After we left Phnom Penh behind (thankfully in time to avoid the dreadful stampede that happened a few days later), we travelled by bus to the town of Battambang and the next day got on a riverboat to head to Siem Reap via Tonle Sap lake. The trip was long (nearly eight hours) and a bit on the loud side thanks to the boat’s motors, but completely amazing at the same time. We travelled through the outskirts of Battambang, through some picturesque wetlands and then through some of the floating villages that are scattered throughout the province.
Siem Reap was a fun city. Being the place to stay when seeing Angkor Wat, it was a little touristy, but we got there in time to see some water festival celebrations where the locals were all out in force. I was slightly unnerved by the sign outside town announcing that they were currently experiencing a ‘severe haemorrhagic dengue fever outbreak’ (cue nervous laughter), so I made sure to slather every square inch of exposed skin with Rid (not that it worked very well, as I still got bitten – I am apparently taste like some sort of delicious souffle to mosquitos – but I’m not ill, so I guess it worked out). After wandering around for a bit I proceeded to eat my bodyweight in delicious pad thai, washed it down with prodigious quantities of local beer (Angkor beer is excellent, for the record – much better than the palm beer I tried a few days before and thought one of the worst beverages I‘d ever experienced) and then had an early night in preparation for a whole lot of temple wandering the next day.
Angkor Wat and the other temples were just gorgeous (unsurprisingly), and exploring them was amazing, albeit very tiring. Even though we got started early in the morning, it was still hot, sticky and dusty work clambering up and down the steep steps. Thankfully there was plenty of shade inside the temples and we came armed with hats and an appropriately ridiculous quantity of water.
Of course, it goes without saying that the physical discomfort was completely worth it; the temples of Angkor Wat and Angkor Tom were magnificent, though I think that my favourite was Ta Prohm, the temple that had been left in the state in which it was rediscovered, overgrown by trees and vines.
The only downside was all of the other tourists! While, having started early, we were ahead of most of the tour groups, there were still enough people around to make photography a bit frustrating at times. But after a while you just learned to laugh at it instead of getting frustrated. And besides, it’s important to actually look at your surroundings as well as taking photos of them (something that most people, myself included, need to be reminded of sometimes, I think).
After another day of exploring some of the outlying temples of Angkor (highlights included hiking up a hill to see some ruins at the top of a waterfall and stopping at a roadside stall to buy a basket and try some fresh palm sugar), we packed up and moved on (after bidding a fond farewell to the very cute cat that lived in the guesthouse we were staying at). We travelled to Poipet, a town on the Cambodia/Thailand border, and then took a very relaxing bus ride back to Bangkok.
After a day of down time, delicious food and shopping in Bangkok it was back on the train to move on to Laos, but I’ve blathered on for too long, so I’ll have to get to that next time!