay extra $2USD each to get in.
Us: Errr ok.
So paying our first bribe of the trip (we had read in advance that they might try it on and we were hardly in a position to argue!), we made it through customs where our hotel transfer was waiting.
We stayed for 5 nights at the Soria Moria Hotel which we really liked, and gets big props with their responsible tourism and ChildSafe programme. They importantly had a pool because WOW it was hot for the first couple of days. 36 degrees and it felt like 150% humidity. Everyone was very tired from the early start and lingering jetlag, so we spent the first two days just pottering around town, doing a bit of schoolwork, swimming in the pool and resting up out of the heat in the afternoon.
Angkor temple exploring
One of our main reasons for coming to Cambodia was to visit Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. It’s been on our bucket list for a long time and it certainly didn’t disappoint. We bought a 3 day pass and hired a lovely tuktuk driver through our hotel that took us around every day – the site is massive. We were selective because we knew we only had limited time with the kids in tow, so here’s where we visited:
We left the hotel at 5am for sunrise to visit Angkor Wat, which is the largest religious monument in the world, and is on the UNESCO world heritage list. It dates back to the 12th century and was originally constructed as a Hindu temple, that was later converted to a Buddhist temple.
We had a picnic breakfast on the banks of the moat as we waited for the sun to come up, then went inside and explored for about an hour. It was so hot and the kids didn’t want to walk which was fair enough, neither did we! With Jack in a carry pack and Sophie on Mike’s shoulders I think it’s the hottest we’ve ever been in our lives, even at 7am in the morning. Aside from that, it was absolutely stunning.
The highlight for the kids is when a whole bunch of monkeys gathered around and we quickly realised they wanted the fruit that was left over from our breakfast. One particularly vicious looking one literally snatched a bag out of Mike’s hand as I was trying to shepherd the kids away thinking argh rabies alert! Another lesson learnt – don’t go anywhere monkeys if you have food on you!
We came back the next evening to watch sunset, except it was cloudy! But it was great to see it in a different light.
After our sunrise Angkor Wat visit we went to Angkor Thom, literally meaning ‘Great City’ and the last of the Khmer empire. It was constructed in the late 12th century and abandoned in the 1600’s. It has a gateway bridge leading up to it with carvings of lots of scary faces, reminded us a bit of the Māori pouwhenua in New Zealand. The kids had fun mimicking the scary faces.
By this time it was 9am and everyone was overheating, so we went back to the hotel for some pool time. On the way home we got stuck in a traffic jam with an elephant 🙂
The next day was thankfully cooler and we visited Ta Prohm. It’s an example of a temple that has been left in it’s abandoned state, and the result is the surrounding jungle and enormous bayan trees growing into the temple. It’s also famous as the setting in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie, should get around to watching it one day!
This was our favourite temple as it was a bit more rustic and atmospheric than the more polished Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. The kids had a fantastic time here running around on the stepping stones, playing in the giant trees and making pretend campfires to roast ‘leaf’ marshmallows on.
On our final day we visited Banteay Srei. Dating back to the 9th century Banteay Srei is one of the oldest temples in Angkor and has a pinkish colour due to the sandstone it’s built from. It’s about a 45 minute tuktuk ride from Siem Reap, and it was a freakishly (apparently for Cambodia) cool 15 degrees which made for a chilly ride! Such a contrast from the 36 degrees the previous day.
There’s also a great interpretation section a short walk from the main entrance which is well worth visiting, as it tells the story of Banteay Srei in detail, including how it was built, what the different carvings mean and how some ratbag colonialists tried to steal some of the ancient carvings to make up for their stock exchange losses in the 1920’s. Tut tut.
On the way back we stopped off to learn about coconuts and all their uses, including learning how palm sugar is made. The sweet ladies there were making some palm sugar lollies that we bought, it tasted like Russian fudge, yum.
So that’s a round up of our amazing time exploring the temples of Angkor. Siem Reap is a very cool little town as well and we got up to a few different things that we’ll talk about next time including eating tarantulas and other insects (not kidding), going to the circus and exploring the old market…..stay tuned!