One of the main tourist attractions in northern Cambodia, and throughout the entire South East Asian region, are the Temples of Angkor. From the national beer, Angkor, to the flag with the temples as it’s emblem, the UNESCO World Heritage recognized temples are the source of great national pride and joy, and for good reason: they are magnificent.
The temples are considered one of the man-made wonders of the modern world, and bear the scars that share both the glorious and, more recently, tragic national history of Cambodia.
I think Cambodia wanted to make amends with me from my less-than-thrilling initial bus experience because when I came downstairs at 5:00 AM to leave for the temples, I was thrilled to see that another hostel goer was heading to the temples. Mary, a fellow American traveling solo, was also planning to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat so we decided to share a tuk tuk and the day together.
Heading out of town, we started chatting and couldn’t have gotten along better! Mary had traveled throughout, and fallen in love with, South America (one of my all time favorite regions for those who aren’t aware), and had great travel suggestions for me in South East Asia.
We enjoyed the sunrise over Angkor Wat, exploring the expansive Buddhist and Hindu temples of the compounds, and endlessly chatting about life and traveling. Another highlight was touring the off limit areas with a local who helped us climb to the top of the Ta Prohm temple, which was used in the filming of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
We were enjoying our photo shoot when he suddenly hissed at us to jump down because the guards were coming. Turns out not even Angelina was allowed to be in that part…at least we had taken a few great pictures and seen the incredible views!
After a few hours of exploring, we were ready to return to the hostel, but Cambodia had another surprise for us: a crocodile BBQ with our tuk tuk driver and a few locals from Siem Reap.
When he asked if we wanted any crocodile as we were leaving the temples, we initially thought he was either insane or having some very serious translation issues, but after playing a quick game of charades we realized he was inviting us to his friend’s home for a feast. One quick glance at our radiant smiles from the invitation, and he knew we were all in.
We stopped to purchase lemongrass, coconuts, steamed rice and sweets so as not to arrive empty handed, and then we headed across town unsure of what we would find.
Mary and I both were ecstatic that we were going to have the opportunity to experience the local culture and get to see a proper Cambodian home and BBQ.
It was such a fun afternoon! We enjoyed the delicious crocodile and local Angkor and Black Panther (continually reminding me of Anchorman) beers with the neighbors who came and went as they heard about the festivities. We had a great time playing with the little ones, and they enjoyed taking hundreds of selfies and pictures of one another with our cameras and iPhones.
All too soon, our afternoon came to an end and we said our goodbyes, hoping that the entirety of my time in Cambodia would be sprinkled with authentic experiences like this one!