13 August 2009
It was Thursday and I finished working at around 2 in the morning and afterwards I hurriedly went back to my apartment to prepare for a much-awaited trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia – my 2nd visit actually. The first one was with some college friends more than a year ago.
I managed to do some quick packing before going out of the apartment at around past 3:30 AM, no choice but to take a taxi – 15 minutes later, I was already in Terminal 1 of Changi International Airport. The check-in process was a breeze as it was still very early, too early in fact for any stores to be open inside the airport. It was a good thing that I had a Priority Pass membership, which enabled me to have 2 free access to selected airport lounges all over the world in a given year. We availed this at the Rainforest Lounge inside Changi Terminal 1. The food they prepared inside was not very fancy but it was enough to keep our stomach warm and most importantly we did have a place to stay before our 6:00 AM flight.
Flight 3K 599 of Jetstar left on time and as soon as the plane was in cruising altitude, I was already in slumberland. It was a smooth ride as my sleep was uninterrupted until the stewardess asked me to adjust my seat back into upright position, a sign that we were about to land in the Kingdom of Cambodia.
The plane touched down a few minutes after at the Siem Reap International Airport. This said airport is very small (small for an international airport) but I was very impressed with it. It looks very modern and is very clean; I guess they must have invested a lot for this place, as it is the gateway of the Temples of Angkor – a massive tourist attraction in which the town heavily relied on.
A local driver picked us up from the airport and from there we got a free tuktuk ride to our guesthouse, Green Garden Home. We were given an early check-in as requested and immediately I took the opportunity to get some rest.
I woke up at around an hour before noontime with a grumbling stomach, it was a clear sign that we should find a place to eat in the next hour or so. We went out of the street and were immediately greeted by touts who were offering their tuktuk service around the Angkor temples. We managed to get the service of Seth, a driver who agreed to pick us up at sunrise and to drive us to temples that are more than an hour away from town for a decent price. He also agreed to drive us in the afternoon to get our tickets as well as drive us to one of the temples for a glimpse of the sunset.
Seth gave us a complimentary ride to the gallery of John McDermott, an American photographer who now resides in Cambodia; his striking sepia-style images gave us a preview of the temples in a different light.
After admiring the excellent works of John McDermott, we strolled down the river and found ourselves around the Bar Street area. We settled down and had lunch in this chic restaurant called Blue Pumpkin. Food was okay, better than average but the ambiance there was just so relaxing.
I was fully recharged after eating and having a power nap; immediately we started strolling around the area. The shops in bar street proved to be very interesting – lots of restaurants, pubs, travel agencies, galleries, spas and various shops.
As it was still early for us to start our afternoon tour, we availed of an hour long Khmer Massage at “U & Me Spa” – what we had was pure reflexology in a very relaxed environment. It was something we really need before we start our fully packed temple tour.
It was almost 4 in the afternoon when we stepped out of the spa, just in time for us to meet Seth. He drove us to the ticket booth for us to buy our temple pass. This temple pass is available 1 (20 USD), 3 (40 USD), or 7 (60 USD) days. The 3-day pass is valid for a week, while the 7-day pass is valid for a month. Since we bought the ticket late in the afternoon before the first day of the pass, we can use it to enter the park after 5:00 PM to view the sunset. These passes are non-transferable and includes the photo of the owner.
Phnom Bakheng, the first temple mountain constructed in Angkor was our sunset stop. This temple had a very good view of the surrounding area and is an extremely popular place for sunsets. We went up the hill via an elephant which was quite expensive, but then again we paid for the experience so I guess it was not so bad.
There were crowds all over the place (as expected) when we reached the top. We managed to climb all the way up the steep temple stairs. The view on top was good, and we did get to explore the place a bit before it got dark.
The hike going down took approximately 10 minutes, and it was already dark when we arrived at the foot of the hill. Seth took us back to our guesthouse and bade farewell for the day.
We relaxed for a bit by dipping in the small pool inside the Green Garden compound – this pool was the clincher as to why we choose this guesthouse over the other names we initially considered.
It was time to head back to Bar Street after refreshing ourselves. The place was different at night, it was so lively, colorful and loud. We found ourselves in The Alley and had supper at this place called Khmer Kitchen Restaurant; it was said that Sir Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones once ate on this joint. It was a good place for us to be initially exposed to Cambodian food.
We then had a few drinks at this place called Banana Leaf while watching Cambojam, a local band composed of 2 Filipino vocalists.
Shortly thereafter, we called it a night as there was a sunrise appointment at the Angkor Wat the following day.