We arrived at the lovely secluded Sojourn Boutique Villas in the rural countryside outside Siem Reap at about 9:30 pm, tired after a 2 hour flight from DaNang. Cambodia (or at least this part of it) feels less developed and prosperous than the big and touristed Vietnamese cities we have visited. Even the cattle look a little scrawny. The roads are deeply rutted. The housing along the road is basic concrete and metal. As expected, the people are handsome and couldn’t be nicer. Despite our late arrival (two men from the hotel picked us up in a worn van), the women here rustled up some delicious Cambodian food and fruit drinks (beer for Dirck) and brought it to our one-room villa (there are 9 total, my idea of a resort) where we ate outside in view of a pretty blue tiled pool shaded by many tropical trees and under the watch of one several kittens roaming around.
We left at 4:30 a.m. to visit Angkor Wat at sunrise (this was recommended in Macu Picchu too.) wise idea. one of the men who picked us up in the van appears to be our designated tuk tuk driver, a very nice young guy named Bros. The tuk tuk also reminds us of the contraptions we traveled in in Peru but more pleasant. It’s basically a two wheeled open air carriage with a roof pulled by a motorcycle. Bros sorted out our Angkor Wat game plan which we much appreciated.
We went to a big building that looked like a multi plex/mall in the dark and was already packed at 5:30 am with tourists but the lines moved quickly. We bought a one day tix for $31 each (they have our photos on them) and then we tuk tuked to the Angkor archeological Park which I read is the worlds largest religious site, four times the size of the Vatican. We got to the main temple, the exotic and famous Angkor Wat as the sun was rising, making the 3 strange conical towers even more other worldly. We walked in the soon-to-be searing heat to the massive complex and wandered around, marveling at the extensive carvings in the sandstone, often of nubile young women in various poses. Wandering all the way to the top of one of the conical towers, we had One beautiful view after another of the complex, surrounded by bright green junglish vegetation. definitely not ADA assessible, with lots of big stones and steps to navigate but fairly easy assess and it was fun to largely be able to wander willy nilly.
Bros dropped us off and picked us up at various stops which was a huge help (only $25 although we paid him more) — the distances between various other temples and gates are vast. My other favorite was “the tree temple” or “jungle temple” in Angkor Thom…enormous trees with their roots curled in and around the crumbling remains of another ornately carved temple.
Words (or my words , after 6 hours of touring in heat, humidity with little sleep and initially no food) don’t do Angkor justice. There was a lot more to see but we had our fill after 6 hours.
Bros also dropped us off at an open air restaurant for breakfast in the park and kept us hydrated with cold bottled water he plucked out of a cooler under our Tuc-tuc seat (he also had frozen wet wipes — much appreciated. ) It is about 90 degrees and humid but no rain — our luck with the weather continues although we expect rain in Ho Chi Minh City.
We also had a few unexpected encounters with wild life. Dirck with a bee (no sting just a lot of buzzing) and me with a rather pushy monkey who started pulling on my trousers until I realized what was happening and shook him off. Several elephants with multiple riders atop shared the road with us. We returned about 2:30 pm to cool washcloths from the staff here, a light lunch (lemongrass shrimp skewers and a delicious salad of shredded banana leaves, other veg and slices of chicken in a tangy light sauce, a delicious mixed fruit drink.)
Then we had the pool to ourselves, mellow music, a cat or two, a few mosquitoes/flies (none in Vietnam) and one of the lovely women here brought us tall glasses of ice cold water, placing them poolside.
Dinner was at the sophisticated and oft-recommended Cuisine Wat Damnak, which is in an elegant two-story house on an otherwise humble looking street. We had a choice of two tasking menus. The food was extraordinary and full of ingredients I have never heard of, let alone am able to spell (Makassar fruit, Samai rum, fermented cabbages). The chef is French and the restaurant had several touches you’d find at restaurant in France – An amuse-Bouche with bits of dried fish in a salad and about three extra tiny after dinner treats including two little tamarind candied fruit gelee balls and a selection of tiny bits of four fruits we’d never heard of (except the green banana) served on a slate board with a streak of seasoned salt.