Thursday, February 26, 2015

Arriving in Cambodia and Visiting Banteay Srei & Beng Mealea

I was sad to leave Laos, but I after five days I had pretty much done everything there was to do in Luang Prabang, and it was time to move on to Cambodia.  I had been itching to visit Cambodia pretty much since I first came to Asia, so I was excited to finally be making my way there.  Cambodia's temples are world-famous, and I had heard only good things about this country from my friends who have already visited, so I was more than ready to at long last check it our for myself.

The flight from Luang Prabang to Siem Reap was a short one, and my wonderful hostel was able to arrange a driver to meet me at the airport.  This was my first of many tuk-tuk rides in Cambodia, and as I took in my first sights of Cambodia, I immediately realized that Cambodia is a very flat country--quite different from Laos's mountainous terrain.  I was also instantly greeted by more of those familiar sights in SE Asia that remind you that many of the people are living in very different conditions from what we're used to--people piled onto motorbikes, small and broken down houses, and trash on the sides of the roads. However, once I got to the main part of Siem Reap, it almost seemed as if I was in a completely different country.  Suddenly everything was modern looking and was obviously I had hit the tourist part of the city.

My hostel in Siem Reap was fantastic--a welcome upgrade from where I stayed in Luang Prabang. I was located right near the infamous Pub Street, and within an hour of arriving at the hostel I had bumped into one of my hostel roommates from my first days in Luang Prabang.  About fifteen minutes later I bumped into another guy I had also met in Luang Prabang, and I realized I was going to be just fine in Siem Reap.

The girl I knew from Luang Prabang asked if I wanted to join her the next morning on a trip to Banteay Srei and Beng Mealea, two of the temples that are located a bit further from Siem Reap's center.  I didn't have anything planned for my first day in Siem Reap, so I agreed and the next morning we met up with another girl from the hostel who also wanted to join us. Since the temples were far away we had to hire a tuk-tuk driver for the day, so we were happy to have someone else join us to help split the cost.

We had a long drive to our first stop, Banteay Srei, so we spent time in the back of our tuk-tuk chatting and taking in the scenery.  Being away from the tourist hot-spots gave us a real chance to see the Cambodian countryside and gave us a glimpse of how the majority of Cambodians live.

This is pretty much how all of the houses we drove by looked.  
 We finally arrived at Banteay Srei, and I finally felt like I was really in Cambodia.  Banteay Srei is a 10th century temple that was built for the Hindu God Shiva.  The detail on this temple is absolutely amazing.  It was incredible to think about the kind of work that went into creating the temple, and I could only imagine what it looked like before it started crumbling down.

After we finished at Banteay Srei we got back in the tuk-tuk and continued to drive for a while.  We stopped at a small restaurant and had lunch, then finally got to Beng Mealea.

Since Beng Mealea is so far away from the center of Siem Reap and the rest of the Angkor temples, not many people make the trip all the way out there.  It was really nice because we could explore the temple in the peace and quiet--something I would really come to miss in the following days.

Beng Mealea hasn't been restored as much as many of the other temples around Angkor.  Instead, the majority of the ruins are left to nature and are completely overgrown by the jungle.

After we finished exploring the temple, we made the long trip back to the hostel.  By the time we got back we felt very dusty from sitting in the back of the tuk-tuk and tired from climbing ruins all day.  After a quick dinner on Pub Street, it was an early night for me because I had to wake up at 4 AM the next morning to see the infamous sunrise at Angkor Wat.  Cambodia was making a great first impression, and I still had a lot of sightseeing ahead of me!

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