Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia
The Article is about my travels back in 2018
It was already night when we reached Siem Reap Airport. Packed on airline food, all I wanted was to hit the hay. But the problem was our hotel forgot to send a pickup, so we got a taxi instead at the airport. And This is how we met Polin, a newbie taxi driver from Phnom Penh now working at Siem Reap. He became our go-to driver for the duration of the trip.
The First day
At Angkor Wat, after exploring the inner passage and joined the queue leading to the upper gallery. Some Buddha statues were decapitated, probably Pol Pot’s doing. How crazy it is that people choose/are forced to follow a madman and partake in their destruction.
Next was Angkor Thom. We crossed a bridge depicting the Samudra Manthan. The sculptures of Devas stood on the left, the Rakshas on the right, playing tug of war while holding a giant snake. The bridge then leads to a tall, narrow archway with faces carved on top covering all four directions.
In the center of Angkor Thom, lies Bayon (the temple of many faces). A Buddhist Temple with carved Buddha heads on top.
We had lunch within the walls of Angkor Complex. The driver Polin ordered ‘Sum Lok Koko’, a soupy Khmer curry packed with fish sauce, pork, and vegetables served with rice. We made it perfect by tossing a few beers.
Having some free time on our hands. I said, ‘Let’s visit the Gate of Dead’.
As a spooky route lead us ahead. The twist and turns blocked the view of the main road. Midway there were crackling noises. It felt like the dead were roaring, warning us not to enter. But it was only the rain caught by surrounding leaves. We crossed the gate to the realm of the dead, took photos, and were back to the mortal realm.
At Night Google maps lead us through an alley full of Ladyboys. They were offering a massage and tried pushing us a lot. But after some struggle, we managed to pass. Pub street is the party place of Siem Reap. The smoke of grills heating fresh steaks served as a perfume for the hungry. The beer ran through the taps freely and for 50 cents only. It was obscenely loud and energetic and too much for my taste.
A Sunrise at Angkor Wat
The town was waking up under the cloak of the early morning. Pub street was still sleepy. Vendors were setting up breakfast shops. It looked like the whole city block was waking up from a big hangover.
Angkor complex has no provision for artificial lights, so we had to rely on cell phone lights. We waited in the dark for the show to begin. The Sun emerged from behind Angkor Wat, lifting the dark silhouettes, reflected in the mirror of the ponds. Then it faded the orange hue of Sunrise. And so did the crowd gathered around.
Siem Reap Sightseeing
In the evening, Noi Cafe treated us with strong bean-brewed coffees. Continuing, we came across a Pagoda. There we mate a monk in conversation with a white gentleman. The gentleman talked about peace, life, religion, and finding God in a jail cell. He wanted to know more about Buddhism and joked about becoming a Monk while sipping beer from a moist tin.
The monk stopped him there,
‘you have to give up drinking to be a monk’.
We all laughed about it. It was a very peaceful place. I was happy to get away from the noises of the pub street.
Before dinner, we decided to take an adventurer’s path and munch on fried crickets. I had the first go. It tasted like shrimp with added crunch. Add a dash of lime, and it is gourmet. At least that is what we told the passerby.
For dinner, I ordered chimichangas at a Mexican restaurant named !Viva and a glass of ‘Cambodia Draft beer’, the smoothest beer in town. Belly full, we crossed a bridge over the Siem Reap river and went to the other side of town. Hearing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ looming in the air. We ran towards the sound. It lead us to a crowd of Queen fans cheering outside the Hard Rock Cafe.
River of 1000 Lingas
The last day in Cambodia took us on a pleasant trek of Kbal Spean, the river of 1000 lingas. It takes more than 3 hours from Siem Reap to reach the lush green Kulen Mountains, historically known as Mahindra Parbat.
A 45 min trek leads to the location, a river full of carvings on the bedrock. The pancake-like swellings carved on Riverbed represent the Lingas and the pockets as Yonis, and together it is said to bring fertility to the water.
or dinner, we wanted to try Lebanese food. The owner of Atmosphere Restaurant, an Iraqi fella helped us pick from the menu. We fixed Musakka, a beef dish topped with cheese and Babaganouj. And in the end, had shared a carrot cake.
After dinner, we went to Hard Rock Cafe to see if they are playing something interesting.
‘No Freddy Mercury tonight?’
‘Shit, let’s go back.’
In the end, the thing I missed the most was the smile that glided on the faces of the locals.
Lost in translation with all the ‘Susa-dey’s (good morning), ‘ley-hi’s (bye), and ‘orkun’s (Thanks). And again with those bloody smiles, Siem Reap stole my heart.