The third stop on my Asian invasion was to the Kingdom of Cambodia. I traveled most of the morning from Ko Chang, Thailand, by tour bus to Krong Poi Pet city on the border of Cambodia. There, I got out of my bus and stepped into a line of people about a football field in length, and they were all standing in line to pay for their visa to enter the country. In front of me were two Brits and a girl from the Philippines. One of the Brits and the girl from the Philippines had just gotten married and were on their honeymoon. The other guy was the Brit’s cousin who decided to come along for trip. When I got up to the window to show my passport and pay for my travel visa, I noticed there was a board that had the prices for visas. A three-month travel visa is $5 while a year work permit is only $27! I had never seen such easy access to start work in a foreign country. After I had paid and stepped outside I said bye to my new friends and headed towards the bus station to purchase a ticket to Siem Reap.
Siem Reap is the city next to the largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was built in the early 12th century and was originally Hindu and dedicated the Hindu god Vinshu. However, the temple was converted to a Buddhist temple by the end of the same century. This place is completely man-made and is the square-foot size of 100 aircraft carrier flight decks. It was originally all trees and swamp that was leveled and then reshaped with the use of elephants. Needless to say, the elephant is quite revered in Cambodia.
After purchasing my bus ticket, I grabbed a bite to eat and then proceeded to my bus. Once on, I saw my friends from the border. They were catching the same bus as me to Siem Reap, so I plopped down in the seat next to the cousin and he handed me a beer. We talked, ate, and drank on the 2-hour bus ride to Siem Reap. Upon arrival at the bus station, there were dozens and dozens of tuktuks ready to take us into town. My friends jumped in to one tuktuk while a Canadian buddy we made on the bus jumped into another with me. Both parties then decided to pay the tuktuk drivers to race against each other to where our hotels were located. When we got there, I made plans with my new friends and then went to my hotel to check in. I showered, shaved, and then walked down the street to meet my friends at the bottom of their hotel.
We negotiated with the tuktuk drivers for a flat rate for the next three days. I hired my own tuktuk driver for $35 for three days for non-stop service. Whenever I called this guy, he was there. He would wait outside a nightclub for us and be at our hotel waiting the next morning. He would run other people to places while we saw the sights, but one phone call and he was on his way. We all piled into two tuktuks and headed to the main tourist street, Pub Street. Upon arrival, we got out proceeded a club called X Bar. This is three-story night club that has mini half pipe on the roof. After having a couple beers I decided to grab a board and relive some of my childhood—nothing too impressive, just a few simple tricks. We had a few laughs and then headed out on a pub crawl for more drinks and some Cambodian BBQ.
The next morning, I checked out of my hotel because there was only availability for one night and was going to check in at my new hotel after sightseeing with my friends. I then had my driver take me to rendezvous with my friends at their hotel for some breakfast. Over breakfast, the cousin of the couple said I could just crash in his room because he paid for a room with two queen size beds. That sounded like a good plan and the place was nice so I went along. We then paid the bill, jumped into our tuktuks, and we were on our way to Angkor Wat.
At the entrance to Angkor Wat is a ticket booth where you purchase your ticket for entry that is not only good at Angkor Wat but also gains you entrance to Ta Prohm as well. Once our tickets were purchased, we got with our drivers and headed down a road towards the site. You take a road that cuts through the forest, and the road is shaded with overhead branches and vines. This road goes on for a couple hundred meters before it opens up to a 500-acre clearing with a massive temple in the center surrounded by a gigantic moat. It’s four times the size of Vatican City. Now remember, the only things that were here before were trees and swamp water until man and elephants changed this huge landscape almost 1,000 years ago.
After crossing the bridge over the moat to the main gates, you walk through to discover a full-scale view of the massive temple, huge rectangular buildings where the monks are raised, and huge mirror pools on both sides of the main walking path. It’s said that Angkor Wat once was home to a million people.
As we walked down the path, a local teenager who worked for tips greeted us. He said he was an orphan who was raised by the monks and knew the complete known history of the site. As he walked us around, the heat started to become unbearable. It gets hot at Angor Wat! And this is coming from a guy who grew up in Florida. I highly recommend a bringing a thick layer of sunscreen or an umbrella. If you’re a lady and want to dress for the heat that’s fine, but make sure you bring a scarf or t-shirt to put over your shoulders or you won’t be able to ascend the highest tower. If my memory serves me correctly, there are three layers of the inner temple. The grounds representing hell, the first two levels of the temple representing Earth, and the highest tower located in the middle is the ascension to heaven.
There are many Buddha statues scattered throughout the site that all have their heads missing. During the Cambodian civil war that lasted from 1967–1975, the Khmer Rouge beheaded all the Buddhist statues. Even though all the heads have since been found, unless the monks know without a single doubt which statue it came from, they can’t put it on the statue or it is one of the biggest sacrilegious acts in all of Buddhism. That is why you don’t see any heads on the statues. After spending all morning at Angkor Wat, we headed to Ta Prohm.
Ta Prohm is a very popular ancient temple that has been featured in such movies as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Tomb Raider. This is a massive temple almost completely consumed by foliage and roots with a gigantic banyon tree sticking right out the middle. There are almost endless passageways weaving in and out of the temple and nearly all have carvings on them.
After an hour or so of discovering Ta Prohm, we decided to head back to Pub Street for some lunch. We had lunch and a few drinks and the guys suggested that we bar hop, while the Filipino girl said she was going to go get a massage. I thought that was a great idea, so she and I went to one of the many massage parlors. Cambodia is probably the cheapest country I have ever been to. We each got 45-minute massages with a beer for only $3! Gotta love that exchange rate. After our massages, we met back up with the guys and headed back to the hotel to shower for dinner.
Once again, we headed back to Pub Street because all the bars and restaurants spread out from this epicenter. We then proceeded to have dinner at an outdoor restaurant located on one of the corners. When I say Cambodia is cheap, I really mean it. A dinner for five people including a couple drinks and entrees each plus dessert was only $20 total! And they were good-sized portions. We always tried tackling each other for the check because it was so cheap. While our food was digesting, we walked to the two biggest clubs in Siem Reap, which are located directly across from each other—Temple and Angkor What?
We were probably a hundred yards away from the clubs when out of nowhere a Cambodian bodybuilder and his scrawny posse challenged me to an arm wrestling competition in the alley. I said, “Let’s do this!” Next thing you know, my Brit buddy Matt and I were in a creepy alley with barely any lighting, wet power wires only inches above our heads, and no exit other than the way we came. The “Big Guy” then grabs two milk crates for us to sit on and some type of wooden cargo box for the main event. As I looked around, Cambodian tuktuk drivers lined the walls to form a circle around us. I felt like I was in the final scene from the movie Deer Hunter. He won the first round. I stepped it up and won the second round. But in the tiebreaker, he won. All the drivers erupted in cheer and then all kindly escorted us to Temple Club. As we were walking, back Matt said, “I thought you were heading into that alley to fight and I wasn’t going to let you go alone. I chugged my beer for nothing! I thought we were going to have to fight our way out of there.” I laughed and said, “I thought so too; good thing we won. Don’t worry your next beer is on me. Hell, they’re only $0.50 each,” I grinned.
The following morning, we all went out for breakfast and then did a little souvenir shopping before I flew out that evening. While we were walking around, one the markets I came across was selling Beats by Dre headsets. I thought to myself, “I already posted a picture on Facebook of the pair I picked up in Thailand, and I don’t want to come back empty-handed.” So Matt and I worked the lady selling them down to $70 for two pairs! I paid $35 for a pair of headsets that costs $300 back in the US. They came with the box and all the little amenities (two types of wires, airplane adapter, etc.) that come like the real ones do. We shopped around for a couple more souvenirs and then headed back to the hotel.
After some lounging by the pool, I packed my stuff and head to the airport. I will always remember Cambodia as a beautiful, mysterious, cheap, friendly country. It was hard for me to go, but I was off to Hong Kong to continue on my Asian Invasion Tour.