On New Year’s Day, my family and I flew from Thailand to Cambodia for a whirlwind tour of Angkor Wat and its environs. Our alloted two days would soon stretch to four, thanks to unforeseen visa issues, but that’s a story for another time; for now, five snapshots from our first day in Siem Reap:
1. Tuk Tuks.
We became accustomed to traveling by these motorized rickshaw cabs in Thailand, but that did little to prepare us for the hard-sell tactics of Siem Reap’s persistent, tourist-targeting taxi drivers. They lined the streets, waiting for someone to acquiesce to a ride; we quickly learned to say, “no, thank you” in Khmer.
2. Outdoor Markets.
We wandered through quite a few bazaars, most of which sold variations of the same inexpensive trinkets, clothing, and jewelry, but here, we stumbled upon a glimpse of green in the midst of an otherwise ordinary row of stalls.
Our first dining experience in the country came courtesy of what we soon discovered was a local mini-chain, called Khmer Kitchen Restaurant. Though we didn’t have much to compare it to at the time, this meal proved to be one of the best we had, especially considering the bargain rate of $16.50, a total that included quite good food (which I’ll discuss in a future post), bottled water, and very large beers for four hungry, thirsty travelers. It was just the fuel we needed to take on the area’s majestic temples.
4. Elephant Rides.
Much like a downtrodden pony laden with toddlers at a petting zoo, this poor guy looked world-weary at best. He and his handler were strategically placed at the bottom of the Phnom Bakheng temple’s stairs to draw the attention of the descending hordes (see below); I couldn’t help but feel heartsick at the sight of him.
5. Sunset at Phnom Bakheng Temple.
In the course of her pre-trip research, my mother had located an issue of National Geographic featuring a cover story on Angkor Wat; it turned out to be an all-around fascinating read, but, as we climbed the steep, smooth, nearly vertical stairs with a steady stream of fellow gawkers, these lines resonated: “Only kings and high priests could worship atop the hill temple of Phnom Bakheng. Now reverent silence reigns only after closing time. Sunset-viewing tourists crowd onto the platform in numbers that cause structural damage.” Feeling guilty, and quite nervous about conquering those stairs after dark, we took in the astounding view, and then headed down the mountain to find a less populated perch.
Shortly after the sun ducked behind the hills, we arrived back in town, tired, dusty, and, after a refreshing dip in our hotel’s pool, just about ready for dinner. As far as first days go, this one wasn’t half bad.