Vietnam & Cambodia recap

I’m in a cab headed back to Thailand. I’m feeling rather melancholy about leaving Vietnam and Cambodia behind. I’ve had such a great time getting to know the two cultures and comparing them to the well known smiling Thai culture.
Before leaving I read a lot of travel blogs that compared the tourism rates in SE Asia. Thailand wins by a long shot. Everyone talks about thai hospitality and their constant smiling go-with-the-flow mentality. Articles about Vietnam talked about how people are constantly ripping you off and trying to sell you something to make a buck.
Just walking down the street a few feet will attract at least four of five vendors shouting “madam you buy something.” And this was a statement, not a question. It got old pretty fast. They would sell everything from bracelets to donuts to fingernail clippers.
If you can look past all of that, Vietnam is a great place. People are just as kind but they do try and make a quick buck when the opportunity presents itself. I realized that Thai people often try and scam us to, but normally I can tell this from the get-go. Where as in Vietnam, the people drew you in with their kindness and then stabbed you in the back (sounds so harsh- I know, but looking back I’m not even saying it as a bad thing. Just something you must be aware of! And they were excellent salesmen.)
Cambodian people on the other hand never tried to scam us once. Prices were consistent and we often found we didn’t even have to haggle the price, because it was already fair. Their biggest selling point is their Tuk tuks. Every two seconds you hear “lady Tuk-Tuk?” And yes we are known as lady in Cambodia and Madam in Vietnam. There Tuk Tuk business is huge! If they get you once, they immediately ask you what you are doing tomorrow in hopes that they can be your own personal driver for your visit. And you need a Tuk Tuk friend in Cambodia. If they can get you and you hire them for the temples they drive you around the entire day and wait on you the entire day.
We hired a man who drove a green seated Tuk Tuk (he picked us up form the bus station and his meek soft spoken mannerisms made him a winner! When picking a Tuk Tuk you just gotta go with your gut.)
We decide we wanted to see sunrise and he was there right on time— 5am! Without us even asking the hotel packed us breakfast (nice gesture, but it was just slices of wonder bread type bread and jam…) and we were off to start a long day of sweating, temple pictures and bumpy roads.
Sunrise was amazing, but was the opposite of peaceful. Since Angkor wat is quite impressive, so since its amazing we watched the sunrise with probably close to 500 other tourists. But it really didn’t seem that bad.
Angkor wat is the biggest and most impressive temple on the temple grounds.
It was built in the 12th century and covers a span of 3k, taking 38 years to build with a labor of over 40,000 workers. To grasp the hugeness, you have to actually walk up and all around the Temple. But first you watch the sunrise from the other side of the two lakes that are in front of the temple. The sun creates a beautiful reflection in the water. The strange thing about this perspective is that the temple look 2D/flat. It looks like a life-size post card.
After watching the sunrise and getting some bad over priced coffee and eating white bread with strawberry jam, we were far from properly prepared for the long hot day. But, we persevered anyway.
One of the craziest things about all the temples is that they let you walk all over them. I can’t believe that they aren’t closed completely to tourists for preservation purposes. But no, we get to walk, climb and touch everything. After spending about an hour at Angkor wat we head to the parking lot to find our driver. The lot is filled with Tuk Tuks who have set up shop for the day. It’s like a Cambodian style tailgate. They bring hammocks and hang them from one Tuk Tuk to the other, they had coolers and food. They spend the day outside chatting, napping and eating.
We think there is no way we will find our driver in the midst of all these people, but every time without fail he spots us and calls us over.
This area has millions of temples and it is impossible to see all of them in one day. We read our guidebook beforehand and decided on a few we wanted to see. They all started looking a little bit the same around 10am and we had now been there for five hours. We stopped for some sugary drinks to give us a final push for the last 2 hours.
I snapped so many pictures and I now cant even remember why for most of them. I kept having to remind myself about how old all theses temples were—some date back to the 900s. All having slightly different history and story. A few are Hindu, but most are Buddhist. We saw the temple from the movie the tomb raider, but we didn’t even realize it until that night. It started getting really hot about 8am.
The final temple was my favorite. We had to pay extra to see it because it was 40k away. I wasn’t really thinking and ks and miles still confuse me. This temple was SO far away and felt even further since we were bouncing around in a Tuk Tuk.
But when we did arrive it was well worth it. The grounds are extremely well kept and you can tell a lot of money has gone into the restoration and preservation of this temple. Being that it is so far away, there were a lot less people there which was nice. We tried our best to stay as long as possible admiring the intricately carved stones, but by now it was noon and we were beyond tired and the white bread and jam wasn’t cutting it anymore.
Our driver dropped us off at an Austrian/Khmer food restaurant that had a write up saying — “come hungry, big portions and cheap beer.” Sounded like a winner to us. It was really good! We got our fix of red meat and parsley roasted potatoes and cold Angkor draft beer. It was just about 2pm and our day came to a close!
Mom asked me if Angkor wat lived up to expectations. I think it did, but there were so many things that surprised me about these two weeks of traveling and maybe just because they were so unexpected that is why they rank higher up on the amazing list in my book. Here’s the order: 1. Killing fields 2. Vietnamese coffee 3. Halong bay 4. Angkor Wat 5. Cu chi tunnels
There’s the list and yes Vietnamese coffee is that good! I’m headed down to the south of thailand now to go diving. The island is called koh Tao and is often everyone’s favorite place in all of SE Asia. I can’t wait! Beach days and learning how to scuba dive will make leaving Cambodia behind much easier.

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