The trip that was!
Cambodia, the very name flashes the enduring silhouette of the magnificent Angkor Wat temple. Post 2001, famous for being the backdrop for a scantily clad Angelina Jolie in ‘Tomb Raider’ :).
Papa and me were looking for a short holiday getaway for our maiden foreign trip and we thought of going to Thailand .We began our usual research over the internet and my brother suggested us to visit Cambodia as well. And voila, five of us,Maa,Paa,Uncle and Aunt and of course me were all set to explore Kingdom Of Cambodia, the legacy left behind by the ancient Khmer empire.
Since it was last minute inclusion in our itinerary, we just had 24 hours to explore mystical ancient city of Angkor. While having more time is more ideal, we were determined to make the most of the time we had.It was last week of May, hot and humid like in India at this time of the year.
We touched down at the Siem Reap International airport at noon via Bangkok and once on the runway, were amused to note the very design of the airport complex resembled a big temple like traditional architecture with its distinct tiled sloping roof. (Immigration officer told me it is traditional Khmer style architecture.) Like me, most of the fellow passengers got busy clicking photos of beautifully designed structure.
Siem Reap International Airport
After a quick on-arrival visa formality(USD $30) and immigration process, our hotel car driver in all his cheerfulness greeted us with his placard and within less than half an hour, we were checking into Saem Siem Reap hotel,
an elegant hotel featuring classic Khmer architecture. All the furniture within the hotel, from flooring, to the flight of stairs, sofa and tables are made of wood. Considering our very short and loaded tour package, we had no time for luxurious pampering indoors.
Our tour guide, Mr Bana was already waiting for us at hotel lobby and gave us only half an hour to freshen up as we had many places to cover that day. After more than 24 hrs journey from Bhubaneswar to Siem Reap we were dead tired but enthusiasm was still there.
With hundreds of temples sprawled over the vast city of Angkor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we dedicated our 24 hrs stay to check out the most prominent monuments. Our first day of temple-sightseeing was dedicated to the two must-sees: Angkor Wat walkthrough and the Bantey Srei.
We bought a 3-day pass for US$40) that allowed us to enter any of the Angkor temples freely. It was a fuss-free process. We just had to queue at the right counter and have our pictures taken on their webcam. The pass would be instantly printed on a small slip of paper. We didn’t even have to give our names!
We were welcomed at Angkor Wat temple with heavy rainfall but no worries since we had our big umbrellas to rescue us. Since it was raining, so no sunset for us, but the overcast dark skies even contributed to, only enhanced the very special atmosphere of temple complex.
Being an Indian and a native of City of temples, Bhubaneswar, I felt I was in some place in my own city. The temples that the Khmers have build are amazing. They were build circa from the year 800 to late twelfth century.
I removed my shoes (stupid me didn’t wear waterproof shoes) and went barefoot in Angkor Wat. It was not a big deal as we are used to go barefoot inside temples in India. As we were pressed with time, after quick walk through the temple complex with our guide and clicking countless pictures, posing with umbrellas, we headed straight to Banteay Srei, 30kms from Angkor.
Although it’s out of the way, true temple buffs won’t want to miss this beautiful 10th-century Hindu temple complex.It takes about 30 minutes from Siem Reap to reach this place. En-route one can see village lifestyle of Cambodia.
Our guide, knowing we were from India, rattled away his knowledge of the temple explaining every stone and image trying to impress and at the same time clarifying his understanding with that of ours. Here we turned guide for our tour guide. I felt as if I was visiting one of the temples of Odisha. The setting around the water and the intricate statues make it one of the most beautiful things to see in a region full of beautiful things to see!
EVENING IN SIEM REAP -Pub street and Khmer cuisine
After temple hopping, we came back to the town and headed straight to Pub Street in downtown Siem Reap. It’s a bit of a popular tourist spot, but it’s also where you’ll find a good place to grab dinner .Most of us being teetotallers, were in search of Khmer cuisine rather than cheap drinks.
Our guide suggested us to try local cuisine at Khmer Kitchen Restaurant, located on the pedestrian alley that parallels Pub Street. Khmer dishes on the extensive menu can be ordered with a choice of chicken, pork, beef, fish, shrimp, vegetables or tofu making it a good place for picky eaters, vegetarians and carnivores to eat side by side.
This was our first meal in Siem Reap and we really enjoyed it. Was tasty, fast and very affordable. We ate fish and chicken amok with steamed rice. Fish Amok is a classic Khmer dish, and it is a must try when in Cambodia. It usually contains freshwater fish, lemongrass, chilli, turmeric and coconut milk. Amok paste is available in every corner of the market both freshly made and packed dry powder. We loved the dish so much that we ended up buying some ten packets of packed dry powder of Amok. I am yet to experiment this national culinary tradition and staple dish of Cambodia in my kitchen. (Another blog will be all about Fish Amok).Apart from this we tried traditional Khmer dumplings but they were really not our things. We struggled to finish it.
Post shopping we were back in the hotel and we had our pre booked dinner meal ready to be served. We were so stuffed but we came back to the restaurant after a small nap to try out the food made by hotel chef. Salads, soups, main course and of course dessert. There was nothing traditional about the menu though. Phew we were over stuffed and straight away hit the bed as the long day came to end. We had to wake up next early morning 4.30 am to go Angkor Wat temple to see the ‘Must See Sunrise’ at the temple complex.