After all the hassle and stress of coming to Siem Reap, all our troubles were washed away when we arrived and saw how lovely it was.
To all Cambodia travelers, DON’T EVEN THINK OF TAKING THE KAMPUCHEA ANGKOR EXPRESS BUS! Take the Mekong Express or the Sorya instead.
We had a really bad experience with this bus company. We bought our ticket the previous day at the roadside stall just across our guesthouse. Morning came and there was no mini van to bring us to the bus station. We waited and waited until we got fidgety as our departure time drew closer and closer. I asked the guy at stall what time the van was coming. He got on his mobile phone and talked to someone, his Khmer voice sounding a bit hassled to whoever he was talking to. He assured us the van was on its way. An American (or was it Canadian) soon joined us. He had a bus to catch for Battambang and his departure time was a little later than us. Our 9:30am departure came and went and still no mini van. The guy called someone on his mobile phone again. I hassled him some more as I was really worried whether we would get to Siem Reap at all. Someone from the Mekong Express had already picked-up some passengers which added to my anxiety. The remorque driver we had hired for the couple of days we were in Phnom Penh remarked that Kampuchea Angkor Express was notorious for being late and sometimes not picking-up passengers, a view that other drivers agreed to. Mekong Express and Sorya were much better, they said. I could have kicked myself for insisting on Kampuchea Angkor Express even if our driver had brought us to the Mekong Express ticket office earlier.
Just as the ticket-seller decided that we should just all go to the bus station on a remoreque, the van arrived full of passengers.
We were dropped off at the bus station and the girls at the counter said there was a bus waiting for us. They never did explain to us what happened. About 30 minutes later, we were on the bus with about 6 other passengers. I thought everything was okay already. That we were on our way to Siem Reap. Wrong. I was awakened from my nap by a Khmer woman who was holding out a mobile phone to me. We were parked at the curb and the driver was with her. She was excitedly telling me that the bus office had called the driver asking him to RETURN to the station! I checked my watch. We had been traveling for more than an hour already and going back was simply out of the question! The woman was telling me to insist to the person on the other end of the line that we should not go back. I was fuming mad by then and I couldn’t help but shout, “WE ARE NOT GOING BACK TO PHNOM PENH!” The woman at the other end of the line said that we were not going back and if she could talk to the driver please. I explained to the other passengers the situation. I went back to sleep and woke-up at Skuon for lunch. The driver and the woman thanked me for refusing to go back.
So this is Cambodia where delays and even cancellation of transport is to be expected. But this was just too much considering that Mekong Express picked-up its passengers on time.
It wasn’t really a great way to greet the first day of the New Year.
We arrived in Siem Reap early afternoon and were met by a remorque we had booked earlier with our accommodation.
After depositing our bags at Eight Rooms (which has nice clean rooms, a perfect location near the happening areas, and cute and friendly always-willing-to-help staff) we took our remorque to Phnom Bakhaeng for the sunset. Since it was past 5 already, our 3-day $40 Angkor pass would start the next day which meant a free sunset!
The archaeological park is beautiful with large roads canopied by trees connecting the temples. But the traffic is really bad with all types of vehicles lined-up on the road. Apparently a thousand people a day climb the hill to the temple to enjoy the sunset.
So there it was— the foot of the hill on which the wat was squatting. Parked remorques, buses, bicycles, street vendors selling everything from books to musical instruments, to souvenirs and everything else in between. We were at the prime location for viewing sunsets and everyone wanted a slice of this precious piece of real estate. So with a few thousand others, we hiked the small hill. It was about a 15 minute walk and when we made the final turn to the hill, we were greeted by a really colorful temple. It was colorful because people were sitting and standing around the temple and their clothes made colorful decorations on the temple walls. This wasn’t a temple visit… it was a rally! It was the Angkor Temples Circus Show!
We climbed the steps up the highest level and tried to take a spot. The view of the temples around the park and the surrounding forest was beautiful. Sunset came but we never really appreciated it was really hard to find a spot to take really beautiful pictures. Especially when you’re an Asian standing a mere 5’8 as against hordes of infinitely taller Caucasians.
At about 6pm, the sun having set already, people clapped (it was a show after all) and started going down already as it was getting dark and the trail was unlit.
We had dinner at one of the many food stalls along the Old Market area. It was really delicious and cheap ($1 for mains).