THE ASIA DIARIES #6: SIEM REAP
//all photos taken on my 35mm film camera//
001. After a very relaxing time down south on the beaches of Cambodia we eventually ventured north up to the city of Siem Reap and home of the famous Angkor Wat Temples. It sounds simple enough but unfortunately to get up there you have to take a bus back to Phnom Penh the capital and then up to Siem Reap. It was a VERY long day to say the least but we decided to take the journey with a nice bus company call Giant Ibis which made the ride more enjoyable than we were expecting. Yes they are a tiny bit pricer than other companies but you get free wifi, free water, a free snack, stops at nice places for food/toilets, air con, the option to book online and most importantly a bus that actually turns up on time. Definitely recommend Giant Ibis if you ever find yourself travelling around Cambodia.
002. The city of Siem Reap itself is quite small and easy to navigate on foot. I really loved the whole feel and atmosphere of the city. It was very tourist friendly, with lots of street markets and funky souvenirs. It even had a nice mix of boutique stores that sold really well made and ethically sourced products- not that a backpackers budget allows shopping but hey the window shopping was good! We ate at small Cambodian restaurants, a couple of Indian places and feasted on the fruit shakes sold on every corner. During our time in Siem Reap the Water Festival was on. It is essentially a big festival where people from all over Cambodia come to watch the dragon boat races along the river and to celebrate with lots of music and food. I will emphasise that Cambodians LOVE a good party- it is definitely not unusual to see piles of huge speakers stacked on top of each other to make a sound loud enough to blast away the whole neighbourhood!
003. Of course while in Siem Reap we had to visit the famous Angkor Wat Temples. We hired a tuk tuk driver for the day, bought our 1-day-pass tickets and set off to explore. The temple complex is HUGE- there is no other way to describe it. You most definitely have to have a driver for the day because you have no hope in seeing everything on foot. The entire day I really couldn't wrap my head around how we were walking through, exploring such beautifully crafted ancient temples and ruins. If you were in Australia or any Western country for that matter entry would be three times the price and there would be a barrier ten metres away from the temple itself! Seriously such a surreal and beautiful experience you must do when in Cambodia. My top tips for visiting Angkor Wat... take lots of water it is HOT, takes snacks too because food there is pricey, wear comfortable shoes and clothes because you will be doing a LOT of walking, and remember to dress appropriately because it is a religious and sacred place for many people. I really recommend stopping in to see Angkor Wat if you are in Cambodia, even if it is only for a day like us. It is such a unique experience and something you probably wouldn't have the opportunity to do anywhere else in the world.
004. My favourite experience in Siem Reap was a 1 week yoga and mediation retreat we did at Hariharalaya. We hunted around a bit online for retreats and prices- and Hariharalaya was by far the most affordable and we had the most incredible experience. Now before you freak out at the idea of a yoga and mediation retreat I can promise you this one is not as full on and scary as you think. You woke up each morning for practice of yoga and mediation, then again in the evening. You get the whole day time free to explore the nearby village, use the facilities and just have some "me time" for reflection. We stayed in a little jungle hut, strengthened our bodies with yoga, our mind with meditation, met fellow travellers from all over the world and feasted on a vegan buffet for every meal. Waking up to the first morning light and falling asleep to the sound of cows mooing with crazy Cambodian parties going on in the distance... It truly was a magical little experience. I really learnt a lot about myself, along with yoga and meditation. If you are looking to do something different and just step back from the world for a while I recommend Hariharalaya 100%!
005. That turned into a rather long post, congratulations if you made it this far! I'll give story time a break now and come back with the next instalment of when we crossed the Cambodian border into Laos.