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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Cambodia (Day 29) Aspara Traditions

Wings up ✈️ Cambodia bound! Said our goodbyes to lovely Laos as it was time to step into high gear for adventures in 💯 Bucket List Siem Reap ✔️Travel Dream Destination to see 🙏 Angkor Wat.

No Crowds Angkor Itinerary:
Day 1: Arrival, Aspara Dinner Show
Day 2: Phnom Bakheng (sunrise), Bayon, Angkor Thom
Day 3: Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Pean, Preah Khan (Grand Circuit counterclockwise)
Day 4: Beng Melea, Koh Ker
Day 5: Banteay Srei, Phnom Kulen, Banteay Samre
Day 6: Tonle Sap Lake, Kompong Phluk

Day 7: Departure

Cambodia. Yes, that's right! WE MADE IT TO CAMBODIA!! Did you have any doubts? A short 2-hour flight and easy transit across the border. Checked into our accommodation for the duration of our stay in Siem Reap. We were there to see one of the Wonders of the World - Angkor Wat, so stayed put in one accommodation.

Where to begin? Well, we had an uneventful transfer from My Dream Boutique to the airport where per our usual we were earlier than necessary, but able to totally relax. I'm amused that we left Luang Prabang, Laos to Siem Reap, Cambodia via Vietnam Airlines. 

If you recall, we had gotten e-Visa ($36 each) online at the website ahead of time without any problems. I had 2 copies each printed and put into our passports. The agent checked and kept one and stamped our passports.  Hello, Cambodia! Since we were at this point no longer carry-on only *hangs head*, we had to retrieve our luggage which was easily done. Then, we headed out hoping that our driver would be there to meet us. 

Now, I had spent an insane amount of time crafting our itinerary myself for seeing the temples. It was my #1 concern that we avoid crowds to best enjoy the sights. Once I had the itinerary planned, I looked for someone to drive/guide us. Using the Tripadvisor travel forum, I found a couple recommended ones and made some inquiries. The most responsive and easiest to communicate with was Sam Tuk Tuk. Over two months, we worked out the full itinerary and ended up with plans for our 7 days in Siem Reap. We had arranged for a driver to pick us up from the airport.  Do you think our driver was there waiting?

Yes, he was there. The hotel offered a complimentary pick-up, but I wanted to get a warm fuzzy feeling out the gate with Sam Tuk Tuk. After all, we had put all our eggs in one basket. This would be a good first indicator that arrangements would proceed forward. Sam couldn't greet us himself, but he had sent the driver. We piled into the vehicle and off we went getting our first taste of Cambodia.  It's definitely busier and more developed here than in Luang Prabang.  Wow, there are a LOT of hotels. We had indicated that we wanted to stop at the Angkor ticket office to get our Angkor passes before going to the hotel, so that we would not be delayed in the morning start.

I was still hemming and hawing over 3 ($62) or 7 day ($72) pass. For the difference of $10, I thought that would give us more options for spreading things out and avoiding those infamous crowds. Sam had been pretty confident about us just getting the 3-day pass. As we walked up with the driver to the ticket window, I was talking to Rob about just going ahead with the 7-day pass. You know, just in case. Well, the driver overheard and he too was strongly insisting that we get the 3-day pass. Okay, okay, fine. I'll begrudgingly go along. We got the 3-day pass.  You know what? They were right. We had a week seeing so much each day and for how the pass works (it doesn't cover all the temples), the 3 days was perfect. By the way, under-12 years old don't need a pass. Per the advice of the travel forum, I did bring copies of the girls' passports to show proof of age, mostly for the 10 year old. Too bad for the kids not getting passes. I'm cherishing my memento!

Anyways, Angkor passes out of the way - we headed to our accommodations at Angkor Victoria Hotel. Well, this is rather fancy - oh, la la. It's gorgeous!

We got two pool-view connecting rooms (one with a king size bed and one with two twin beds) and it was PERFECT!

Our first night, we got an introduction to Cambodian culture & food with a buffet dinner and Aspara traditional dance show. This was pre-arranged with Sam. I was kind of meh about it when I saw the time of 6:30 - 8:30 and knew we would be getting up pre-dawn the next morning. But, I put away my piss-poor let's-just-eat-at-the-hotel attitude and embraced why we were here. Relax, go with the flow, and ENJOY the experiences. We went down to the lobby at the appointed time and found a tuk-tuk driver waiting for us. Less than 2 minutes later, we arrived. Hmmm, we could've walked here. Well, maybe not until we got our bearings - hahahaha. Rob insists he could have found it. I beg to differ. We entered and gave them our name.  They were expecting us and took us very close to the stage. We ordered some drinks - yeah, I was getting my first Cambodian beer and I was excited!

Okay, part of my initial reluctance might have been due to some reviews I read online, but I quickly put those aside with one pass-thru at the buffet.  This was amazing stuff!! I'm so glad the girls are a little older now and can pretty much fend for themselves, especially when it comes to food (yeah, apple doesn't fall far from the tree).  We overloaded our plates and practically ran back to the table to dig in. The food was delicious! And there was so much variety. It's one price for the buffet and show $12 per person (drinks were extra), but seriously, I would have come back and paid just to eat (I wish we had done so).

Then, the show started. The kids LOVED it. The beautiful outfits, the music, the dancing.

It was a good exposure to Aspara culture. There was, however, one scene (skit?) that went on for a very long time. It was between a man trying to win the affection of a woman. It went on and on. In slow motion. Very slow motion. Whew, they finally went off into the sunset happily ever after. Rob and I started to consider leaving before the end of the show. We had eaten until our bellies filled and had seen quite a bit of the show. Plus, we had a pre-sunrise start for the next morning. We were also a little worried about trying to leave at the same time as the whole audience. But, those two kids were so into the show. With a little coaxing, we planned our exit during a break between scenes. 

Once outside, we found ourselves far outnumbered by approaching tuk-tuk drivers all vying for us at the same time. Rob said to all of them, "I only need one." - hahahaha. Good luck with that, so glad he's in charge and we just followed him as he pointed to one and we started walking. 

We somehow scored...wait for it... the DISCO tuk-tuk!! OH MY GAWD!! Yep, knew then and there we were going to LOVE Cambodia.

This driver should have started with "I HAVE A DISCO TUK TUK". He would win EVERY time. 

When we pulled up to the hotel, the hotel staff appeared to be less than amused - hahahaha. 

Off to bed as we had a 4:45am (I know, right?!) meet time with our pre-arranged driver in the morning. We were going to kick things off seeing the sunrise at one of the Angkor temples that is at the top of a hill. Thank goodness, the hotel would pack us breakfast boxes. I hoped it included coffee. Goodnight from Cambodia.

Up Next: Sunrise Alternative, Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat
Without Any Crowds

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