Cambodia 2013: The Weekend Backpacking Experience

A few months ago, I wrote down my travel priority list. I’m proud to say that I have finally crossed out one from my list: to see the sun rise behind Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat Sunrise

The trip to Cambodia is definitely the most exciting and adventurous trip I have had so far. For starters, it was a very impulsive trip – most of the planning happened the night before. Mar and I discussed about going to Siem Reap on my last weekend in Thailand but we never really took the time to arrange the itinerary. We had a list of places we wanted to see and do, and less the 48 hours to accomplish it. Also, it was my first real backpacking trip to a different country!

We left the hotel at 5:00 am to catch the 5:30 bus to Aranyaprathet. Our entire trip was anchored on the assumption that we will find the casino bus at Lumpini Park, just as we had read on travel blogs. After several minutes of walking, we found the bus that was headed to Aranyaprathet! It was a five hour drive to the border but considering that we were headed to a totally different country, the bus ride did not feel that long. The bus was comfortable, so it was really not a stressful journey.

at the Cambodian boder

The bus arrived at the border at around 10:00 and we finally made it across to Cambodia where we were welcomed by a man offering free shuttle services to the transport building. At first it seemed a bit sketchy. We’ve read enough travel blogs to know that there are a lot of scams in the Thailand-Cambodia border, but we still went along with them. Thankfully, they got us to the transport building safely and we got on a shared taxi to Siem Reap. The taxi cost $12 per person for four people. We shared our taxi with two really nice American girls who had also been working in Thailand. It was a two hour drive to Siem Reap so we got to share a lot of stories with them while in transit.

We got to Siem Reap at around 1PM where a tuktuk was already waiting for us – very clever strategy for the locals. While we were seated in the tuktuk, we automatically got ourselves a tour organizer who offered to book everything for us. Given that we didn’t have any concrete plans, we just went with what he was saying. It probably would have been cheaper to have booked everything – the tuktuk driver, taxi to the border, etc., before heading to Cambodia. Nonetheless, it was comforting to know that everything else was already set for our overnight stay in Siem Reap.

On our tuktuk

They took us to a really budget (read:cheap) hotel that was a short walk from Pub Street. It was a bit sketchy and dark but it was also complete so we decided to stay there. While Mar and I were talking about the hotel on the way back to Bangkok, we both were actually a bit scared of the place at some point of our stay. I actually felt like I was in a slasher film waiting to happen! Well, at least we got out fine, but it honestly isn’t a place I would highly recommend people to stay in.

We headed to Pub Street for lunch. There are so many restaurants to choose from and I guess one of the sad things about staying there for only the weekend was that we weren’t able to try as many restaurants as we could have. We decided to eat at a pretty restaurant, the Kmher Family Restaurant. Their food did not disappoint.

After lunch, we finally headed to Angkor to get our day pass and witness the beautiful sunset at Phnom Bakheng. We had to climb a hill to get there, which was quite a challenge for me, but it was definitely worth it because I was able to witness this:

Sunset at Phnom Bakheng

Walking down the hill from Phnom Bakheng

It was a beautiful sight and definitely a prelude to what we would be seeing the next day.

We woke up early to see the Angkor Wat sunrise, but even at 5:30 am, there was already a huge crowd waiting to see it as well. No matter how many pictures of it I’ve seen online, it was still such a majestic sight to see. Nothing can replace seeing such a wonderful sight in person. Once the sun showed itself at around 7 am, we went into Angkor Wat. There weren’t that many people yet so we took advantage of taking pictures that didn’t include other people. On our way out of Angkor Wat, at around 9:30, was we saw the mass of people headed inside.

Mar amidst the crowds in Angkor Wat

We spent the entire morning exploring the Angkor Complex. We weren’t able to go to the smaller temples because we had to leave for Thailand at 4pm. We got to go to Angkor Thom where we spent most of our time at the Bayon Temple. We visited the Tomb Raider temple, Ta Prohm and lastly we went to Bantay Srei. By this time, I’ve been to several temples within 10 days but I didn’t feel too templed out. I guess it’s because all the temples I’ve seen were all different from each other.

The Thailand-Cambodia border closes at 8PM so we had to rush back in order to make it before it closes because my flight back home was at 11 am the next day. This was probably the most stressful part of our trip. Our taxi driver arrived late and on the way to the border he started picking up other people despite the fact that we paid for the full taxi. It started raining really hard as we were nearing the border and by the time we made it, it was flooding! Our taxi driver didn’t understand our need to be dropped off at a place where there was a shade so we made a run for it. It was 7:15 pm. Forty five minutes before the closing of the borders. There wasn’t much shelter between the borders so by the time we got to Thailand, we were both soaking wet!! We almost didn’t make it to the bus, but thankfully there were still some last minute seats available. After missing our stop, we eventually found our way to Bangkok thanks to a friendly Thai man who would not leave until we got a taxi that would take us home and use a meter. We got home with wet clothes on our back and a hell of a story to share. 

It was a crazy adventure. Sure, there were unfortunate moments towards the end but I would never trade it for anything else. It was definitely part of the experience (and it makes a better story to tell).

Backpackers!

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Bucket Lists and Travel

In my last blog entry, I mentioned that I find bucket lists meaningless if we don’t start acting on it now. A few days after I wrote that blog, I was going through the old posts of one of my favorite bloggers, Adventurous Kate. Kate is definitely an inspiration to me. She is currently in her 20s and has established herself as a female solo traveler. I had found her blog while I was searching on solo female travel before going to the United Kingdom. I mainly did the search to prove to my parents that it is normal and safe for girls to travel by themselves. One day I would love to be as well-traveled as her!

Anyway, while I was going through her blog, I saw that she had written a post about bucket lists and I completely agree with it. Her main problem with bucket lists is that: “If your deadline is death – you’re not making it a priority.” And it’s true! A lot of people, myself included, express our desires to go to a certain place or do a certain thing “before we die”. But none of us really know when that is going to happen so rather than saying I want to do this before I die, I will now start saying I want to do this as soon as I can.

What she says is true, if we want to travel it should definitely be our priority. I have been lucky these past few years because I don’t pay any living expenses and I was able to pay for my own travel, but I know that once I start living on my own I would have to practice more self-discipline. Recently, my best friend Vida has been helping me in keeping my expenses (read: shopping) to a minimum because of all the trips I have planned out for this year. I was talking to one of my good friends yesterday and he mentioned I was rich because I spent a large amount of money on my plane ticket for my upcoming trip and I told him that I’m not rich, I just spend my money on travel. I want that to be a continuing trend in my life. I want to prioritize travel. At this age, I am old enough to set my own priorities and young enough to make it happen. I want to get married and have kids one day and although I know I never want to stop traveling, I know that my priorities will be shifting by then.

I thought it would be a good idea to list down my travel priorities just like what Kate did. So here goes:

  • See the sun rise behind Angkor Wat, Cambodia – I have already made plans to go here this year and I hope it pushes through!

http://www.warwickphotographer.com.au

  • Witness the Northern Lights – Also known as the Aurora Borealis. It looks so majestic in pictures and to witness it in person would just be so enchanting!

  • See the Cherry Blossoms of Japan – Who wouldn’t wanna see this? Nature is so beautiful.

  • Visit Russia – Just looking at the pictures, you could see that it’s full of culture. I just wanna walk those streets and just take in the beautiful architecture in the area

http://www.worldwidehomestay.com/

  • Tour the temples of Turkey – Greece is popular for their temples but there are also many beautiful temples in Turkey. The world’s oldest temple, Gobekli Tepe, is located in Turkey.

www.sithsonianmag.com

How about you? Where do you want to go? What are your travel priorities?