Our first Cambodian adventure began on Tuesday, January 8. After one missed flight,* a few airport Tiger beer to help make the whopping one-hour flight pass more seamlessly and a massive line-up of Russians and Koreans at the Siem Reap airport, we were finally on Cambodian soil. It felt like we were on holiday (at last!) as we hopped into the guesthouse tuk tuk (motorcycle taxi with a carriage attached) and sped into town.
We stayed at the Prohm Roth Guesthouse run by an English-speaking Cambodian family. They were so hospitable and welcoming upon our arrival even after our poor driver had to make the trip to the airport twice to pick us up due to a slow message delivery that we had “made a mistake” in reporting our arrival time. We highly recommend staying with Meang and his brothers.
The guesthouse was less than a two-minute walk to Pub Street, the main foreigner thoroughfare. So we dropped our bags, washed up and set out to explore the Night Market and grab a bite to eat on Pub Street. We had a late dinner that morphed into a few drinks. We then headed to Temple Club to stretch our weary legs on the dance floor.
On Wednesday morning, we decided that we would take our friend Martin’s advice and hit up the ruins of Beng Mealea, meaning “lotus pond.” This temple was built in the same style, based on early Dravidian architecture, as its better-known brother, Angkor Wat. It is located roughly seventy kilometres outside the city of Siem Reap and the voyage took us about an hour and forty minutes by tuk tuk along the ancient royal highway to Preah Khan Kompong Svay.
There is not much known about the Hindu temple itself and it is assumed that it was built around the time of Angkor Wat by King Suryavarman II in the early twelfth century. For those of you who are history buffs like me, this temple is made all the more interesting by the fact that it remains virtually in the condition in which it was found. This sets it apart greatly from the constantly-restored Angkor Wat.
Not only is it a stunning site to see but if you’re like me and you like to take photos of sites without hoards of oblivious tourists making stupid faces in the background this is the place to do it. It’s certainly the road less travelled which makes it a more peaceful place to absorb the majesty of this type of religious architecture. I greatly recommend making this trip before visiting Angkor Wat as its rustic nature will be better appreciated in advance of seeing the refreshed edifice of its famous counterpart.
We spent a little over an hour at the temple, climbing fallen rocks and popping in and out of crumbling entranceways. The ride home was stunning. The sun blazed orange as it prepared to set below the horizon. It reminded me of our cross-Canada trip this past summer with our friend Bree when we stopped along a deserted road near Buffalo Pound Provincial Park in Saskatchewan to admire the sunset.
Our tuk tuk driver drove us through a World Vision village which was truly spectacular given the poverty we had driven through on our way to the ruins. Having been a World Vision foster parent for the past four or five years, it was a special moment that I tried to capture in my mind’s eye as we whizzed and bumped through the village. I wanted to remember all the good work the organisation is doing for villages like this one.
We arrived back at the guesthouse in time to wash the sand and sweat from our faces, change out of our exploring clothes and head out for a well-deserved dinner. We settled on a delicious sushi place overlooking Pub Street.
There is never a dearth of markets in Siem Reap so we spent some time sifting through the goods of the Night Market again where we picked up some fun dresses, Cambodian tourist pants, sandals, and faux-designer sunglasses.
On our way back to the guesthouse, we bumped into a political friend of ours from Canada who, we found out, moved to Cambodia on a whim last year around this time after purchasing a hotel with his brother online. The synchronicity of the world of travelling, again, will never cease to amaze me. He invited us for drinks the following night. We happily obliged.
We got back to the guesthouse to turn in for an early night. The next morning was going to come quickly…
*Follow Bagheera’s blog here for all the hilarious details of our missed flight.