We pulled up to the Cambodian border, got out of the van, walked up to the border, filled out paperwork, and paid a few dollars in "fees" that were obviously going straight into the pockets of the workers there. Then before entering Cambodia you get a "health inspection" that probably wouldn't even catch somebody with full blown rabies trying to get into the country. They just point a little laser thermometer gun at you that I'm sure is far from accurate. It beeps, and they give you a little yellow paper. And now you're in The Kingdom of Cambodia.
After crossing the border from Laos into Cambodia, I continued on my journey to Phnom Penh, but soon realized I was definitely going the wrong direction. A Cambodian guy jumped in our van from a random spot on the road, as tends to happen, and I asked where he was headed. Siem Reap. A very different city not in any way along the route to Phnom Penh. The driver assures the four of us who are supposed to be going to Phnom Penh that we can transfer buses when we get to Siem Reap and arrive in Phnom Penh as soon as 3am. That is very much different than the 6pm arrival time for which I bought my ticket. So when we arrived in Siem Reap, we all refused to transfer to another bus and decided to stay here instead. In Southeast Asia you can't always trust what people advertise. It can be frustrating, but you get used to it. To be honest I was not the least bit surprised that I bought a bus ticket and ended up in the wrong city. What really surprised me was that they actually let me take a bus to Phnom Penh three days later at no charge. THAT was shocking.
I spent my time in Siem Reap riding around on a bicycle looking at large and small, intricate and simple, overgrown and prominent, tall and collapsing temples. Each temple was very different from the others with its own interesting features.
Angkor Wat is the biggest and most famous. It is the closest to Siem Reap. And it is very impressive with its moat and towers. The sunrise at Angkor Wat has become iconic. The temple faces west so the sun rises up from behind. When the sky is right, the sun will create a nice show. Everybody knows this and has seen the pictures, therefore there are hundreds of people all packed together to watch. For anyone planning on going to Angkor Wat at sunrise, I recommend to get there early and go to the reflecting pond on the right. It's not quite as perfect of a line with the sun and the temple, but the crowd is so much thinner and you can get a front row seat if you get there a little early. The view is incredible.
There are so many more temples than just Angkor Wat. Baton is maybe my favorite with all the giant faces carved into the stone. Ta Phrom is being slowly consumed by giant trees, and it looks awesome! Ta Nei is a small unaltered collapsed temple full of giant fallen square building stones with just a couple corridors to sneak through and no other tourists around. Preah Kahn has a cool torch monument with light coming into the dark chamber from a window in the stones. Prae Roup is a tall temple that offers a great view for your hard work in climbing the non-uniform steep steps. I really didn't get tired of looking at any temples; I did get tired of riding around a bike in the 100 degree weather with no shade. Exhausted in fact.
You can always hire a tuk tuk for the day. It is not difficult to find one, I promise. You can't walk ten steps in Siem Reap without someone asking you if you need a tuk tuk. And if you are walking around at night there will be people asking you if you need all kinds of things.
The town of Siem Reap is nice enough. It was bigger than I expected. There are plenty of places to eat and drink. There is even a Pub Street. The food ranges from local street food to a Hard Rock Cafe. You can be as fancy or relaxed as you like. My personal favorite was Tevy's Place. A one woman operation with a simple menu and plastic chairs and table on the street. To be honest there are tons of places like this, Tevy was just super nice so I kept going back. And it didn't hurt that her fruit shakes were great.
There is a great museum that explains the history and meaning behind the temples and the ancient Khmer kingdom from religion to infrastructure. It's a good thing to do on a rainy afternoon, and I think it was beneficial to go to the museum before hitting the temples. It was nice to know a little of the history, although you can definitely appreciate the 900 year old temples in their own right. I did.