July 2, 2016
This morning we were getting picked up by our guide, Dara, at 8:30am in our lobby. We went for a pretty quick breakfast downstairs since we kept snoozing our alarms. We got to the lobby just in time and Dara was already sitting there waiting for us. My parents and family friends used Dara when they were in Siem Reap 4 years ago, so I felt a bit connected to him already.
We introduced ourselves to Dara and our driver, Mr. Hua, and hopped into his Toyota Highlander. They were both very nice and were your typical friendly Cambodians. Dara was wearing a tour guide uniform which we saw around the temples. He’s a certified Siem Reap tour guide for Angkor Temples, which takes 3 years to complete and another couple of years to select a language to specialize in. We booked a two day tour to visit the temples with him for $150 USD. Since we wanted to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, Dara suggested we do that on our second day together and start at the temples further away. He didn’t charge us extra for the sunrise tour.
The first stop we took was to get our Angkor passes. Tours here don’t include the prices of your tickets so we bought our own. There’s a day pass for $20, 3 day pass for $40, and a 7 day pass for $60 (we bought the 3 day pass). When we got to the counter they asked where we were from and then asked if we were Cambodian. Cambodians get to visit the temples for free. They also take your photo and print it on the pass to avoid people from sharing or selling unused tickets.
Our first stop was to Banteay Srie, a pink colour sandstone temple that is known for its intricate carvings. When we arrived, there were a lot of tour busses. We hadn’t seen so many tourists since we were in Japan, or maybe not at all. It’s crazy because this is their down season and it’s still pretty busy. Dara told us that during down/rainy season, the tourists are mostly Asian – Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. And during high season (October – December) it’s more North Americans and Europeans. This temple was nice. The detail of the carvings is pretty amazing considering this was built over 1000 years ago!
On the way to the temples, we drove through the Cambodian country side, which according to Dara, has no electricity or running water. It’s only about 15 minutes outside Siem Reap and life is totally different. There were a bunch of street vendors on the side of the road selling palm sugar and palm products.
Next on our agenda was the “grand tour”, which is made up of Prerup, East Mebon, Tasom, and Preah Khan. It was hard remembering which temple was what. My first impression of the temples was that they were all quite grand for their time. The other temples did not have as many tourists which was nice. It’s quite tiring going from one temple to the next and climbing up the steep steps to the top of the temples (so glad I didn’t wear flip flops), especially in the heat! It wasn’t even that hot out (28 degrees), relatively speaking, and was a bit overcast and it was still draining. It’s really nice being able to get into the car after each temple and have air conditioning blasting. Mr. Hua would also give us ice cold water when we came back into the car. I could only imagine how uncomfortable it would be to be temple hopping during their “hotter season”. Cambodia has 3 seasons which the locals call “Cool Season” (too hot), “Warm Season” (way too hot), and “Rainy Season” (way too hot and humid).
For lunch, we stopped by a local restaurant in the countryside which was obviously for tourists only. Tour guides and tuk tuks all dropped of tourists here for lunch. There aren’t any other options around so this was pretty much it. The restaurant had hammocks off to the side for drivers and guides to hang out in while tourists ate. The restaurant was a Cambodian restaurant whose prices were about double the price of restaurants in the city. This was still cheap and it was a bit understandable since getting electricity and running water in the countryside is very expensive. Tim ordered a pork noodle soup and I had grilled pork with rice, both dishes were $6.50 USD each.
After we were done lunch, we continued on to two more temples. It was only our first day, but a lot of temples already looked quite similar to me. I think it’s really cool how huge trees grow around and almost take over some of the temples. I think it’s good that we started off at the smaller temples before going to the main event tomorrow – Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom (Tomb Raider temple).
We finished our day close to 3pm. Dara dropped us off at our hotel and said he would be at our hotel tomorrow morning at 4:40am for the sunrise (so early!). As soon as we got into the hotel it began to pour. Such good timing!
We rested the rest of the afternoon. Since it was pouring for most of the afternoon we just stayed inside and watched the storm. At around dinner time, it dried up and we headed out into town. We took a tuk tuk ($2 USD) to a Khmer restaurant called, Sinn Sinsa Mouth Cafe. I read about it on Trip Advisor and it was one of the few restaurants that were highly ranked that weren’t western/non-Khmer food.
When we got to Sinn Sinsa, we were warmly greeted by the owners – which seemed like a husband and wife team. Their kids were hanging out and it was like we were eating in their home. There weren’t any other tourists while we were there (guessing because it is down season), just other locals hanging out. The husband took our orders while the wife did all the cooking. We ordered a luc lac beef, garlic chicken rice, and morning glory. They gave us mini bananas for dessert, which was nice of them. So far this is my favourite Khmer restaurant. The food was really good and price reasonably, very generous portions, and the owners were so nice.
We took a tuk tuk back to the hotel, washed up, and went to sleep early. We had to be out and ready to go by 4:40am!
Steps today: 10,000