‘During my time in Thailand, I decided I’d take a couple of days out and head to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. This is mainly because I though it would be pretty straightforward. I have rarely been more wrong…’
I managed to catch a private bus from Bangkok that was headed to the Cambodian border town of Poipet. From here, I was bag a visa and head to Angkor Wat. I mean, how difficult could that possibly be?
…And this is where our saga begins. We join our intrepid, sweaty, and slightly over-enthusiastic traveller on an insanely hot day, at the side of a dusty road… Can you picture it? Yes? Ok, then: let’s go!
When the bus screeched to a stop at the roadside, I quickly realised it was too small for the number of occupants. Not to a scary degree, but certainly nothing that would have eluded a Police stop and hefty fine in the UK. We had 16 passengers on a 12-seat minibus, with no air-conditioning, heading on a 4-hour journey. It was hotter than Hell and never before have I managed to contort myself into such a tiny space.
About two minutes after pulling away into crazy traffic, I realised I was squished next to The Incredible Spitting Woman of Bangkok. For four looong hours, she cleared her throat at a quite alarming rate and deposited the contents into a handkerchief she’d thoughtfully arranged on her lap. Seriously….252km of hankie chucking. I’ve no idea what she had in there that needed to come out so bad, or quite so often…
After finally arriving in Poipet an age later, I had to work out how to buy a Visa. I managed to catch a TukTuk and paid a visit to the middle of nowhere, to a guy who lived in a tin hut. Following a lengthy conversation, of which I understood very little, I handed over some US Dollars and had my passport taken. Just as I was panicking that I’d never see it again and would have to live in Thailand FOREVER, I got it back.
It came complete with a funny looking bit of paper, which was then glued to an empty page and thrust back into my grateful little paws. I was then issued with some stern sounding instructions, which I didn’t comprehend any more than the preceding conversation. I was then summarily dismissed, with a wave of a hand, to the direction from where I’d come.
Knackered, and feeling mildly uneasy about how valid my visa was, I picked up some basic accommodation and met my Thai friend at a local bar. My hosts were very friendly and I explained to them about our trip to Cambodia the following day. We were warned of the dangers of the town and advised not to wander from the bar after dark, so we stayed put. We were also informed about how fabulous Angkor Wat was and how much we’d enjoy it.
Creatures of the night…
I spent a fitful night, watching various insects crawling under the gap beneath the door. Realising quickly that the lock wasn’t particularly secure, I couldn’t sleep due to watching for intruders. I also made the mistake of opening the curtains to look at the hive of insect activity outside my ground floor window. You can’t unsee something like that. As a result, I slept little, with one beady eye open, swatting away various unseen creatures. It was a very long night.
Bright and early the next morning (or early at least…) I was eager to get away from the new multi-legged friends who’d joined me the night before. They hadn’t as much as offered to help pay for the room. Frantically scratching my arms and legs, we headed off to the Cambodian border and on our way to Angkor Wat.
The Final Frontier…
Border control always makes me anxious. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I seem to have an automatic guilty conscience. This makes me worry that I’ve done something wrong ALL THE TIME. Feeling a bit out of my depth, and still worrying about the validity of my visa, we realised we had to join two separate queues. As I’m British and Aiew is Thai, we were not permitted to enter the country together. I waited in a massive line that didn’t seem to be moving and had a look around. I was subsequently alarmed by the plethora of posters denoting the perils of interfering with small children. And the rubbish. The ground was completely covered in it.
After an hour of standing around, I was sent to the front of the queue to be stared at in a rather stern manner. My passport was closely inspected and I probably looked as nervous as I felt. Surprisingly, I made it through without issue or questioning about where I got my visa. I was mightily relieved to be able to stumble outside and wait for Aiew.
Another half hour passed and I started to wonder what could be holding her up. Her queue was considerably shorter than mine and yet there was no sign of her. After another 30 minutes, I decided she’d obviously been marched back to Bangkok. This left me sitting at the border, on my own, and now I’d have to stay for the REST OF TIME. Just as I was starting to hyperventilate, she appeared. As it turned out, it was far easier for the dodgy looking British tourist to get into Cambodia than it was for an upstanding Thai citizen. Who knew?
Snakes and Ladas…
We skipped out into traffic and hailed a cab to take us to the bus station. Once at the station, we then haggled like crazy people, before finding a driver that was willing to take us to Angkor Wat for a reasonable price. We followed him to the car park, where he ushered us into the back of a Lada. I hadn’t seen one for decades and, having had parents that owned one in the 1980’s, I wasn’t sure it would make it. I tried to put my fears to one side and strapped myself in for the ride.
Ten minutes into the journey and just as I was starting to unwind, the taxi began swerving across the road. I was cruelly jolted out of my sleepy stupor. The driver grinned and apologized to us, saying he was just avoiding a snake. I laughed nervously. ‘I’m sorry, for a second I thought you said you were avoiding a snake! He grinned again. For the next two and a half hours, we avoided many, many more.
I sat, meerkat-like in the back, panicking every time we stopped in traffic, CERTAIN a snake was just waiting for the opportunity to slither up the exhaust and choke the life out of me. Being SO CLOSE to Angkor Wat made me bow my head in prayer to the Snake King (that’s definitely a thing). I told him I wouldn’t mind if his minions tried to kill me on the way home, but I really had to see the temple first.
Siem Reap is a province in the Northwest of Cambodia and a well-established tourist area. It has a wide range of quality accommodation and it’s a lovely area to spend some time. It largely owes its success to its proximity to Angkor Wat, which is Cambodia’s most visited attraction.
When we arrived, we thanked the driver and avoided the masses of stray dogs that were hanging around. We headed out, on foot, to cross the moat that surrounds the entrance to the Angkor Wat. We’d travelled more than 400km, spent 6.5 hours on the road, waited 3 hours on visas and borders crossings, but we’d finally made it! And it was worth every single minute.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious temple on earth, so this might give you a sense of how long it takes to really appreciate it on your visit. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, given its age, is in spectacular condition.
Once purchasing a ticket for Angkor Wat, you’re free to wander to your heart’s content. Even the lesser-known areas here are of such a high standard that it’ll blow your tiny mind. What I didn’t realise before visiting is that Angkor Wat is not the only temple on site. Angkor Thom is also there. This isn’t anywhere near as famous (or as big), but is equally breathtaking.
Cover yourself in sun cream, wear (very) sensible shoes, try not to think about snakes, and spend as much time in the area as you can. You won’t be disappointed. Also, and I can’t state this enough, absolutely research your travel BEFORE you go.