Our last week has been spent in Siem Reap, exploring the wonders of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples based in the jungle around the city. After living life on a remote island for two weeks, we were a little apprehensive about being back in the madness of an Asian city, but Siem Reap has delivered (positively) against all our expectations and more.
Firstly, it doesn’t feel like a traditional city here. It’s a sprawling place, where very little is built above 3 or 4 floors, but it seems to go on for miles, with a centre based around the river, but outer motorways being lined by markets and various wholesale stores. Where we’ve been staying is on a dirt road, but is super central all the same, and you wander among various alleyways to find bars and restaurants, finally coming to the manic (and slightly more touristy) central part, with the aptly named ‘Pub Street’, which is fully pedestrianised at night.
Like all Asian cities, the roads are manic, the city is colourful and slightly crazy, and the people are lovely. But, the similarity ends there, as Siem Reap has a personality all of its own that makes it feel a little more familiar and welcoming.
We’ve had a great rhythm to our days here. Our primary goal in visiting the city, as with everyone here, has been to see the temples. However, because we gave ourselves a week to cover the main complexes, we’ve been able to get a lot of down-time in too, which has been great, because visiting temples in this weather is seriously hot and exhausting (especially for Otis). Each morning the tuk-tuk has picked us up from where we’re staying (a little guest house place centred around a pool for a bargain £12 a night with breakfast), driven us to a temple, waited while we explore, driven us to another, waited again, taken us to somewhere local for lunch, and then back to our guest house for an afternoon of pool and playtime.
The temples are mystical places, with the jungle weaving its magic, quite literally, around them, as stones are amidst huge tree roots and branches. We were worried about getting ‘temple overload’, but there’s no chance of that. Each has its own personality and all of them are awe-inspiring when you think of the time and effort they must have taken to build. Some (like the Bayon in Angkor Thom) are a series of scary sculpted faces, Instagram-worthy picture frame like windows, and etched walls depicting stories from the time. Others, (like Ta Prohm) feel like the jungle has literally swallowed them whole, with huge trees that remind you of The Lord of the Rings, towering over and through the stone walls.
Our final day, visiting Angkor Wat itself (supposedly saving the best till last, although I think some of the others are actually more interesting), starting early doors, visiting the temple at sunrise. It took a bit more effort getting us all up and out and keeping Otis asleep, and you’d love to think that you’d be the only ones doing so, but it was absolutely jam packed, with an ‘elbows out on the tube’ kind of feel on the way into the complex itself. However, once there, we found our own corner, and watched the beautiful silhouette unfold against the red and pink sky. We stayed on to have our breakfast there, and it was a lovely family moment, one of the ones that remind you how amazing what we are doing actually is.
Otis has loved the temples. A little boy who loves stones and hide and seek, they are a play environment made in heaven. We’ve been surprised we haven’t seen more families with young children here. It’s incredibly cheap once you’re here, the temples are brilliant environments for children to play (it’s pretty much access all areas), and the people here love kids. We’ve only seen one other western baby in our whole time here, although I’m sure the family tourism side will grow. Visiting temples with a little person in tow definitely makes for a different experience. Less sombre, more playful, much slower (picking up stone is a full-time job for a toddler), and somehow more interesting. A great example of how it’s just about readjusting your expectations, rather than limiting them.
We move on tomorrow to our last destination in Cambodia, Kratie, to see rare river dolphins. We’re going to be sad to leave this country, and wish we could have seen more, although malaria zones were a little restrictive with Otis with us, so we’ve done the parts that felt the safest. If you’re a family looking for a great value break that will give you adventure, history and beauty, topped off by some of the friendliest people you could meet, I couldn’t recommend a better place.
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