siem reap, Cambodia
Stayed for 4 nights in the gay-friendly Golden Banana Bed and Breakfast Hotel in the Old Market area of Siem Reap. The Old Market is practically Siem Reap’s tourist center — it is where the action is! I did enjoy walking around “Bar Street” where travelers are greeted by a variety of modern bars. Parallel to Bar Street is the Tourist Strip where several restaurants serving cuisines from all over are located. Upon checking in, I immediately signed up for a 3-day Angkor tour in my hotel. I was given an option to rent a tuk-tuk or a car. I opted to have a more cultural experience so I selected to hire a tuk-tuk driver to explore the Angkor Temples — a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here’s a sample fee schedule (2009) Daily Tuk-tuk rental with driver: $10 Car rental (a/c): $25 Tour guide services per day: $25 3-day entrance to Angkor Ruins: $40 (You may have the option to do a shorter or longer trip. The ticket needs to be with the traveler at all times as they have random check points in each temple.) There’s just too many stories to share in this leg of my trip. In fact, words could never come close to describing the depth of my profound experience in these temples. Simply magnificent! I was picked up at around 0730 daily. On my first day, my guide brought me to Angkor Thom, which has the mind-blowing faces of the Bayon temple. In the afternoon, we visited Ta Phrom, which was made famous for its mammoth-like trees towering over centuries-old temples. On my second day, we checked out several smaller temples and Bantay Srei, which was almost an hour away from where the major sites were. On my third day, we checked out the Rolous Group and Angkor Wat, the largest religious building ever built in the world. Angkor Wat was literally a sight to behold. It was monumental in size and grandiose in beauty. The bas reliefs (carvings) on each of the four walls were all intricately and masterfully done. I roamed around for hours within its thick walls, just trying to relish and absorb the splendor of it all. To attempt to describe the experience is to do a great disservice to this place. I would let the pictures do the story-telling here. (Note: The Angkor temples have a lot of uber-persistent, on-your-face vendors selling practically anything – from bottled water to shirts. What’s sad about this was that the vendors are mostly young children who should be in school studying. Another thing that broke my heart was to see the overflowing of talent from land-mine victims, who beautifully played musical instruments and genuinely serenaded tourists in some of the sites. Seeing them taught me a lesson or two— that life is practically all about attitude, and that it’s not about what happened to you that’s important, but it’s what you make out of it. I only have sheer admiration toward these people.) On my fourth day, I chartered a boat to check out the floating village and flooded forest in Ton Le Sap Lake. I did see a lot of smiling faces despite the abject poverty. I’m happy to know that the civil war is now a thing of the past for them, and that there’s no way to go but to go up from here. I had an extraordinary time in the Angkor temples, and I wish I could visit Cambodia again in the near future. I flew back to BKK in the afternoon to catch my flight to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand.