Day 43 / Day 2 of ATID – border crossing and arrival in Siem Reap
The next day we were up early to jump on a bus to travel across the border to Cambodia. The weather was once again ridiculously hot, despite evidence of rain overnight.
It was a land border crossing from Aranyaprathet to Paôy Pêt and though we had been warned by our CEO about the hideously long queues that sometimes mean groups are waiting for hours, we got extremely lucky and passed through without any queues at all!
The border crossing is straightforward in terms of obtaining the visa and getting through. You just need your Thai departure card (that you get on the aeroplane / on arrival), 1300 Baht or $40, and a passport photo for the form you have to fill in. Then we took a shuttle bus and then a private bus to our hotel in Siem Reap.
In the evening, our dinner was included at the New Hope Training restaurant, which is part of the wonderful New Hope organisation (in order to get there, we travelled in a tuktuk – which you may know as a rickshaw – over bumpy, dusty roads). Before dining, we got to look around the rather small building and grounds where they started out, before seeing their awesome new premises.
The best part was getting to attend one of their after school English lessons for children and young adults. Two of our tour group were asked to read some English passages aloud from their textbooks (weirdly all about weddings and expenses in the Western culture – quite complex sentences though! – so I told Dave to concentrate haha), one of whom did quite a funny dramatised reading earning a round of applause. Then, we got to individually chat to students. Mine was 20 years old and his English was excellent!
Dinner at the restaurant was pretty good, we were served everything from fried crickets to sweet and sour pork with rice. I did not touch the insect fare, Dave however had four crickets…….make of this what you will.
Day 44 / Day 3 of ATID – Siem Reap
We had an extremely early start the next day in order to travel via private bus to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, the world famous temple in the region of Cambodia known as Angkor. This was, hands down, one of the most spectacular things we witnessed on the whole trip.
I think this is partially because I have never voluntarily risen early enough to witness a sunrise and so am quite unacquainted with them. The photos do it more justice than I will in words.
It was very serene and peaceful and all the visitors just sat on the steps by the water watching and taking photos. Also, it was ever so slightly cooler so early in the morning as well.
After a quick trip back to the hotel for breakfast (and a nap!), we returned for a tour of the Angkor Wat complex, with an excellent local guide. It was awesome to learn about the creation of the originally Hindu temple and about the myths depicted in carvings on the walls (especially for me! Some of the classic Hindu mythology stories I heard as a child are known differently in Cambodia! Fascinating how ‘Chinese whispers’ operates as a religion or culture spreads).
We also witnessed a monk telling prophecies (for a fee haha) to tourists, and saw the area where current Buddhist worship takes place, with incense and decorated Buddha statues.
There was a trainee CEO throughout the trip and she loves photography – the temple backdrop was perfect for her creative whims and we had a lot of fun with her and took a lot of awesome photos with the group.
Unfortunately, by Ta Prohm, the unforgiving heat was really getting to me, despite (and this was awesome) all the free cold water bottles on our private bus, and all I wanted to do was sleep.
However, time for sleep there was not! As soon as we finished at the temples, after a quick lunch at a restaurant, we headed back to the hotel for all of half an hour before going for quadbiking! (Optional activity almost the whole group booked onto)
So, after signing our lives away, we were given helmets, surgical masks and a test drive with an instructor each. I had had apprehensions about the quadbiking, and found it difficult to control the steering. For special cases like me that they think aren’t good enough to be allowed to ride on their own, they get an instructor to sit behind you during the ride. Only one other girl and myself out of fifteen had to endure this humiliation! Though after about twenty minutes, when we took our first break as a group, he asked if I’d be okay on my own (obviously I said yes) and so that was fine.
I have mixed feelings about quadbiking. I genuinely did find it harder I think than other people to steer the thing, but it was quite fun driving through the beautiful countryside. We stopped a couple of times, once on what I think was a farm where some of the lads had a go at riding a water buffalo (Dave included), one of whom (not Dave) fell off after elegantly mounting…pretty hilarious…and once to witness the gorgeous sunset.
In the evening, we were taken again to a recommended restaurant. Note – I don’t know if I’ve mentioned earlier, but every eating joint in Cambodia seems to have WiFi and this place was no exception. After our meal (I had chicken fried rice with a salad – this is relevant as you’ll see later!), though quite tired, Dave and I headed out with other members of the group to the famous Pub street for a night out – mostly because we knew we had a 7 hour bus journey the next day and so would be able to sleep on that!
Pub Street is quite fun. Lots of the clubs seem to be pumping out the same sorts of music as you walk down – mostly chart hits that have done well in the West. If you want a niche type of music, I’m not sure Pub Street is the place to find it, but if you just want a drink, a dance and a fun atmosphere then all’s good. There is also a vast array of bars, and before dancing in one of the above clubs, we went to one that you could lounge on sofa-beds outside, which was cool. Alcohol is relatively cheap, too, and lots of bars will offer a round of free shots to your group to entice you, though I question the strength of some of the concoctions…
Dave and I headed back earlier than most of the others with one other girl. We successfully negotiated a tuktuk (you may know these as a ‘rickshaw’) for a reasonable price (we only knew it was reasonable as we’d been advised of how much we’d need to pay back to the hotel – as a guide for readers, about $3-$4 between 3-4 people for a fifteen-twenty minute drive!) to our hotel, rather than walking (we could have, but knew roads were dark and potentially unsafe), and turned in for the night.