Free & Easy was kind enough to treat us all to 3 day passes to all the temples in the area, giving everyone enough time to see as many as they could fit in in our time there. They even provided a bus and tour guide on the first day for the biggest attractions, Angkor Thom (which houses the Bayon temple on the front of your LTC guidebook, among other temples), Ta Phrom (better known as the temple portrayed in Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider), and the legendary Angkor Wat. I don’t know about everyone else on the trip, but I could have spent three days at those temples alone!
We begin to trek through the ruins, out doors that may have been windows, through windows that may have been doors, and down dark passageways and winding corridors covered with centuries old dust and moss covered stonework that composed the outer wall sometime in the distant past. I wonder at the massive trees growing up from the ruined walls and pagodas where monks would meditate and pray so many hundreds of years ago.
My mind reels with the image my imagination provides, trying to picture the grandeur of the place before it was left neglected by all except nature, who was only too happy to reclaim her own. Despite the tourists, it is really easy to wander around the ancient grounds and get lost in another world, especially listening to the music of the local bands formed of landmine victims (who really appreciate a dollar if you throw it their way!)
In fact, we enjoyed our bus tour so much that we all chipped in and hired it again on another day, this time to visit a few temples farther out from the city, as well as a landmine museum, shooting range (where two group members opted to fire off a clip from an AK-47 – both turned down the offer of a chicken on the range for an extra $20), and then on the way home we stopped to catch the sunset on top of another temple overlooking the towers of Angkor Wat in the distance.
Landmines are a big problem in Cambodia, given that the country has been wartorn for the past several decades and landmines were planted by all sides with no maps ever being drawn of their locations. Many thousands of Cambodians are injured each year through landmine accidents, often right in villages or in their fields where they work. It is very expensive to find and de-activate mines, but a Cambodian man named Aki Ra has taken it upon himself to make his country safer for his people by deactivating over 50, 000 mines and displaying them in his museum, which also spreads knowledge of the problem to more affluent countries who can lend a hand.
Our nights in Siem Reap were invariably spent on the bar street, which is quite literally the only street with bars on it, where foreigners flock to the ‘Angkor What?’ bar, or the Temple bar right across the street. These bars post ridiculous happy hour deals like 50 cents for a pint of beer, $1 margaritas and $5 gin tonic buckets. To encourage you to drink irresponsibly even more, they throw in a free t-shirt when you buy two buckets at the same time! I’m sure you can see how it’s easy to get carried away there. So when our cameraman nearly got thrown out of the bar by his neck by a drunk, steroid enraged bouncer, we decided to take our shirts and call it a night. We had to be up early the next morning for our trek back to Bangkok!