Angkor Wat to Bangkok: From the Skyscraping Temples to High Flying Muay Thai Kicks
As we readjusted to life off the island, Taylor and I scrambled to book a ticket on the night bus to Siem Reap. Our plan was to spend a few days exploring Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world and is the reason many tourists travel to Cambodia. We scoured the internet for the best night bus company traveling from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap and quickly realized that there was no highly recommended option. All of our searches returned results of horror stories by travelers who experienced stolen bags, broke down busses, or even bus crashes. Realizing there was no “good” option we booked a bus and kept our fingers crossed. By the grace of God it worked. The bus ride was seamless. There was some minor confusion on where to catch the bus but that was easily squared away. We got on our bus, hopped in our widened seats that almost fully reclined, and with some sleep enhancers I was out for the ten hour bus ride. There was one point on the bus when I had to go to the bathroom. I went and asked the bus driver if there was a toilet on the bus and without missing a beat the bus driver stopped the bus and pulled over. The next thing I knew I was taking a piss on the side of the road in the middle of Cambodia (I probably didn’t need to add in those details to this post but I found it exciting so it’s staying in). We got into Siem Reap around 7 AM, checked into our hotel, and were surprised how awake we felt. In the afternoon, we decided to get margaritas and burritos as it was Cinco de Mayo. Apparently that holiday hasn’t quite crossed the ocean to Cambodia yet, as the people running the Mexican restaurant had no idea what Cinco de Mayo was.
That afternoon we met up with our tuk tuk driver who would be showing us around the city for the next 3 days. We got his information from some other travelers we met in Vietnam and connected with him through Facebook. Our driver’s name was Saya (also spelt Chheiya) and by the end of our time in Siem Reap he became our good friend. Saya was 26 years old and was born and raised in Cambodia. He was one of 6 kids and moved out of his house to live on his own at the age of 15. His dad was murdered by the Khmer Rouge leaving his mother to take care of 6 kids alone. Saya was raised and educated mostly by monks and he was a monk himself for a short time. Now he is running his own tuk tuk business, Old Mates Tuk Tuk, and already has a few other tuk tuks he operates. Saya’s story brings to light the recency of Cambodia’s struggles.
Our tour with Saya began exploring the Tonle Sap Lake. This is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and is used to navigate between Phenom Penh and Siem Reap. Due to the fact that it was the end of the dry season the level of the lake was very low, like 2-3 feet low. This made it very difficult for boats, packed full of tourists, to navigate the waters. The engines on the boats were the standard Asian engines, a weed whacker with a prop on the end of it. The engines on these were a little larger to accommodate the masses of tourists, but it was still like nothing you would see in the States. The boats were constantly getting stuck in the lake and everywhere you looked there were huge sprays of water and mud flying through the air from the boat propellers. The boat took us out to a floating restaurant where we educated about the beasts lurking below the muddied waters. The lake was full of crocodiles and snakes. There was a sunning platform for the crocs below the restaurant that gave us an opportunity to see the scaled critters from a distance. We learned of the snakes when a local kid, no older than 6, pulled a snake out of the water. The snake was as long as him and looked to be some sort of python. The kid then showed off his new friend for all the tourists to see. The most impressed were the Chinese tourists who followed the boys catch with screams and shutter clicks. After our lake adventure we learned that it was Saya’s birthday. We celebrated at the street bars in Siem Reap drinking $2 cocktails and snacking on a various assortment of crickets and scorpions.
The next 2 days were spent exploring Angkor Wat and the temples around the area. I don’t really know what to write about these as our tour of them was exactly what anyone would expect. We spent 2 days wondering the temples and weaving through hoards of Chinese tourists. Watching the poses, many of the temple explorers took before their cameras flashed, was almost more exciting than the temples. I witnessed one Chinese man spend at least 3 minutes attempting to line his face up with one on the faces at Bayon Temple in the middle of Angkor Thom. The Bayon Temple is composed of a multitude of smiling faces carved into the stone. Receiving instructions, rather loudly from his wife, the man spent the 3 minutes attempting to line his nose up with the nose of one of the faces in the temple. To add to my entertainment he also tried to match the expression of the faces in the carved temple. He went through what seemed like 30 exaggerated facial expressions before he nailed his look. Judging from the man’s effort, I’m sure the photo was worthy of a Facebook profile picture or at least an Instagram post.
Our days at the temples came to an end around noon, as the temperature was hovering around one-hundred degrees. By two in the afternoon we retreated to our air conditioned hotel room, only leaving to indulge ourselves in the casual ice cream bar. After our two day stint in the ass blistering hot sun we escaped to Bangkok to bring our adventure to Thailand.
To our great surprise, the weather in Bangkok was the same temperature but at 60% humidity. The second you stepped outside your clothes were instantly soaked with sweat. After landing in Bangkok, we met back up with Alex, took a cab to our hotel, and instantly began our hunt for phad thai. After getting that craving out of our system, we attempted to wander around the city. However, this concluded with us camping at a Dairy Queen and eating ice cream in an air conditioned mall. In the evening, we wandered around Khao San Road. Khao San Road is the backpackers hub of Thailand and arguably the most popular backpackers destination in all of Asia. Since the high tourist season is in the Fall, the streets were fairly mellow and weren’t accompanied by the crazy party scene we expected. Our second day in Bangkok was spent wandering the main tourist site of the city, the Grand Palace. We had accepted the fact that there was no avoiding the heat and that it was going to be part of our Bangkok experience. The royal palace was by far the most intricate temple I have ever been to. Each building was covered in various colored tiles that were only a few centimeters wide. In the main temple there is a statue of Buddha that is carved from solid emerald. I’ll let the photos speak for the intricacy of the temple. While we wandered the temple I made the mistake of walking in front of a Chinese woman camera while she was trying to take a photo. Keep in mind that there are thousands of tourists at the palace and getting a photo with out anyone in it requires you to photograph the sky. Defend by the screams of the Chinese woman I instantly felt the heavy hit of her tiny hands on my back. I had just been slapped for getting in the way of her photo. As I waited for anger to rush over me all I felt was an urge to smile and laugh. How ridiculous is that that in the sea of thousands of Chinese tourists, I was the one this lady blamed for ruining her stupid photo. After at least an hour at the temple, we spent the rest of the day avoiding the heat and humidity in any air conditioned building we could find.
Our second day in Bangkok was spent wandering the main tourist site of the city, the Grand Palace. We had accepted the fact that the heat was unavoidable and it was just going to be part of our Bangkok experience. The royal palace was by far the most intricate temple I have ever been to. Each building was covered in various colored tiles that were only a few centimeters wide. When they all came together, intricate designs came to life on the walls of the temples. In the main temple, there was a statue of Buddha that is carved from solid emerald. The emerald buddha is the main attraction of the Grand Palace. While we wandered the temple I made the mistake of walking in front of a Chinese woman’s camera while she was trying to take a photo. Keep in mind that there are thousands of tourists at the palace and getting a photo without anyone in it requires you to photograph the sky. Defend by the screams of the Chinese woman, I instantly felt the heavy hit of her tiny hands on my back. I had just been slapped for getting in the way of her photo. As I waited for anger to rush over me, all I felt was an urge to smile and laugh. How ridiculous is it that in the sea of thousands of tourists, I was the one this lady blamed for ruining her stupid photo? After at least an hour at the temple, we spent the rest of the day avoiding the heat and humidity in any air conditioned building we could find.
Tht night we met up with a contact Taylor had received from his mom’s boyfriend. His name was Geng and none of us had met him before. Taylor organized a dinner with him, and Geng took us to one of his favorite restaurants in the the Khao San Road area. Upon meeting Geng, we instantly knew it was going to be a fun night. He was very outgoing, kind, and full of stories from his boarding school days on the East Coast of the US and life in Thailand. The meal we enjoyed with him was the best one I have had since getting to Thailand. The best dish of the meal was the deep fried fish. The fish was prepared by chopping the torso in to 10 or so chunks, deep frying the chunks, and repuzzling the pieces back together in the shape of the original fish head and all. A sweet and spicy papaya sauce was drizzled over the fried nuggets. The crunch of the fried fish skin combined with the buttery white meat sent this dish straight to my top travel foods list. During our dinner conversation with Geng the topic of Muay Thai was brought up. Thirty minutes later we were ringside at a live Muay Thai fight. For those who don’t know, Muay Thai is Thai kickboxing. Geng was obviously very well connected in Bangkok. All he needed to do was make one phone call and boom, we were ringside. Because of our late timing we missed the main fight. However, we were able to catch two other fights before the night was over. The fight was held at Rajadamnern Boxing Stadium and fit about five thousand fans. Although we didn’t witness any knockouts the fights were both very entertaining and the opportunity to wittiness this integral part of Thai culture was priceless. In both of the fights, the participants were no older than sixteen years. All the fighters landed punches and kicks, all of which were met by the applause of the gambling audience. As the second fight came to an end we departed the stadium very grateful for the hospitality and generosity Geng showed. The few hours we spent with him were, by far, the highlight of Bangkok.
The next morning Alex and I departed Bangkok to Khao Lak where we boarded our 3 day scuba diving liveaboard. We left Taylor behind in Bangkok as his plan was to go try Muay Thai himself. Little did I know, that the next three days on the liveaboard would be the highlight of my abroad experience thus far.