May 3, 2013

Angkor! What? What? (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

I've been interested in Cambodia for almost 15 years, so finally being there was a bit surreal. There were only a few families who were ethnically different in my very white, very Christian home town. Yet, somehow, I found myself befriending the eldest son of one of those families. (Truth: He was my high school sweetheart. Shocking, right? You didn't think I had a life before Mr. Tom?) He and his family were from Cambodia (his parents, his younger brother, and 2 younger sisters), and I instantly became fascinated with their country and culture. On top of that, I fell in love with his family and they are all still important to me. (We even got to see them on our cross-country road trip before we left for India, and Tom finally got to meet them!)

But that's just the beginning of the explanation as to why visiting Cambodia was so satisfying for me. Back then, I never imagined I would be traveling the world. I'd never been on an airplane. I'd never seen the ocean (with the exception of a trip to Florida when I was 2 and didn't remember). I'd never thought much about life outside of my home town. By becoming close to this family, my world expanded. For the first time in my life, I considered someplace other than Missouri. And so, for the past 15 years, I've been anticipating a visit to Cambodia. After we finished our fantastic week of diving the Surin and Similan Islands (read here), we made our way to Siem Reap on an overnight bus from Bangkok, and my 15 year-long dream finally came true. (Side note: Crossing the border on an 11-hour bus ride from Bangkok was less-than-fun. The Thai border patrol are crazy corrupt. They created their own "Border Patrol" office with a hand-written sign that says "Cambodia Border" so that you'll use them to process your visa at an inflated price. Luckily, we are super savvy travelers and didn't fall for that bull crap.)

Angkor Wat Sneak Peek
Ask any traveler and they'll tell you that Cambodia's Angkor Wat is a must-do for anyone with wanderlust. Siem Reap (the nearest modern town near Angkor Wat) was our first stop in Cambodia. We were tipped off by some travelers in Burma about Tanei Guesthouse and loved staying there for 4 nights - especially because of their pool that provided HUGE relief after a scalding hot day of exploring temples.

Do you know about Angkor Wat? It's the largest religious monument in the world and is almost 900 years old! It began as a Hindu site, but later became Buddhist, which is what it is celebrated as now. It was built by King Suryavarman II as his compound temple and capital city. I always thought of Angkor Wat as one large temple, but it's really a huge compound of temples, spread out over many miles. Each temple is different and, while there are a ton of tourists at the more popular temples - Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm (where they filmed Lara Croft, Tomb Raider) -  it was easy to find a quieter temple in the woods and we would sometimes find ourselves with a temple just for the 2 of us. At those times, it was easy to imagine life there 850 years ago. (I had a similar feeling when we visited Burma's Bagan region. Read about that here.)

Tom got conned into buying 20 postcards
from this cute little hustler!
The days were intensely hot. We could really only spend 3-4 hours out before we had to get back to the shade and the air conditioning (and the pool). But it was so worth it to be among these ancient temples.

When we weren't temple-hopping in a tuk tuk, we swam in the guesthouse pool, walked around Siem Reap, got a TON of massages (some good, some less-so....confession: we had 2 massages back-to-back one day), and saw an Apsara Dance performance.

Check out this video we took at the Apsara Dance performance. (Note: this video will not appear in your email feed if that's how you read our blog. You'll need to click here.)

After being intrigued by Angkor Wat for so many years, it was amazing to finally see it with my own eyes. One of the best parts of this trip is being able to experience these historical places. I feel so lucky!!!

Check out all of our pics from Siem Reap and Angkor Wat here. A few more of our favorites are below. (How are you liking the photos in the last two posts? These were taken after we bought our new fancy camera! We love it!)

Fun with panaroma mode on the camera

Check out all of our pics from Siem Reap and Angkor Wat here.

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