Angkor Wat & Siem Reap Vacation on Film
Two years ago when I returned to SE Asia, I never intended on visiting Cambodia. We spent most of our time with friends who were teaching English in Chiang Mai, Thailand while bopping around during their work week. Eventually I wanted to make our way to Myanmar. I had hearts and hot air balloons in my eyes from the first moment I learned about the old region of Bagan. But during Thanksgiving week on Koh Mak I realized my passport expired in less than 6 months and I was afraid of getting turned away at the airport or worse, immigration.
You know what they say: Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans. This is one plan we didn’t make and I’m so glad it decided to just go ahead and happen anyway. We spent a week-ish in Siem Reap touring temples with our wonderful tuktuk driver, Mr. Sophy by day and sampling delicious Khmer cuisine by evening. I learned the hard way what heat exhaustion feels like, and was flagged by every touter in Angkor Wat thanks to my constant sweat-stache. Ladyyyy, you want water?
At night we soaked our tired feet while watching the sun set on Siem Reap, wine in hand, as my hand-washed underwear dried under the aircon. We had a stack DVDs left by our guesthouse hosts, ranging from Tomb Raider to the Killing Fields. One of our last nights we caught a showing of Phare, the Cambodian Circus, and I cried my eyes out. This trip was every bit a much needed history lesson as it was a vacation. And until that week, it never really settled into my heart just how recently the people of Cambodia had experienced the horrors of war. Most people we met either lived through the brutalities of the Khmer Rouge, were the children of those who did, or suffered post-war tragedies such as stepping on land mines placed by various governments several decades ago.
After coming from Thailand, a country that is much more active in sweeping its darkness under the rug, it was a bit of a shock at first to see the underbelly of Cambodia on such display. But I’m grateful to have learned more about the Khmer people and their struggles in life. I’m grateful to have explored the beauty in Siem Reap, to have seen locals lounging peacefully by the moat that surrounds Angkor Wat and grazed my fingertips across bullet holes in its walls. Even those bummer moments where I realized we’d been had by a sad looking child on the street… Well, I’m grateful for those moments, too.
Koulen II (Apsara Show)
Cambodian Landmine Museum
Phimeanakas (my favorite)
Terrace of the Elephants
Ta Prohm (“The Tomb Raider Temple”)
Phnom Kbal Speak
Banteay Srei (“The Pink Temple”)
Kompong Phluk (Floating Village)
Note: Our first night we randomly crashed at Ponloue Angkor Villa. Do NOT stay here. Do NOT accept a ride at the airport from anyone wanting to take you here. Place is shady as heck. We luckily came out unscathed, same can’t be said for many others. Instead, I highly recommend either of the two guesthouses above.
Also: Be sure to read up on common scams before visiting Cambodia, there are many. Though most will just leave you with a little less money in your pocket there are some that prey on those wanting to donate to a good cause, but surprise! The money never makes it to the mythical charities. And if anyone wants to take you to a “crocodile farm,” please say no. It is not a happy place.
All photos shot on a Rolleiflex 2.8C or Contax Aria + 50mm f/1.4 in December 2014.