Siem Reap: Tales of a Mystique Cambodian City

A week has gone by since I’ve arrived at Siem Reap, and now I’m heading to Phnom penh, the capital city of Cambodia. There’s been continuous rainfall since last night, one can smell the wet countryside from the bus I’m traveling in and feel extremely lucky so far that the daylong rainfall, as forecasted, visited us only post nightfall. Although the day remained cloudy, humid and kept fluctuating anywhere between extremely hot to breezy and nice, it seldom rained, leaving me enough time to explore the beautiful land.

My time in Siem reap can be summarized by my (obvious) trip to the mysterious Angkor-Wat & its sister temples, and the daylong exploration of the Cambodian country side on horseback. Architecture to Adventure, Siem Reap was more than just memorable, it resembled my ideal lifestyle; it was my utopia in many ways!

When you are about to visit a new place, one you’ve never seen before, you have this mental image borne out of the expectations you hold of the place. The image I had in my mind was that of a barren land with broken highways and difficult people. As it usually happens though, I wasn’t even close! It was akin to portraying a tall-handsome man after listening to a heavy, husky voice over the telephone, only to encounter a short-bald gentleman in his mid seventies; it was unexpected! As soon as I stepped outside of the airport, things looked beautiful and clean. Roads were spotless, and people were civilized, the hustle bustle of the Indian airports and Bus terminus seemed like a distant memory. It might have been because Seam reap is one of the most touristy places in Cambodia (due to Angkor Wat no doubt); regardless, the Cambodian government deserves applause for the efforts in keeping the city clean, definitely cleaner than most streets I’ve seen during my travels in India and outside. It didn’t take me long to spot some similarity though. Here’s a gentleman carrying Chickens in a very Indianesque manner – I’ll let the (cell phone) picture do the talking:

After a daylong rest, I arrived at the Angkor Wat temple at 4 AM in hope of some solitude at the temple by being early, my hopes were squashed soon enough though! There were hundreds of tourists waiting in line, who made it there even before I did, hoping for a similar outcome I’m certain; and this during the off-season? It was too dark for a sharp image, so here’s a long exposure that gives a fair idea of how many people showed up inside the temple at that ungodly hour:

I ventured inside the temple while admiring my recently imprinted face on the ticket I purchased for 20 US$, impressive technology use!  After missing the iconic Sunrise due to the overcast weather & overcrowded spot, and ending up regretting my decision of not getting a tour guide, I took my time with the tripod and took another long exposure to capture the climate and the temple in the extreme dark:

This was where I befriended a fellow backpacker; a French lady named Gabrielle. We paired up for the rest of the around the sister temples. I was lucky to have met her, not just because she was fun to travel with, what set this apart from my other destinations was the mischievous native-Khmer girl, who appeared out of nowhere and gave me another experience worth a lifetime.

Me and my new-found buddy shared a tuktuk and took what was known as the short circuit around the temples, which simply meant we were excluding some of the far off temples. At the end of the entire ordeal we were both exhausted, and completely drenched in sweat.  I was in such a sorry state that I ended up buying one of the cheap-souvenir Tees from the souvenir shop for 2 US$ and change on the spot, only to be re-drenched all over again.