Even though our G Adventures tour was meeting in Bangkok, the majority of our 10 day guided trip was to go through Cambodia. Our first stop was Siem Reap to see the absolutely phenomenal Angkor Wat and various other ancient temples. There were many aspects of G Adventures that we absolutely loved - it was the first "semi-guided" tour that I had been on, and I loved the freedom to eat where we wanted to eat/shop where we wanted to shop, but still be able to have some semblance of organization (ie, hit up all the major sights & not have to worry about booking hotels or crossing the border - we actually crossed the Thai/Cambodian border by foot!). The people on the trip were absolutely amazing. We were the only Americans, but there was a good mixture of travelers from Germany, the UK, Canada, and more. I was absolutely amazed at how many of our group members were actually solo travelers! We realized that the traveling culture in other countries is vastly different to the US - it's not uncommon to go by yourself on a 6 month backpacking tour throughout the world. On top of that, G Adventures would often have a relationship with local community groups or families who would serve us the most amazing home cooked meals and the profits made would go to a school or program. It gave us the opportunity to meet some of the people in the area, and of course, the unbelievably cute little kids (she's holding a puppy! How can you resist?!)
Our first night in Siem Reap we got a chance to explore the night markets. Interestingly enough, it was actually extremely similar to the night market on Khao San Road in Bangkok - throughout our trip we would actually notice the exact same souvenirs but with different countries on them hahah. One thing that was really unique, though, was the Mr. Fish foot massage parlours! You literally sit with your feet in a tub filled with tiny fish, and they nibble the dead skin off! I couldn't decide if it was hilarious, gross, unique, or bizarre. As we finished up at the market, we headed over to some of the bars and found the cleverly titled "Angkor What?" bar. Dancing on elevated surfaces may or may not have happened. And of course, as the only sober person in the group, I somehow managed to DGAP in every single photo we took. No shame, no shame.
The next morning, we woke up before sunrise at 4AM in order to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat and see the reflecting pool. To say that the sight was incredible would be an understatement. The details in the architecture were mind blowing, and the reflection in the water just added to it all the more. The photographs speak for themselves:
Believe it or not we actually ran into almost the entire graduating lass of PiKapp while we were there - turns out we really weren't kidding about the whole everybody-in-our-graduating-class-is-going-to-south-east-asia thing. With the sun risen, we went back to our hotel to try and nap before getting up again to actually visit Angkor Wat (the stones are too slippery that early in the morning).
After that, it was temples, temples, and more temples! One of my favorites was the "Tomb Raider Temple" thanks to the movie being filmed there. Our tour guide told us that the French helped restore a lot of the temples but kept this one overrun by plants & vegetation to show the extent that the jungle had taken over. The result is an unbelievable mixture of nature, history, and architecture.
Done with all of the amazing sites in Siem Reap, we headed on down to the Phnom Penh, the capital! We were welcomed with yet another glorious home cooked meal eaten on the ground, Cambodian style. My new favorite? Taro egg rolls.
The majority of our trip to Phnom Penh was actually very sad and a dose of reality. We don't learn much about it in school in America, but the Khmer Rouge's rule of Cambodia absolutely devastated the entire nation. Despite having a population at the time of only ~8million, in just four years, over 2-3 million people were slaughtered for the smallest of reasons. Any signs of education or rebellion could lead to jail time, torture, death, and targeting your family. Even owning a pair of glasses was enough of a justification. We went to S-21, a prison infamous for its activity, and The Killing Fields. Even though they have uncovered over 20,000 mass graves, still now, when the rain comes and washes away the dirt, fragments of bones still come up. I almost didn't believe the tour guide until I saw "white rocks" on the ground beneath me. Learning about the genocide in Cambodia was heartbreaking - there are barely any families in Cambodia who haven't lost a direct relative to the regime. What's even more mind blowing is how recently all of this took place: 1975-1979. I didn't take many photos during my time in Phnom Penh - at times it felt almost disrespectful to do so. But with this tree I was moved - both by the atrocities that we don't even think can happen, and by the respects paid from visitors around the world:Our last stop in Cambodia: The beach community of Sihanoukville! As a Californian - scratch that, as a La Jollan, I have prettyyy high standards for my beaches. But wow, Cambodia, you just blew me away. I had no idea these colors and that warmth could exist in the water! It was the epitome of #vacationproblems when the water at the beach was actually a little too warm for our liking and we needed to get out to cool down. Tough life. Unfortunately I only have photos on my iPhone since I didn't want to ruin my DSLR with the water and sand. Nevertheless, the trusty Camera+ app was able to take some gorgeous views!
Next up? Vietnam!