From Phnom Penh, we traveled further into Cambodia and took a propeller plane a half an hour to Siem Reap, home to the temples of Angkor. We arrived amid a typical Southeast Asia afternoon shower and went straight to our hotel, the Allson Angkor Paradise (Semester at Sea does not skimp on hotels, y’all), where we checked in and freshened up for a night on the town.
Then it was off to a traditional Cambodian buffet and dance show. I don’t think I had ever had Cambodian food in my life before our trip, so I didn’t know what to expect, but everything was delicious. One of the country’s signature dishes, the fish amok, wound up being my favorite, and I had it at every single meal. (If anyone knows where I can get good Cambodian food in Nashville—or heck, anywhere on the Eastern seaboard or in the South—please chime in, as I’m pretty sure I don’t have the financial means to fly to Siem Reap every time the craving hits.)
You could revisit the buffet as many times as you pleased, but I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach as I couldn’t even manage to finish off a full plate (oh but I tried!).
When everyone at the restaurant was wrapping up dinner, the dance festivities began. I think Cambodians are some of the most beautiful people on the planet—both in spirit and outward appearance—and the elaborate costumes only enhanced this ethereal aura.
Following the dancing, many of the audience members (including our students) rushed the stage to get their pictures taken with the dancers.
After the performance was over, we talked our tour guide into dropping us all off at the Angkor Night Market. I had heard before going to Cambodia that Siem Reap’s night market is one of the best in all of Asia, and it did not disappoint. While many of the stalls carried the same goods, we found some cool trinkets and linens, from pillow covers to comforters. SVV and I were on a buying spree—when stuff is so cheap and pretty, how can you not?—but we happened upon four of our students who were taking a more leisurely approach to the evening: foot rubs.
Cambodia is also a popular place for fish massages—there were large tanks everywhere advertising “feed our hungry fish your dead skin cells!”—but call me crazy because that didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. Instead, I worked on expanding my wardrobe. Meet my new $6 dress:
And my 15 woven bangles I scored for $1. Later, I learned that supporting the local economy by purchasing from the local children (as we did the bracelets) is not something you should do as it encourages the parents to keep their children out of school, but I felt just as bad deflecting their sales pitches as going home to Mom and Dad with empty pockets might have equally negative consequences on the kids. (For more on this ongoing debate, check out Alex in Wanderland’s recent post on how to handle this issue.)
The next morning, we had to get up at stupid o’clock—4am, I believe, in this case…painfully early—once more so we could be at Angkor Wat in time to see the sun rise over the temple.
I am so not a morning person, as I’m pretty sure I’ve noted at least 10,431 times before, but I suppose seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise is one of those things every traveler must do in her young life.
The students definitely seemed to enjoy it even though we all stayed at the market until midnight the previous evening.
Then, it was back to the Angkor Paradise for breakfast as the rest of the world was just starting to stir.
If stopping over in the United Kingdom en route to Asia, consider accommodation in London from one of our sponsors.