Dodging motorbikes and tuk-tuks, Alan and I fell in with the crowd making their way through the busy back streets of the night markets. We passed carts offering exotic cooked treats such as snakes, scorpions, grubs and big black spiders. Hawkers encouraged us to buy from their shop or try a massage as we made our way to the bright lights of Pub Street. Welcome to Siem Reap.
We had arrived in Cambodia earlier that day. We travelled overland, by train and bus, from our home in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Watching out the windows, passing through rural villages gave us a glimpse into daily local life.
Stilted houses were arranged in a communal compound where families gathered together. Under the houses children laughed and played while adults sat chatting. Cattle and chickens roamed about and in the distance, farmers worked in the rice paddies which stretched out into the horizon.
Later that day, Pub Street felt a world away from those rural scenes. Alive with energy, contemporary restaurants and bars line the street, some offering live entertainment, adding to the party atmosphere.
Alan was especially happy to see signs for (U.S.) 50 cent beers (around 65 cents Australian), so we tried the local Angkor beer, which is not a bad drop and you can’t beat the price. U.S. dollars is the preferred currency in Cambodia so advertised prices are in USD. Be sure to bring lots of low denominations because you will get the Cambodian riel back in change.
We explored the Psar Chaa (known as the Old Market). Wandering through tightly packed alleyways admiring the vibrant displays of everything from silver jewellery and trinkets to household items, shoes and bags, all laid out at shops tucked in tight beside small beauty salons and nail bars.
In the wet market we watched as shoppers bargained for fresh seafood and vegetables. Open-air butchers sold a wide range of meat and morning shoppers gathered to gossip and eat an early morning breakfast from one of the many stalls.
Escaping the hustle and bustle of the morning markets, we entered the Wat Preah Prom Rath Buddhist temple, a haven of peace. We took our time strolling through the complex, admiring the well-manicured gardens and colourful murals depicting the life of Buddha and marvelling at the impressive statues of deer, peacocks, cattle and the ceremonial carts and boats that adorn the grounds.
The next day we woke in the dark, excited. We were going to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. There are many ways to explore this magnificent monument: by helicopter, hot air balloon, bike or with a traditional tour. We hired a tuk-tuk for the day at a cost of $16 and entry into the park cost us $48 each for a one-day pass.
Crossing the moat on the floating bridge, we clambered though ancient doorways which open out onto a massive causeway and here we got our first glimpse of Angkor Wat. With dawn breaking, we huddled together to watch as the sky turned from purple to pink, the warm glow of the sun silhouetting the jagged towers that stood high above us. A breathtaking sight.
Inside Angkor’s corridors, wall carvings depicted battle scenes and glorious parades. We watched as Buddhists received blessings from the local monks and were surprised to see ancient graffiti carved deep into the stone walls.