And the tuk-tuk rides are pretty fun.
Cambodia was, without a doubt, my favorite country we visited. And I don't think I'm being presumptuous when I say that my traveling buddies feel the same way. There was something truly, genuinely charming about Cambodian people. And it wasn't just because we were in the tourist-friendly Siem Reap for most of it. People were kind and fun-loving everywhere we went. This is mostly remarkable because of how recently this country has been completely ravaged by civil war. It's estimated that the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge killed 1/5 of the population of Cambodia, or about 1.5 million people, though some claim the death toll is closer to 2.5 million.
Though Cambodia is currently seeing a renaissance of sorts with tourism booming and Phnom Penh looking more and more like any of the world's culture and business centers, you still cannot find a single person who did not have at least one parent, sibling, uncle, aunt, grandparent, cousin, or friend who was killed by the Khmer Rouge. I harp on this point to show what a grand spirit the people of this little country have. They are happy, outgoing, friendly, and proud in the face of so much tragedy.
One of our first experiences in the country was checking into our hotel in Siem Reap, the small but luxurious Hotel 89, which had been highly recommended to us by an Australian couple in Vietnam. Hidden down a back alley just outside of downtown was this little gem of Cambodian hospitality, with a staff who all spoke English and rushed to our aid whenever we needed--quite literally--anything. Any time we came in from the heat after marching around town, they were ready with glasses of water or lemonade and cool towels.
The lobby and front desk clerk of Hotel 89.
They were so nice, in fact, that when Andrew left our bus tickets to Thailand in the hotel room on our way out, one of the staff members hopped on his moped and drove the 15 minute journey to our pickup spot to deliver them before our bus came. Service like this in Cambodia costs $19 per night.
So by now I'm sure all of you are wondering the same thing--"Enough about this hospitality crap--what about Ankor Wat?!"
In a word--spectacular. What is there to say about buildings as magnificent and ancient as these that have seen so much history? Since I can't accurately describe their history or grandeur myself, I'll let the few pictures I have speak for themselves.
You should have seen what this temple was like BEFORE I got there!
Ankor Thom--one of Ankor's more gorgeous and intricate temples.
Katie, terrifyingly climbing down the steps to the top of Ankor Wat, which had been closed for repairs since October of 2007. It opened up again the week before we got there.
The magnificent corridors of Ankor Wat.
Still recovering from a bad bout of bronchitis, I thought that the second image down on the right in this picture was telling me I couldn't cough in Ankor Wat. It was a rough hour or so before I figured it out.
The rest of Siem Reap was magnificent. It was a European city uprooted and transplanted into the middle of Cambodia. You could see heavy French influence in everything from the architecture to the way the cafes and bars all open their doors and spill out into the street in the evening. And we did visit the Red Piano, where Angelina Jolie hung out during the filming of Tomb Raider at Ankor Wat. I drank a "Tomb Raider," their signature cocktail.
We rode around town in tuk-tuks, moped powered carriages with very knowledgeable and friendly (but pushy) drivers.
Aside from ravaging the town, enjoying absolutely fantastic food, and temple hopping at Ankor, we visited an authentic silk farm just outside of town where we were given a guided tour of the process from raising the worms to the final finished, dyed, and weaved product.
When all was said and done, I never wanted to leave that place. I could have spent another week, month, or year there exploring every nook and cranny of the country. If the people we met in our 4 days left such a great impression, I can only imagine how a little more time there would affect me.
Though I don't want to spend my entire life going back to the same places I've already been over and over, I don't think I can resist another trip back to Cambodia some day.