After visiting and falling in love with this country a year ago I couldn't wait to share it with people close to me. My brother and his girlfriend Katie were willing to endure the 14+ hour plane journey to come to see me (okay, Angkor Watt and the country itself may have had something to do with their visit). The only downside to their visit was that they only had a week to spare (stupid American jobs and vacation rules) but I was determined to help them make the most of it. As much as I wanted to take them to Kampot, the city where I'd be teaching yoga, or visiting my friend Dara's hometown in Kampong Cham, I knew they'd really only be able to fit in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. As I was eager for their visit I spent some time brainstorming what we must do, see, and most importantly eat, I wanted them to leave with a good impression of the country, as I had a year before.
I wound up booking us a room at Golden Boathouse 2 and although the pool was completely unappealing the central location and friendly staff made up for it. We spent two days exploring Phnom Penh which, to be honest, is all a tourist really needs in that city. PP may be a great place to live as an expat (good restaurants, cafes, and nightlife) but there's little on offer during the daylight hours. We took an obligatory trip out to the killing fields where instead of revisiting I hung out with the Tuk Tuk drivers, and then a brief stop at the S21 Prison, not exactly a cheerful day. We also spent an afternoon in the city, visiting the palace, museum, and riverfront, capped off with a yummy dinner at Friends.
On our final day we took a long walk around the city before venturing to the bus station where we hunkered in for our long ride, the quoted 5-6 ultimately turned to 8. I've grown accustomed to these long, sometimes uncomfortable rides, but I don't think the other two were having much fun. Thankfully Dara was ready and waiting at the bus terminal, drove us to the guesthouse he had arranged and left us to enjoy the night market and a quick dinner before calling it a night.
Our first day in Siem Reap we chose to rent bicycles and explore on our own, one of my favorite activities for SE Asia. The bikes are $1, exercise is free and the sights are endless, not to mention there's no one telling you what to do or where to be. On my previous stay in the city I completely ignored the nearby Tonle Sap Lake, maybe because every tuk-tuk driver is trying to take you there with a tour of the floating village, but this time we realized it was easily within biking distance. We grabbed a map, lots of water and a few snacks before we were on our way, riding south on 63 which conveniently paralleled the river all the way there. We stopped at a temple not far from the town where there appeared to be a wedding going and then ventured to the 'back road' through the villages instead of the busy, truck filled, paved road. Unfortunately, that didn't last long as the dirt road potholes didn't agree with our rear ends.
The ride was really pretty, passing through rice fields and small villages although the sun was blazing hot. We were one of maybe three biking groups along the road, while loads of buses and tuk-tuks were not in short supply. While those on the air-conditioned buses may have thought we were crazy for braving the sun and heat I had absolutely no desire to trade places with them. Being told where and how long I could stop somewhere holds no part in my travel plans, biking we were able to stop as we please to take pictures, rest or just appreciate the view, which we did on more than one occasion.
We chose to stop when we got to the 'jumping-off point' for the floating village tours, opting not to hire a book and instead enjoy our bike ride back to town. We had passed a few cafes along the way we wanted to stop at and having paid for a guesthouse with a pool figured we'd take advantage of that in the afternoon. Already it felt like we had a full day but we still had plans with Dara to be picked up for the sunset at Angkor Wat that evening. The ride back went quick, with an enjoyable rest stop for drinks and hammock lounging while enjoying the rice field view. I could probably rest in a place like that all day long, well let's be honest I have, on many occasions.
After relaxing poolside for a few hours, it was time for Dara to pick us up, beginning our Angkor Wat adventure. I wasn't sure I was going to pay the $20 for another entrance ticket, seeing as I had just been a year before, but decided that it'd be worth it, having someone to share the experience with. Not only that but since I visited Dara completed his certification as a Guide for the temples so I'd be able to learn a bit more from him this time around. Unfortunately, the sunset itself was a bit disappointing but I didn't mind so much, after all, we had other plans for the evening. Dara had invited us back to his house (as I expected he would) for dinner and drinks with some of his friends.
Monday was filled with hours at Angkor Wat, but that deserves a post all of its own. It was an early start in order to catch the sunrise but that also meant we were finished and back at hour hostel in time to still catch some afternoon sun. I had computer issues to take care of so there was no downtime, instead of seeking out the Apple store in the city before heading back and getting ready for a final dinner and shopping.
We thought we'd try Haven for dinner but apparently so did the rest of the city, reservation only which we learned at the front door. Instead, we found ourselves on a balcony overlooking Pub street which turned out to be a delicious plan B. My visitors had a few purchases to make so they did a quick lap through the night market while I enjoyed a foot massage, I'm not a market or shopping fan. Due to our 4am wake-up there wasn't much energy left for the evening, we finished with an insanely sweet rotti and banana shake.
The final day didn't leave much room for activity, packing, and breakfast at the hostel before Dara picked us up. A quick stop at my new hostel to drop off my bag and then we were on our way to the airport. Although it was an insanely quick visit I was grateful to have my brother and Katie join me in Cambodia. I'm never lonely during my solo travels but it's much easier to share your experiences with someone in person, rather than pictures blogs and Skype sessions.
Only recently has this country shown up on the SE Asia tourist route. With a dark, harrowing past it's amazing to see the smiles spread across the locals faces. I've met travelers with mixed impressions, but if you're lucky enough to connect with a few locals I'm confident you'll fall in love.