For the second week of our Songkran Holiday from school we decided to take the less expensive route of road-trippin’ to Siem Reap rather than purchasing 4 flight tickets. We were curious about how well our children would cope with the upcoming 4 hour ride to the border, 1 hour for customs, and the 2 hours by taxi to Siem Reap. Either way we packed our things after two restful days from our previous trip and set out for Siem Reap early one Wednesday morning. We left at 7:30AM from Rayong and were at Aranyaprathet (Thai-side of the border) around 11:00AM.
We parked our car at a border parking lot and walked our way to the departure gate to be stamped out of Thailand.
Once stamped out you walk across a bridge in “no mans land” to the arrival gate into Cambodia.
As we walked across the bridge we were surrounded by beggars, peddlers, young children, and lots of people trying to offer their help. We knew we had everything sorted already so we ignored the chatter and made our way through. There are a few casinos between the two countries to gamble in should you choose to. This was my first experience land-crossing into another country and it was surprisingly not too bad. We had already purchased and printed e-Visas’ so I believe that helped a little. We were able to pass through customs in about 45 minutes.
Once we walked out into Cambodia at Poi Pet (Cambodia-side of border), we were mobbed by countless men trying to offer us a taxi ride to Siem Reap. We walked as far as we could before striking a deal with a driver. Prices quoted ranged from $30-$50 and they were quick to drop the price. We got our ride in a Lexus SUV for $30. My first impression around the Cambodian border was the amount of trash on the sides of the road. I also noticed that the majority of vehicles driven are either Toyotas’ or Lexus’. I’m serious, like every car! Our trip from Poi Pet to Siem Reap was about 2 hours.
It was a very intense ride into Siem Reap, which seems to be common. There is only a two lane highway into Siem Reap and it is consistently traveled by taxi drivers moving tourists back and forth. Our driver would fly down the road, passing people when it seemed dangerous, honking the horn relentlessly, and “playing chicken” with cars and motorbikes countless times. We even had some cattle stop us a few times. Luckily, we made it safely into Siem Reap and checked in to our hotel, Sonalong Boutique Village.
Sonalong Boutique was an awesome accommodation set in central Siem Reap but enough outside of everything to have some peace. It was surrounded by lush, tropical gardens and included a very nice pool.
The hotel manager immediately greeted us, checked us in, gave us a welcome drink, reviewed a city map, and helped to line up a tuk-tuk driver for the next few days to help with our travels around the city. We knew that if we purchased our 1-day ticket for Angkor Wat after 5pm, we could see the sunset that night and then continue to use the ticket the following full day. So, we placed our bags in our room and had the manager arrange a driver to pick us up at 4:30pm to ensure we could get the tickets after 5pm. First of all though, we had to get lunch.
The tuk-tuk driver took us to an awesome Mexican Restaurant called “Viva” in Central Siem Reap near Pub Street. As we drove in to the city center it was obvious how much more tourism was present.
It was a variety of cultures all mixed together! We saw Americans, Italians, French, Chinese, Malaysian, Thai, Khmer, Russian, and many more. There were even some guys from near where we used live in Atlanta staying at our hotel!! Crazy. Anyways, I digress. For $4 our driver waited until we were done eating at the Mexican restaurant.
Afterwards, he then returned us to Sonalong to get ready for our trip out to see the sunset.
At 4:30pm we left to see the sunset. We first purchased tickets at the Angkor ticket center.
We then headed to what I believe is called Phnom Bakheng Hill. This is a giant ruin that is somewhat treacherous to climb in places but is a hot-spot for people looking to watch a sunset.
We scaled up to the top and wandered around. I’ll admit it was frightening at times because there are no ledges or railings so I was concerned about my children getting too close to the edge. There had to be 100-200 people all sitting on top of the structure with us. After spending a little time there we returned to the hotel to catch some rest as we were having an early start to see more of the archeological park in the morning.
At 7:30AM on Thursday we hopped back in to our tuk-tuk and made our way to the first stop, Angkor Wat. Although early in the morning it was extremely hot! The tuk-tuk driver (“Top”) parked and we made our way under a lane of hanging ribbons and then onto a plastic floating bridge.
The bridge extends across the moat surrounding Angkor Wat. This was by far the most populated ruin we visited during the day (for good reason). Everything was amazingly impressive. The details and imagery carved into the stones, the height of some of the structures, the shear ingenuity was astounding. I’m told that Angkor Wat is also one of the main religious sites still in use. Due to this there were many monks and people in prayer throughout. Words and pictures can’t describe it.
Our second stop was Angkor Thom. This ruin was not as well preserved but very detailed. It was surrounded by vendors selling fruit shakes, coconuts, grilled meats, etc. After walking up into Angkor Thom I was amazed a the detail. There were smiling faces everywhere carved and sculpted into the walls! Inside the temple you find yourself in a labyrinth of passageways. The temple was swarming with people but we were still able to walk through corners, nooks, and crannies to find ourselves alone, only hearing faint sounds of others talking. Although it was hot you could find cool pockets in the shady areas throughout the temple. I kept wondering what it must have been like when it was new and fully functioning! Wow. I believe this was my favorite temple of the three I saw that day.
Our final stop was Ta Prohm Temple, often called “Tomb Raider Temple” because of the film featuring Angelina Jolie. This temple was the least preserved of the three. There was loose stone everywhere. Wooden supports were built to hold walls, ceilings, etc. that were leaning or sinking. The most impressive site, which is also the most photographed, is the giant tree growing over and into the temple complex. The roots are overtaking an entire corner of the structure and have wrapped beautifully around it. We were met with lines of people looking to take their photo in front of this ancient amazing melding of nature and human ingenuity.
After seeing this temple it was about 2:30pm and we were hot and exhausted. We decided to make out way back to town to grab some lunch.
Very hungry, we had our tuk-tuk driver stop at one of the many happy pizza joints in the city. Essentially, you order a pizza and then you can choose to make it happy should you desire. We made ours ‘happy”. It was indeed happy so we made our way back to the room to relax by the pool and take a rest for a while. Haha!
The next two days of our trip were spent simply enjoying all that Siem Reap had to offer. There are so many little markets, places to eat, spots to drink (Pub Street), and sites to see that we roamed with leisure and truly relaxed. I’ll say we don’t normally relax on trips, it’s usually GO GO GO. It was nice. I highly encourage anyone considering a trip to Siem Reap to go for it. It’s a beautiful place with lots of history and an interesting assortment of people!