Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cambodia and Thailand: A Video

Here is a short video we put together of our trip to Cambodia and Thailand.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


We prepared to leave Bangkok on a long journey home that would include a 24-hour layover in Manila. Having never been to the Phillippines, we made plans to spend a few hours seeing the capital city. At Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, we realized that we had one last chance to buy some mango with sticky rice - each time we had sought out a sweet treat from a street vendor in Thailand, we couldn’t resist choosing fresh banana roti. We decided that we should take advantage of our last opportunity, and saved it to eat at some point on our trip home.

Once we boarded our flight to Manila, we learned that Philippines Airlines didn’t have us registered for vegetarian meals. The flight attendant managed to scrounge up one meal that we shared. When we arrived in Manila, we were purposely misdirected a few times as we tried to find the metered taxi stand, and once we were successful, our driver made a determined pitch for a particular hotel, even though we had already booked one. When we finally convinced him to take us to our original destination, he had trouble finding it, and we spent a lot of time driving in circles. When we finally arrived, we were hungry and exhausted, but before we went to bed, we knew we had to try to contact the airline about our meals for the next flight if we wanted to eat on the long haul. We stayed up very late trying to figure out how to use the hotel phone, then being put on hold and transferred several times, but we were ultimately unsuccessful. We detail these small annoyances not to whine, but so that you understand how amazingly delicious and satisfying our 2:30 am meal of mango and sticky rice was. As we took turns eating from a single spoon, we put our bad evening behind us and enjoyed the last night of our honeymoon.

After a very short sleep - we looked on the bright side and decided it would help us sleep on the flight home - and a breakfast at the hotel restaurant, we packed our bags, left them with the hotel reception, and took a taxi to Intramuros, the old walled city built by the Spanish colonial government in the 16th century. We tried to take in the sights of the city as much as possible on the way, since we only had a few hours before we had to head back to the airport. Generally, we noted that the (brutal) history of Spanish colonialism left an interesting mark on the language, architecture, and religion of this Southeast Asian island nation - the mix was something that we haven’t seen anywhere else. The Philippines is the third largest Catholic nation in the world, most street and place names are in Spanish, and the currency is the peso. It was also clear that the traffic was more chaotic than in Thailand, and also more colourful, with flamboyantly decorated jeepneys (large school-bus-type buses used for public transportation) in every jammed, narrow downtown street.

We had little time to do research about Manila before arriving, so we felt lucky to have decided to spend our time in beautiful Intramuros, and to find Fort Santiago nearly empty.

Fort Santiago is most famous for being the prison and execution site of Jose Rizal, a Filipino nationalist and revolutionary.

The poet was executed in 1896 for rebellion, sedition, and conspiracy against the Spanish government. We spent a couple of blindingly sunny hours strolling the peaceful grounds and sombre memorials. We visited Jose Rizal’s prison cell, the site of his execution, a museum dedicated to his life, and, in what we thought was an odd addition considering the significance of the first three, a separate museum dedicated to his furniture.

After a refreshing ice cream cone in Intramuros, we picked up our bags and made our way to the airport. There, we loaded up on snacks to see us through the flight, and we said goodbye to Southeast Asia, for the time being.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


We decided to stay in the downtown area of Pratunam during our time in Bangkok, which would be the last major stop on our trip. When we arrived in the evening, we were glad to see that Pratunam had a large night market to keep James happy, and dozens of Indian restaurants on every block to keep our taste buds happy. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that many of these restaurants featured the Chinese-Indian cuisine that we had tasted in Kanpur, and we enjoyed eating manchurian and chilly paneer once again.

After dinner, we took a metered taxi to Patpong Night Market (and revelled in how cheap and hassle-free this was compared to taking taxis in Phuket). Antonia quickly grew tired of the endless rows of sidewalk stalls and especially the strip clubs behind each one, so she happily read a book in a cafe as James pressed on.

We had planned to spend the following day seeing the Grand Palace and the important temples in the surrounding area. We knew that the heat and the crowds on this tourist circuit would be punishing, but that the impressive sights would be worth it. On the way, our taxi wove through countless bright monuments, flags, and ornately framed photographs of the royal family that lined the congested streets. Antonia was immediately reminded of the colourful craziness of the Bangkok that she first stayed in nine years ago.

The grounds of the Grand Palace were so crowded and hot that we had to take several breaks in the shade, where we sat amazed at the lavish decor and squinted at the glare of the sun coming off every gilded, glitzy, and golden surface. 

We also paid a visit to the revered Emerald Buddha (although no photos of him are allowed).

Next, we walked to Wat Pho, Antonia’s favourite Bangkok temple. The main chapel was frustratingly crowded, but the giant Reclining Buddha was as magnificent as she remembered. After exploring the rest of the temple grounds, we were beginning to get hungry and more than a little tired, but we decided to see the Golden Mountain before going for a late lunch.

Because we were in the centre of the most popular tourist area in the city, though, it was now impossible to get a metered taxi or a tuk-tuk willing to negotiate a reasonable price. We were approached by a friendly bus driver who suggested some additional sites that we should see. He also mentioned that we should pay only 60 baht ($2) to be driven to all of them, and even found us a tuk-tuk driver who agreed to take us for that price. We like to think that we are pretty savvy travellers, and by now we were becoming quite skeptical. But while the bus driver and tuk-tuk driver were ironing out the details, we had hatched a scheme of our own: since we were not interested in seeing any of the other sites, and since 60 baht was an excellent price to complete our sightseeing and be dropped off afterwards, we would agree to the whole circuit now and “change our minds” later. If this was really the great deal that was being sold to us, the driver should be very happy to be paid full price for half the trip. So, after insisting on “no shops,” we hopped in the tuk-tuk and hoped that we were being taken for a ride only in the literal sense.

Our plan seemed to be working when we made it successfully to the Golden Mountain. We climbed the winding stairs around the mountainous temple and took some photographs of the city views afforded by the summit.

After climbing down, we informed our driver that he was off the hook, but that we would pay him full price just for dropping us off. We used an upbeat intonation meant to convey the great deal we were giving him, but he turned on the hard sell in an attempt to take us on the rest of the tour - and our suspicions were confirmed that this deal had been too good to be true. We insisted though, and moments later, we were being dropped off at Khao San Road by a very grumpy driver who sullenly collected his measly 60 baht from us.

Khao San Road is the backpacker Mecca of Bangkok. It consists of a few pedestrian blocks packed with shops, bars, restaurants, hostels, and massage parlours, mostly in dilapidated high rises. The scene really gets hopping at night, with stalls selling fake IDs, drugs, and “buckets” of Red Bull and vodka. While we didn’t want to spend too much time there, it is really something to see. Also, Antonia had spent her very first week in Thailand in one such dilapidated hostel, as waves of heat and culture shock washed over her. It also boasts some pretty tasty street food.

We were so parched, hungry, and tired after our adventures, though, that wanted to sit down. We found a reasonably-priced restaurant (which is not hard even in such a touristy area) and had a delicious meal of green curried tofu and vegetables, pad sew with tofu and vegetables fried with chili and basil, and refreshing fruit shakes. 

Not even fake IDs necessary here.

Antonia then had a foot massage while James perused the street stalls, and we ended the trip down memory lane with banana and chocolate rotis while we strolled down the street.

Back in our hotel, we showered and settled in for a relaxing evening after our exhausting day, but suddenly James realized that his glasses were broken, and oh no we had to go back out to Patpong market to shop for new frames (Antonia would like to note that she did not witness how the glasses came to be broken, and also that James’ exhaustion seemed to immediately evaporate at the thought of going back out to the market). Antonia went straight to the cafe to read while James spend a couple hours looking for replacement frames that would fit his lenses. Eventually, he returned with brand new specs, and we decided to celebrate with a post-midnight dinner at a nearby 24-hour Mexican restaurant called Taco Sunrise. It may seem strange that, with the pervasive availability of cheap, delicious Thai food, we chose to eat at this particular establishment, which was not cheap and likely not very authentic. But we love Mexican food and had been missing it, and we decided to splurge with guacamole and margaritas alongside our burritos to mark such a successful day. It was delicious!

Our goal the next day was to see a  movie in one of the very fancy malls in the upscale Siam Square district of Bangkok. 

After sleeping in a bit, we headed to Siam Paragon mall and planned to find some breakfast in the food court before buying tickets to whatever English  movie happened to be playing. When we glimpsed the showtimes, though, we saw an opportunity to see a movie, starting very shortly, in what was supposed to be the swankiest theatre in the world. We only had time to grab a Krispy Kreme donut (Antonia’s first ever - not surprisingly, she enjoyed it); lunch would be move theatre popcorn. We took the escalator past the Rolls Royce, Maserati, and Hermes stores and bought tickets at nearly $30 each (exorbitant for Thailand) to see 22 Jump Street. We were ushered into the lavish VIP lounge and our hostess took our food and drink orders (included with our tickets) before showing us into the world’s first movie theatre spa for our “free” 15-minute massages. The spa was luxurious, but the massages were torturous in that Thai way, in which the torture is supposedly good for you. When it was time to go into the theatre, we were shown to a room with just sixteen plush loveseats that reclined into beds - for a total theatre occupancy of thirty-two people. We took off our shoes and climbed into bed. Our food was shortly delivered to our seats. The temperature in the theatre was icy, but we were cozy under down duvets. The movie wasn’t great, but that hardly seemed the point.

On our way out of the mall, we found ourselves in a large crowd that was jostling for views of the royal family, who were making an appearance during a conference hosted at the mall. We decided to wait amongst the unsmiling guards and the signs imploring no photographs, and we were able to catch a glimpse of some royals and their entourage boarding the elevator. We think we may have seen the Queen, but we have not been able to confirm that.

Having had only junk food so far that day, we were in the mood for some real food, and walked to another nearby mall food court on the advice of our guidebook, which indicated that delicious, inexpensive, vegetarian Thai food was available at one of the stalls. But when we ordered what we thought was pad thai and pad sew, we received instead Chinese dishes that were drowned in a viscous, bland sauce. We ate as much as we could, and washed it down with green cream soda.

We walked back to our hotel in the dissipating rain among throngs of people and past numerous interesting food, flower, and lottery stalls. As the skies cleared to reveal a lovely sunset, we decided to celebrate our last night in Bangkok with overpriced drinks on the rooftop bar of our hotel. The server ignored us for so long, though, that we were able to scurry back to our room without having to buy anything, but after enjoying the views of the city.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


We had originally planned to spend our beach time on Koh Lanta, the more relaxed and less expensive beach a four-hour drive from where our plane from Chiang Mai would land in Phuket. But there were a few things that we wanted to see in Phuket, and our plane arrived very late at night, necessitating at least one night in Phuket anyway, and it just began to make sense to spend all of our time there. Plus, it was the low season, so we were able to find a great deal on a four star resort on Kamala Beach, one of the quieter spots on Phuket Island, which is known for its parties and clubs - not generally our scene.

We were concerned, though, about things being too expensive in Phuket, and especially at our swanky resort. We booked it only after reading a review that said that it was close to a 7-11 (as almost everything in Thailand is), so we thought that in the worst case scenario, we could at least scrounge some instant noodles for sustenance. We also made plans to deal with Phuket's notorious 'taxi mafia' and their exorbitant price-fixing. Since the airport is nearly the only place where you can access a metered taxi, we would use one there and then get the driver's business card so that we could call him whenever we wanted to venture around the island. We landed in Phuket and found the metered taxi stand, but when we asked the driver for his card, he told us that we didn't need it because we had our own taxis at the hotel. We tried to insist that we would rather give him our business, but it became clear that he was so scared of the taxi mafia that he wouldn't even drive onto the resort grounds, other than on this initial drop-off. We stuck to our cheap guns, though, and promised him that we would walk 20 minutes down the main road to a meeting spot away from the eyes of the mafia when we needed him.

Our first task the next morning was to scope out the food scene, and determine exactly how far away this all-important, life-sustaining 7-11 actually was. We had browsed the menu of the hotel restaurant, and while it wasn't too bad compared to Canadian prices, it was certainly much more than what meals should cost in Thailand. We had spied the 7-11 on our drive into the resort, and we set out to fill up on supplies. It turned out to be about a 15 walk down the highway - without sidewalks, beside dusty traffic, but doable. We also found a couple of nearby restaurants with reasonable prices, at least for the touristy area in which we had found ourselves. We were so relieved; we could eat without breaking our budget. We also felt smugly pleased with ourselves for hacking the fancy resort tourist-trap. We high-fived as we loaded up our 7-11 basket with instant noodles, yogurt, cookies, drinks, and a $5 bottle of Thai rum to sneak to the poolside. And we couldn't resist trying the pancake-with-syrup-flavoured potato chips for breakfast.

After an afternoon spent relaxing by the pool, we took a walk down the beach to look for a spot to eat dinner. We decided to follow a little path that led into a park that featured a monument dedicated to the 2004 tsunami, and soon we found a whole, bustling, very nearby town complete with a 7-11 that was a five-minute walk down the beach instead of a 15-minute walk down the busy highway. We felt like we had stumbled upon a miracle, and were so happy that our hack was suddenly made that much easier.

The next day we decided to take a look around the nearby, larger town of Patong. Patong is known as a party town and is the hub of tourism, and, unfortunately, as we discovered, sex tourism, in Phuket. We wandered around the shops and past the shady massage parlours and rows and rows of bars in the oppressive heat, then decided to take a break in the enormous and air-conditioned Jung Ceylon mall. 

We spent the afternoon in a refreshingly frigid movie theatre watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. When it was time to return to Kamala Beach, about a fifteen-minute drive away, our metered taxi driver was on the other side of the island and wouldn't make the trip to get us. We were left at the mercy of the taxi mafia if we wanted to get home, and we spent the next hour walking up and down the main street negotiating with drivers while dodging invitations to girly shows. James' negotiating skills finally resulted in a price that was only about twice as much as we paid to get there.

The next blissful week and a half was spent alternating beach time with pool time, swimming with hanging at the pool bar, napping with doing aqua-size led by the resort's 
fitness instructor. 

Part of being in Phuket at the low season meant that the beach was officially 'closed' due to high tides and strong undercurrents, but like most of the tourists, we ignored the warnings and played in the fun waves.

In the evenings, we walked into town for dinner and then retired to our room to watch our favourite TV channel - strangely but wonderfully, it showed only two things: reruns of Law and Order, and magic shows. 

We did venture outside Kamala twice more during our stay. Once was to go to Splash Jungle, a water park. We debated whether we should bother going at all because it was expensive and mostly aimed at children, but we had a lot of fun going down the big-kid slides and floating down the lazy river countless times.

The last time we left Kamala was to go to Phuket Town to see a soccer game between Phuket FC and Almeria, a visiting Spanish team. We killed time before the ticket office opened by playing on some exercise equipment in a nearby park. 

Six dollars got us great seats near the centre line, and luckily, just under the overhang, because torrential rains came down for most of the game. 

The cheers for the hometown team were not dampened, though, despite an eventual 3-1 loss.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Chiang Mai

Having been lucky enough to find a great deal on a flight that allowed us to escape the notoriously difficult Cambodia-Thailand land border crossing, we boarded a flight in Siem Reap to Bangkok and hopped on a connection to Chiang Mai. The highlight of the trip was the chocolate croissants that James bought for us in Siem Reap to eat on the journey. They were flakey and buttery, and made us regret waiting until our last day in Cambodia to indulge in the country's famous pastries, a leftover from decades of French colonialism.

In Chiang Mai, we got dropped off in the Old City and proceeded to shop around for a guesthouse. We settled on Anoma Boutique House, and settled into a beautiful room decorated in minimalist Thai style with its own balcony. 

This room was our home base for the lovely week we spent exploring Chiang Mai. We put the brakes on our tourist pace and spent many leisurely afternoons wandering around the touristy but laid back Old City, exploring the markets, and enjoying drinks on our balcony; we also took turns suffering from mild colds, which helped to encourage an easy pace. But we did a few exciting things over the week that we will share with you.

On our first day, Antonia was eager to find some of the places she used to frequent when she lived in Chiang Mai eight years ago. The first trip down memory lane took place at lunchtime, but she wasn't confident that she would be able to find a particular restaurant because she couldn't remember its name, and after all, James will tell you that Antonia has a terrible sense of direction. But it turns out that when food is involved, her senses are heightenedShe led James down Tha Pae Street based on her memory of a delicious mango cheesecake, and sure enough, she found it in the back of a menu of a familiar-looking restaurant called Ratana's Kitchen. We ate a delicious lunch, and of course, had to have dessert.

Antonia is just a little bit excited about being reunited with this cheesecake.

After lunch, we continued walking through Chinatown to a flower market near the Ping River.

We decided to venture to the north of the city to try to find Antonia's former office and apartment building. We took a long tuk-tuk ride out of the touristy part of the city and were dropped off at the busy intersection at the corner of Antonia's old 'hood. We explored the streets nearby and were able to find the office, apartment building, and the local market where Antonia would eat nearly everyday. It was surreal for her to be back, and special to be able to show James where she spent her time all those years ago.

Antonia's first apartment building.

We spent many evenings at the Night Bazaar, but even better are the Saturday and Sunday markets. They have more locally-made goods and a more festive, community spirit; they are the place to go for weekend shopping and entertainment for both tourists and locals. 

We got a bit turned around on our walk to the Saturday market, but we enjoyed the glimpses of local life in the little lanes that we got lost in. 

Antonia was especially excited for the Sunday market, but monsoon-grade rains put a damper on the evening. Before the skies opened up, though, we were able to share a delicious market dinner of spring rolls and pad thai. 

One super touristy but super fun thing that we did was go zip-lining with an outfit called "The Flight of the Gibbon," named after the path that a gibbon might take in the canopy of the rainforest of northern Thailand, just outside of Chiang Mai. We spent a couple of hours on more than thirty stations high in the trees, including some of the longest zip-lines in Asia, but also rope bridges and repel stations. 

At one platform dubbed the "Superman Spiderman," the zip-line was attached to our back, making it extra scary to dive off the platform and then fly horizontally through the air until we ran into a large net that we had to grasp and climb up.  

We relaxed from all of that excitement with massages back in Chiang Mai. Antonia melted into a foot massage as she watched the sun set in the open-air spa, but poor James had chosen a back massage that turned out to be in the Thai style. He reported that the masseuse put him in a full Nelson and cracked his entire spine, vertebrae by vertebrae. James is now zero for two for relaxing massages. 

We took the time to see Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai's most sacred temple, and a very picturesque one at the summit of a mountain overlooking the city. 

We took a very long and winding ride on the back of a truck cab that made us both a bit woozy as we walked up the long staircase toward the temple.

At the summit, we took in views of the city, as well as the glittering temple with its numerous golden and jade Buddhas. 

Our last day in Chiang Mai was our best, because we took a trip to the Elephant Nature Park to spend some time with elephants rescued from abusive conditions around Thailand - some have been made to haul logs, carry tourists on their backs, perform in circuses, and act as tourist attractions on the streets of Bangkok. The trip included education about the brutal methods of domestication that every elephant that works for people must endure. The Elephant Nature Park is a refuge for 39 elephants with some very sad histories who are allowed to roam the idyllic grounds as they please; there are no cages or chains, and absolutely no elephant shows or riding for tourists. It was exciting to arrive at the park and see the elephants roaming around freely.

It was morning snack time when we arrived. 

We got to meet many of the elephants and hear their stories. Several are injured from having stepped on land mines. After lunch, we got to wade into the river and wash Lucky, who was blinded from the spotlights that she was under each night as she performed in a circus. 

Antonia's favourite part of the day was simply walking around the beautiful surroundings and seeing the herds of elephants behaving in a (nearly) natural environment. In fact, one of the elephants who does not get along with another herd became agitated at one point, running, stomping, and trumpeting toward the other group. We also had to be cautious when Nawan, an incredibly cute one-year-old, made a distress call after getting himself caught in a tire swing. 

The members of his herd are very protective of him, and came running to aid him, then started moving toward us in a threatening manner in case we were the cause of the danger. We finished the day with another feeding, James' favourite part of the day. We were in charge of feeding Buanham, an elderly lady without any teeth, her afternoon meal - a bucket of pumpkin followed by a bucket of peeled watermelon.

Buanham was a messy eater, and we still had pumpkin on us when we boarded the plane later that night for Phuket as we headed to the beach in search of further relaxation.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

We headed to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh on a sleeper bus, but we didn’t sleep very well. The road was very bumpy and we really felt the effects of those forceful massages we had had earlier in the day as we crammed into the cramped, hard beds. The staff informed the many passengers who complained about the temperature that the AC only had two settings: off and icebox. James was especially chilly as, knowing that Antonia gets cold very easily, he had given her his blanket while she slept. Using the onboard bathroom was a bit scary; the toilet was, for some reason, perched on a high pedestal in the tiny metal bathroom, with no handles but several sharp screws sticking out of the walls. It was quite a challenge making it in and out unharmed considering the extreme rocking that the bus was doing, but we arrived in Siem Reap at dawn in one piece.

We found our hotel and set about finalizing our plans for visiting nearby Angkor Wat over the next few days. The hotel staff was helpful at first, but became a bit pushy when we suggested that we would like to find our own transportation instead of using their driver, for whom they had quoted quite a high price. We only escaped their high-pressure sales tactics by saying that we were going for a stroll and would return soon, when actually we stole away down the lane and luckily ran into the nice tuk-tuk driver who had driven us from the bus station. We negotiated prices for our three days at Angkor, and we spent the next few days being driven by the kind Mr. Rith.

Angkor is an enormous temple complex built between 802 and 1432 as a residence for Hindu and then Buddhist gods, as well as a population of more than one million people at the height of the Khmer Empire. The temples of Angkor are centred around Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world, and a great source of national pride for the Khmer people.

We decided to tackle Angkor from the outside in- we started with some of the furthest temples early on our first day and then worked our way toward the centre. We enjoyed long tuk-tuk rides that day through scenes of rural life and jungle landscapes, and past families of monkeys on the side of the road. The first temple we stopped at was Pre Rup, enormous, partly overtaken by incredibly bright green moss, and literally awesome as a first taste of Angkor. 

Antonia had been to Angkor before, but her first view was just as thrilling the second time around, and it was great to be able to see James experience the impressive ruins for the first time. It was very fun to be able to explore Pre Rup with very few other tourists around, and the fact that authorities allow tourists to climb all over the temples as if Angkor is some kind of adult adventure park, without any kind of safety precautions, is puzzling but fun.

After a long tuk-tuk ride, we arrived at Banteay Srei, built in 967 and renowned for its delicate engravings, said to be the finest in all of Angkor. 

Banteay Srei has changed a lot since Antonia last visited eight years ago; it used to be a quiet and remote site, but now there is a large, modern tourist centre built around it. Unfortunately, the temple was absolutely packed with tourists when we visited; we had to wait in line to take pictures of the most popular reliefs. This proved to be true of all of the popular temples we would visit and made us happy to spend time at the smaller, less popular temples for a spot of peace and quiet among the temples. We can't imagine what it's like during the peak season, when ten times the number of tourists slog through the temples everyday.

On our way back toward the central temples of Angkor, we stopped at the Cambodia Landmines Museum, established by Khmer-Rouge-soldier-turned-demining-activist Aki Ra. The museum educates visitors about the curse of Landmines in Cambodia, where more were dropped during the Cambodian Civil War and Vietnam War than were dropped by all sides during World War II. The countryside is still littered with landmines, which continue to kill and maim hundreds of people every year - about one third of whom are children. Visitors to Angkor are also warned to stay on marked paths because of the possibility of landmines anywhere in the brush. Proceeds from the Cambodia Landmines Museum go towards demining operations, and an on-site rehabilitation program for children who have been disabled by mines.

Back in the central Angkor area, we stopped at the East Mabon temple, built in the same style as Pre Rup, but smaller, with cute elephant guardians. Ta Som temple was next. We especially liked the tree growing on top on the entry way.

The only less-than-magical part of our day was lunch time. Our guidebook suggested that we ask for a restaurant recommendation from our driver, since he would know most of the dozens of food stalls around Angkor and could point us to a delicious and, importantly for us, inexpensive one. Sure enough, Rith was happy to make a suggestion, and we sat down at the restaurant that he showed us to. Although the prices on the menu seemed high, we reasoned that they must be par for the course, and for some reason we allowed ourselves to be pressured into staying there without doing any shopping around. We ate two tiny, overpriced plates of ramen noodles. We then saw the waiters bring out a different menu with cheaper prices for other tourists because they had already seen prices at other restaurants. We vowed that every other meal we had at Angkor would be thoroughly researched and much cheaper.

A visit to the beautiful temple of Neak Pean helped us to calm our nerves after being ripped off. We let our annoyance with ourselves melt away as we took the walkways over the pools that surround Neak Pean, a small but very picturesque shrine at the centre of even smaller pools.

Nearby Preah Khan temple was very beautiful, with the ultra green moss that was one of our favourite temple features (a bonus of visiting in summertime).

An image of the face of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara on the entrance gave us a sneak peek of what we would see the next day at the famous Bayon temple, which boasts 216 of these faces.

Preah Khan also houses several linga, the symbols of fertility that can be found throughout Angkor.

We then entered the walled city of Angkor Thom, the largest and grandest grouping of temples, to see Baphuon. We climbed up its many steep stairs and took in the surroundings from above.

Our last stop of the day was the famous Angkor Wat itself. It is an amazing thing to stand in front of the building that is featured on Cambodia's flag, as well as nearly everything else produced in this country. 

The Khmer people are very proud of it for good reason - it is stunning. 

A few things had changed, though, since Antonia's last trip: there were a gazillion tourists, and instead of having to take your life in your hands to clamour up and down the steep stairs that lead to the central towers (these were intended to be a challenge because Angkor Wat is a representation of heaven, and it's not easy to get there), there are now staircases and organized queues. 

We didn't spend too much time at Angkor Wat that first evening since we knew we'd be back the next day, and we were absolutely exhausted from our day of exploring that had started so soon after we stumbled off the night bus. We didn’t bother sticking around Angkor for sunset - a popular photo opportunity - since the skies were overcast and it had been raining most of the afternoon. We made plans with Rith to return for a sunrise to sunset adventure the next day.

Back in Siem Reap, we tried to make up for lunch by eating a cheap dinner, but unfortunately it wasn't too much more delicious than those ramen noodles at lunch. We strolled through a market near our hotel, then decided to take a 'nap' at 7:45 pm which we didn't get up from until 4:10 am when it was time to meet Rith for a pitch black ride to catch sunrise at Angkor Wat.

It was still overcast (we are here in rainy season, after all), so there wasn’t really a sunrise to speak of, but the light was very pretty.

The busloads of tour groups who showed up for sunrise left to go back to town for breakfast, so we took the opportunity to explore Angkor Wat in the morning light while it was quite quiet. We felt lucky to have some space to ourselves inside one of the most famous and beautiful buildings in the world; this was probably our most favourite moment of our days at Angkor. 

We did some climbing on the temple for good photo ops.

We found breakfast at a nearby stall, this time after a lot of research (devoting much time to making sure we were getting the best possible price), and we shared a delicious breakfast of a cheese omelette and a banana pancake. Afterwards, Rith dropped us off at the elephant gate of Angkor Thom so that we could walk into the walled city through the gate that travellers on elephant-back would enter through nearly a thousand years ago. Some tourists still choose to enter that way, but we passed up the opportunity because we had read that the elephants might not be well treated.

Inside Angkor Thom is Bayon, which served as the most important temple during the reign of King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century. 

The 216 faces of Avalokiteshvara towering over the temple apparently bear a strong resemblance to the king. At least a dozen faces are visible from any point inside the temple, and while they depict a serene expression on the face of the bodhisattva said to encompass the compassion of all Buddhas, they are meant to instill a feeling that one is constantly being watched by the gods and by the king, who, like most kings of Angkor, had professed himself to be divine. 

It was awe-inspiring to be amongst of all these huge faces looking down on us, and this was perhaps James' favourite temple.

We had time to wander around Angkor Thom, and we saw a large Buddha statue, climbed up into the Royal Palace, and walked around the Central Square and the Terrace of Elephants, which would have been used for viewing royal ceremonies and processionals.

Rith then drove us to two smaller temples, Chau Say Tevoda and Thommanon, which were quiet and fun to have almost to ourselves.

Ta Keo temple was more of an adventure than a beautiful temple. It was never finished and is therefore undecorated, but it is extremely high and steep. Ta Keo does not yet have a set of modern staircases to ease the climb to the heavens, and we had a tough climb up, and then an exhilarating climb back down.

Banteay Kdei was our next stop. 

A former Buddhist monastery, it is a series of long hallways leading to Angkor Wat-style towers at the end.

We had been eagerly anticipating a visit to Ta Phrom. It is a particularly picturesque temple because, while most temples are protected against jungle encroachment, the jungle around Ta Phrom has been allowed to overtake it. 

There are gigantic trees growing over walls and between stones. It was another one of our favourites.

We tried to find an affordable lunch nearby, but that didn't seem to be possible (for anyone planning a trip, we recommend the stalls around Angkor Wat, but we were far away by this point). It was already mid-afternoon, we had completed our planned route for the day, and we were exhausted, but sunset was still hours away. Since it was overcast again, we decided to see a couple more temples, and then go into town for lunch and call it a day. Rith told us that he's never actually had a tourist make it the whole 13 hours from sunrise to sunset. 

We stopped for a visit at the small brick temple of Prasat Kravan.

Our last Angkor activity was a hike up Phnom Bakheng and a visit to its mountain temple for aerial views of Angkor Wat. It was a peaceful and picturesque place to bid farewell to Angkor.

Back in Siem Reap, we ate a delicious dinner at Little India restaurant. We toasted the end of our Angkor adventures with beers and felt relieved that we would finally have some time to relax. Our sightseeing in Cambodia was great, but we felt like we were just now able to be on vacation. The thing is, we each have a different idea of vacationing, and James' involves a lot of time spent at markets. Antonia enjoys markets only for a very short time before they become stressful and claustrophobic, but James enjoys the bustle and can happily spend hours there. So we developed a system of compromise: time at the market could be bought with ice cream and/or massages for Antonia. That night, we shared this delicious "American cup" at the Blue Pumpkin Cafe before shopping in the Old Market.

We spent a relaxing final day in Siem Reap researching our next destination, working on our blog, getting massages, and checking out the Art Market and the Night Market.