Bucket List: Temples of Angkor – Siem Reap, Cambodia

Another bucket list item of Southeast Asia was to see Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We traveled to Siem Reap, which is the second largest city in Cambodia and is situated right next to the many temples from the ancient city of Angkor. With just three full days in the city, we carefully divided our time between exploring temples, eating our way through Siem Reap, and following the Cubs’ comeback in the World Series.

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Touring Angkor Wat was a surreal experience to see such vast and well maintained structures that were built nearly one thousand years ago. Angkor Wat translates to “city temple,” and it was the primary temple of the city of Angkor in its time. It is believed that at its peak in the 12th century, the city of Angkor was home to more than one million people and was likely the largest city in the world at the time. Exploring the area today, it’s certainly clear that these temples and other old structures go on for miles and miles. The temples were originally Hindu when built, but they slowly transitioned to become fully Buddhist during the 13th century. Buddhist monks from other parts of Asia traveled very long distances to spend time in these temples for centuries afterwards. And between the perfect combination of expert architecture and a lack of destruction through wars or natural disasters, the area remains very highly in tact for lucky visitors like us to see.

While natural disasters have spared the temples, we were not spared from the heavy rains. One of our lasting memories of Cambodia will most certainly be our walk back after dinner our last night in town. It was not uncommon during our three days for short but heavy rains to come through, but during dinner this night the rain was longer and heavier than any we’d seen yet. Upon paying and leaving, we discovered that we couldn’t step out of the restaurant without avoiding a giant pond that formed on the road. We waded through that and made it to high ground in the middle of the street that led us almost all the way back. But when we came to the corner of our hotel, the streets were completely flooded with water nearly to our kneecaps. Cars and motorbikes were still driving through and causing waves to ripple out in all directions and soak us even more. With no other choice, we trudged about half a football field through the muddy water to make it back. After thorough showers, it’s a little more fun to look back on!

Otherwise in Siem Reap, we were surprised by the look and feel of the city. While Angkor Wat was perhaps the most culturally interesting place we’d seen in Southeast Asia, the city of Siem Real was perhaps the least. While there were many wonderful and accommodating people, we were stunned to find a town that felt less like Southeast Asia and more like a college town with scores of late night party bars, restaurants specializing in pizza, burgers, or Mexican food, and countless young backpackers. There were still tuk-tuk’s and motorbikes filling the streets, and many locals who filled walkway of the famed “Pub Street,” but it wasn’t exactly what we expected. We were also able to find a couple great places to eat off the beaten path to enjoy some delicious, traditional Cambodian dishes like Lok Lak, which was my personal favorite.

It was such an interesting time visiting Cambodia. From the rich history to the vibrant nightlife to the flash flood, this eclectic city was certainly memorable!

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