Cambodia was my second to last stop on a South East Asia trip that I took in December 2018; Siem Reap is where I planned on spending Christmas. It is famous for its massive compound of temples known as Angkor Wat. Cambodia has intrigued me since I was a child because one of my aunts was actually born there!
At my aunt's house there was this old framed photo, probably 3 feet wide by 2 feet tall, showing the crown jewel of Angkor Wat. A huge temple with several spires surrounded by a moat and lush, seemingly impenetrable jungle. I knew someday I had to go see this place for myself! But more about the temples another time...
With a sense of adventure, I woke up very early in Bangkok to head to the airport. Now, I didn't know this at the time, but there are actually two international airports in Bangkok... I guess you can see where this is going...
I took a taxi to the Suvarnabhumi Airport, which is the airport I arrived in Bangkok from Manila a few days prior, and I had just enough Thai Baht left to pay for the ride. I got into the very modern and spacious airport departures level in search of the check-in counter but couldn't find it. I went to one of those large displays that show all incoming and outgoing flights - I COULDN'T FIND MY FLIGHT!
Not only could I not find it, but the airline that I was flying doesn't even go to this airport! Frantically, I went to an agent who confirmed that my airline was actually at Don Mueang International Airport on the other side of town. At this point, I hardly had any cash left and needed to get to the other side of town.
One taxi driver started taking me then realized that I didn't have that much money and literally drove me back to where he picked me up. I struck some luck when a nice butchy woman felt bad for me and sped me across town where I managed to make my flight. I literally gave her all the cash I had left, knowing that it wasn't enough, but so she could see that I gave her all I had. Finally, off to Cambodia we go!
It took me a while to actually get relaxed on the flight after the crazy morning of trying to get to the right airport, but the flight was pretty quick and the landscape was beautiful. The space between Bangkok and Siem Reap is super lush and green and there appears to be no sign of people besides the random scattering of small villages which you can barely make out from 35,000 feet.
I arrived in Cambodia on a gorgeous cloudless day! After clearing customs, I walked outside of the terminal to a small army of tuk-tuk taxi drivers all eagerly pitching to me why their service is the best. Now I don't know about you, but this is one of the parts of traveling that I dread! How can all of these drivers have a different fee for the same distance?
I hate being taken advantage of so I tend to go to the quiet guy that was forced further away because of all the professional schemers who get upfront. Is it bad that I start speaking Spanish (knowing that they don't speak it) to get them to back off of me?! I found a really nice man who took me to my hotel for about $5USD.
The ride to the hotel was pleasant and I was taking it all in. I felt like I was in another world! Imagine going from Bangkok, one of the busiest places on Earth, to Siem Reap, which is probably just a few square miles and no building standing taller than maybe four stories.
I had a room booked at a small 3-story hotel, called the Friendly Angkor Boutique, with a balcony that looked out over the pool and to the small road which led me to this place: Angkor Night Market Street (take a guess why I chose this place). Below is a picture of the beautiful entrance to the hotel.
Once settled in the hotel, I went out exploring Angkor Wat with my tuk-tuk taxi driver as my guide. After a hot afternoon of trekking the Cambodian jungle and taking some gorgeous photos, I returned to my room for a good shower and to rest a bit. When the sun started to set, I decided to take a stroll out to the Siem Reap Night Market to find some good food; this is one of my favorite things to do.
As I started walking towards where Google Maps was telling me to go, I could hear off in the distance a faint thumping which got louder the further I walked. When the Google lady told me to turn onto another street, it hit me, there was a full-on street party going on!
I mean, there were bars, and restaurants, and street vendors, and drunk tourists everywhere! Bright neon lights tried to lure you into the many bars that lined the street but what really got my attention was the signs marketing beer for 50 cents - am I in heaven?!
For those of you who are convinced that I have done thorough research before traveling, let this show you that I do not, well not usually. I was blown away by what I saw! Imagine spending a day seeing ancient ruins in the quiet jungles of Cambodia and then running into a place like this - it was surreal.
After a quick bite to eat (turns out you gotta order food to get that cheap beer) I was off seeing what kind of trouble I could get into. I found out that there was a gay bar nearby, which I was also ignorantly shocked to discover, and decided to go check it out. I love me a good drag show!
I went to a bar called Barcode, which was located near the end of a side street by the Siem Reap River. Uffff, I gotta tell you all about that place some other time, but let's just say it was a really good time! In true Michael fashion, I quickly made new friends and even tried out some of the bar snacks.
After a couple, who am I fooling, SEVERAL drinks later, I stumbled my way back to Pub Street with my newfound friends to see that it has exploded with liquor-fueled energy. The core of this inferno was Temple Night Club. Again, after spending the day in the jungles of Cambodia, who would have thought that a club, reminiscent of something on South Beach, would be just a couple blocks away from my hotel!
As you can see from the video, I was more than a little tipsy, but it was awesome. I had the kind of fun that you dream of. The kind of fun where you just escape the realities of work and responsibility and just release your inhibitions.
Pub Street was quite a surprise, to say the least, but it added a great deal of fun each night. I had a lot of 50 cent beer and lots of really cheap eats, day and night. If you've never been to Cambodia, you gotta do it!
This place was truly magical in many ways. Everything is very cheap and the history, architecture, food, and nightlife were amazing. Like most of South East Asia, the people of Cambodia are friendly, humble, hospitable, and proud of their heritage.
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