The first truly foreign city we headed to on our Christmas travels was Siem Reap.
When Melissa and I stepped down from the airplane, the warm air greeted us, swaying the palm trees in a gentle “hello.” The land, the airport, everything was so flat as if to distinguish itself even more so from Hong Kong, which rises so self-importantly, from the earth.
We walked to the arrival terminal, completed visa paperwork, and officially entered the country.
Immediately we felt the thrill of having booked a “do-it-yourself” type of tour through IndoChina Legend Travel. Instead of battling a queue to find a cab and risking being cheated or ripped off, we located Melissa’s name on a large yellow paper in the hands of our tour guide, Leng Chenda. She led us through the rest of the airport until we stopped, waiting for our driver to bring around the van.
Upon being picked up, we were whisked to our hotel, Claremont Angkor Boutique Hotel, while Leng told us of growing up in Cambodia. She was one of five kids and now had two of her own. She had studied English for the sole purpose of being a tour guide-a great pursuit considering nearly half of the GDP of Cambodia depends on service industries, like tourism.
As we drove towards the Claremont, the flatness of Siem Reap stretched on. Four story buildings appeared massive next to the typical one-to-two story structures.
Excited to explore, Melissa and I wasted no time checking into the hotel then leaving again to scope out the city. We probably saw a good 75% of Siem Reap’s city proper that first day, stopping only to grab a Cambodian lunch and ice cream at the infamous Blue Pumpkin. That evening, Kerensa, the third traveler in our would be adventures, arrived.
Our time in Siem Reap was spent soaking in the slow pace of life. We dined leisurely. We walked past cemeteries and shops, bars and street performers. We saw the Cambodian circus and more than one sunset while perched on the high 4th floor of a bar or restaurant.
Of course, in Siem Reap, the primary attraction is-always-the temples. So Leng gave us a tour, driving us to Ankgor Wat, Angkor Thom, Baphuon, Bayon Temple, and some that she took her own children to on her days off that were not on the official’s day itinerary.
Our tour of the temples was exhausting but magnificent-especially seeing the brightly dressed monks standing out brilliantly against the subdued tones of the temple walls.