Hey everyone - I recently returned from my first trip to SEA (thanks to all who helped me out planning it!), and I have decided to do a little (big) writeup of the whole thing. I'll start with part one here. I will also be posting them here: http://defaultquestions.com/ along with a few pictures, so feel free to check that out :-) Hope you enjoy! ...
A 4am departure from the U.S, 20-something hours of flying, and a midnight arrival at Siem Reap 's airport. Met my soon to be tuk-tuk driver for the next couple days of temple exploration - Kat, who drove me to my hotel near the night market. Could not have been happier with the decision to pre-book this first hotel (the Mandalay Inn). A quick look around, and off to sleep.
Despite my body demanding more time, woke up around 7:30am, not only to the sound of birds chirping outside the window, but also to my introduction to the next month of my life in southeast Asia - horns. Day one of the temples found me exploring the small loop of the central temple complex - I really didn't know what to expect before arriving, but being able to freely walk through these magnificent structures was simply awesome, despite how exhausting both the stairs and touts can be. Climbing those incredibly steep steps was great fun, and the view at the top is quite rewarding (although the name of that specific temple is alluding me right now...). The other highlight of the day? Probably the monkeys. I was surprised to find that the whole place was not nearly as swamped with tourists as I would have thought, which made the whole experience that much better. The only downside would be that the touts have fewer people to target, though I later decided that they are really just trying to get by, and some were quite fun to talk to - try not to hold it against them.
Now, by this time you could just go ahead and call me Indiana. After a good 8 hours of walking and climbing through the temples, it was time to head back to the hotel and put the A/C unit through its paces. Spent a while wandering through the streets of Siem Reap and getting a good introduction to fending off constant offers for tuk-tuk drivers. Had some tasty chicken curry with potatoes and spent a few minutes deciding whether or not to head from Siem Reap straight to Saigon, or to head through Phnom Penh and the Mekong Delta sans tour group.
Despite wanting to see more of the city, sleep was calling, and an early night was in order - especially considering the 4:30am departure to the temples the next morning. Unfortunately, the whole time in Siem Reap I never really got to check out the night life because of the jet lag and early mornings. Alas, it was more than made up for further down the road in this SEA trip.
4:30am came very quickly. The ride through town was very serene - only a few people out for a walk, along with a few locals setting up for the day. The closer we got to the temples, the more tuk-tuk's appeared, all bringing their passengers to watch the sun rise. On arrival it was still dark, and the walk to the reflecting pool was a tired one, but the early start paid off as the majority of the people who would show up were not yet there (allowing for setting up the camera wherever you please). Despite the others' constant attempts to get their built in flash to light up the temples, sunrise was a great experience, and I would highly recommend it to anyone, even if you are not too keen on being awake that early.
Spent a good chunk of the rest of the day checking out more temples. Became encircled by a group of Japanese tourists who insisted on getting a full 475 pictures with me. Made the drive to one of the further out temples as well - Banteay Srey, about 37km away. Very much worth it. On the way back, we took a detour out to the landmine museum, which was a good, if not depressing, experience. It isn't a large place, but learning how much unexploded ordinance and how much damage they still cause was a real eye opener.
Back to town, a quick stop at the guesthouse, then a hike up the hill overlooking Tonle Sap lake to watch the sun set. A relaxing beer afterward, and a great end to Siem Reap. Tomorrow it's off for a quick 24 hours in Phnom Penh.
Up early, mini bus to bus station, six hours driving, one stop and an overturned bus later we arrive in Phnom Penh. Ate a delicious lunch from a coconut, and spent the day just roaming the city (which turned out to be a favorite past time throughout the trip).
Up very early the next morning to walk around and watch the locals doing their exercises along the riverfront. Spent the next couple hours checking out some of the parks, then it was time to say so long to Cambodia, as I was off to catch the speed boat to Chau Doc, Vietnam. I had decided to go through a company called Blue Cruiser - the guy working was charging $10 more than the others, but he claimed that the trip would only take three hours, as opposed to the 4.5 the others were stating, as well as including food. This seemed a bit unrealistic, but I agreed to it. Turns out my skepticism was not uncalled for - the trip took over four hours, including having to get picked up by another boat after ours broke down past the Vietnam border. Also, no food. The only real good thing about the ride was the ease of passing through the border - couldn't have been there for more than five minutes, and I was not even so much as looked at by a border guard. No complaints from me on that.
We pulled up to the dock in Chau Doc, and I was on my way through Vietnam.
I will get part two (Mekong Delta) posted here soon, if anyone is interested in reading more. Thanks!