There was a time not so long ago I’d never heard of Angkor Wat. I’m almost embarrassed to say that. But it’s true. I remember the precise moment I learned of it. I was watching a TV show. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the show, but I know it was nearly ten years ago. (At the time, I was in my 20’s. I should have at least heard of the place!) The show followed a newlywed couple on their travels, as they’d won the ultimate honeymoon — a trip around the world. One episode, they woke up at sunrise to visit a place called Angkor Wat. Wow! I was enamored. And from that moment, I knew I had to visit.
The Angkor Archeological Park stretches over 400 square kilometers and is the home to several capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th centuries. It’s full of ruins and temple complexes and pristine forest and monkeys. I was also surprised to discover that many people still live in the lands of the park, often making a living through rice farming or selling souvenirs to tourists. The park is a pretty astounding place.
My trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, the city closest to Angkor Archeological Park, was fairly uneventful. For the first time since beginning my trip, my bus arrived on time! (This was pretty significant and super exciting.) I made arrangements to stay at a guesthouse called the Golden Mango Inn. A tuk-tuk driver from the Inn named Song picked me up at the bus terminal. I kid you not, this was the sweetest man I met in all of my travels. If you’re ever at the Golden Mango, request Song as your driver. He’s wonderful.
From the moment I arrived at the Golden Mango, I was beyond happy with my choice. It was the nicest guesthouse of all my stays throughout Southeast Asia, and the food at the restaurant was muy yummy. Not to mention the staff. They were so considerate and thoughtful.
My first full day in Siem Reap, I decided to hire a tuk-tuk driver (I chose Song again) to do the Grand Circuit of the ruins, which is farther out. I knew I would be bicycling the ruins the next day, so I wanted to save the shorter, smaller circuit for then. From the moment I spotted my first temple, I was like a kid in a candy store. I wandered through deserted hallways, climbed steep, narrow stairs and soaked in the sights. I learned to use the tiny tripod with my camera quite well, and many a tourist stared at me, somewhat awkward, as I smiled and jumped and posed for seemingly no one.
I loved every minute of it.