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The Good Samaritan and the Temples of Siem Reap

The thing with the bad experience is, it tends to fade out the good. It doesn’t matter if you do so much for a person, you make one mistake you’d be carrying the stigma if not for life at least for a very long time. It’s kind of like looking at a clean white sheet with a glaring stain on the bottom. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a teensy weensy spot, when it’s there it’s not something you would be able to ignore. This summarizes the feelings I have for Ho Chi Minh, a city whose beauty is disfigured by some scammers who prey on tourists; I’m one of those ill-fated tourists. Getting ripped off twice, my spirit was justifiably crushed, a state that I carried all the way to my next destination. What I didn’t know is that something good was waiting for me in a temple run in Siem Reap, Cambodia.






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I told Vinith—the tour guide I contacted— I fell victim to two scamming incidents in Ho Chi Minh, significantly hurting my budget. It means I could only afford to hire him for a day instead of two days as we initially planned.

Temple Run in Siem Reap

The temple run in Siem Reap is usually done by hiring a tuktuk. A tuktuk tour will set you back at USD 15 (PHP 691) per day. Vin’s rate is USD 30 for a whole day tour. In Philippine peso, it’s around 1,500, steep for someone who is on a budget like me. I chose to hire him due to the recommendation of my friend, Potpot (Travel Trilogy).

Potpot does not recommend something or someone without basis; he is rather finicky and quite an authority when it comes to traveling. If you have a friend you respect and trust on some matters wouldn’t you find it worth looking into? And so looking into is what I did and I liked what I found, although the notion that my friend might just be overly excited did come to mind. Turns out Potpot wasn’t over hyping things, Vin is indeed worth hiring. [Read: Travel Bug Series 5 – Potpot Pinili]

There are many temples in Siem Reap that it’s impossible to cover them all in a day, hence, there’s an option to avail of a 2-day and 3-day passes. A one-day pass is worth USD 20 (PHP 940), but if you avail of the 3-day pass it’s only USD 40 (PHP 1,881). I was only exploring the temples for a day so I got the 1-day pass. Vin picked me up from my hostel at 7 in the morning. He is of a medium build, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a little bit of a mustache and wears spectacles. [Read: Luxury Concept Hostel]

Vin spoke with an accent but unlike most Cambodians I encountered, I was able to understand what he was saying at least 90% of the time. I saw one box of bottled waters in the backseat and was touched to realize he brought them for me. Vin makes a living from being a tour guide and from his water refilling station.

Angkor Wat

Upon securing my pass, we started walking inside the great Angkor Wat. As we roamed inside the complex, Vin passed on his knowledge of the history and religious relevance of the temple. Angkor Wat, which means City Temple in English, is considered an alternate universe. It’s a religious monument that took 37 years to build (1113-1150) under the command of King Suryavarman II. It was created to honor one of the Hindu trinity gods, Vishnu or the preserver (the other two gods are Brahma, the creator and Shiva, the destroyer).

By the entrance of the Angkor Wat, you will walk through a bridge. According to Vin this bridge represents the back of Nāga, a water deity that looks like a snake.

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Vin pointed me to an infrastructure that was once a library. I went inside to inspect it and to take some photos. Rows of columns are used to support the building. Surprisingly, not many people came in to check it out so I was able to have it all to myself for a few minutes.

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When I returned to Vin, he asked me if I wanted to try the juice from the palm tree. I looked up to a palm tree and said,

“Really? It has juice?”

Curious, I obliged and approached these two women who were carrying some bamboo canisters. Vin ordered me a cup and I was excited to taste it. It was more sour than sweet and has this indistinguishable flavor that is unlike anything I’ve tasted before. Quite refreshing I must say and definitely worth a try.

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We continued our way inside the temple to explore more. The walls are adorned by intricate bas-relief that narrates some tales from the Hindu mythology. People are forbidden to touch these carvings because the acid from the perspiration can fade the images.

I couldn’t help but be in awe as I inspected these bas-reliefs. Imagine hundred or thousands of people working there, carving these images in unison, the effort that it took, the time that they spent, to me it is simply mind-blowing.

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The story I was most fascinated of is the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. It speaks of the battle between the gods and the demons who used a snake (Vasuki) as a churning rope. In Siem Reap, you will notice monuments that represent this story in some places. It looks like two groups of people having a tug of war. To tell which group is the demons and which group is the gods, pay attention to their faces. The demons look snarly and ugly.

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Out of all the carvings that I spotted inside the temple, I was particularly mesmerized by the Aspara, a celestial nymph, which according to Vin is like the Hindu’s version of an angel. Aspara is one of the most common Hindu symbols that you can see in many establishments (or souvenirs) in Cambodia.

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The Angkor Wat tour ends in a temple called Stairway to Heaven. When I saw the long line of people waiting for their turn to climb, I decided to pass.

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When you go to Angkor Wat, manage your expectations and maybe, give up all hopes to photograph it without some tourists getting in the way. Everywhere I turned there are people; a group of senior citizens from Japan who rented an entire a bus, a group of kids who are obviously on their field trip, some couples taking selfies, some parents with their babies in tow, and some western backpackers dressed in elephant or alibaba pants.

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Nevertheless, walking through the Angkor Wat is a surreal experience. It was amazing to be in a place that years ago, I could only peruse through a photograph on a book.

Angkor Thom

Admittedly, the only temple I knew in Siem Reap before this trip is the Angkor Wat. On this trip I learned about the other temples like Bayon. It can be found in a different complex called, Angkor Thom.

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Angkor Thom (Great City) was built under King Jayavarman VII, intended to become the capital of his empire. This temple is famous for its state temple, Bayon.

Bayon

The most distinctive feature of Bayon is the carved faces of a man with eyes closed and a slight smile on its lips. Some scholars say that its Buddha, others argue that it’s King Jayavarman VII himself. The most predominant religions in Cambodia are Hindu and Buddhism, hence the integration of some Buddhist symbolism in Hindu temples.

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Ta Prohm

The most memorable temple for me is Ta Prohm more popularly known to the tourists as Tomb Raider, as it was one of the settings of the said movie. Ta Prohm, also founded by King Jayavarman VII, was built to stand as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. The temples here have the idiosyncratic feature of roots of trees jutting from the crevices of the temple. These trees are colossal with equally massive roots, coiled around the temples’ edifice.

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It was such a magnificent sight, how the trees have managed to latch themselves to the infrastructure that I sat there wondering who is the real intruder, is it the trees or the temple?

Roluos Group

Upon Potpot’s advice, I asked Vin to take me to the Roluos group. It’s an archaeological site in a small village and with three major temples, Bakong, Preah Ko, and Lolei. Roluous is the site of the ancient city called, Hariharalaya.

Bakong

Bakong is the first temple mountain in Angkor made of sandstone built under the jurisdiction of King Indravarman I.

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Preah Ko

Preah Ko, which translates to Sacred Bull in English, is the first temple of Hariharalaya city. It has three statues made of sandstone that represent the mount of Shiva, a white bull named, Nandi. You can see a monument of the sacred bull in this temple.

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temple run in siem reap

Lolei

King Yasovarman I built Lolei to honor his ancestors. It has four sanctuary towers made of bricks.

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Vin drove me back to the hostel at around 4 in the afternoon after the tour. As I was preparing to pay him for his service he waved me off and said that I should consider it as his help for me and a form of sympathy for the scamming incidents that I suffered in Ho Chi Minh. I have money to pay him for that one day of tour, but he didn’t want to accept my payment. [Read: The Fun and Scam of the Siklo Tour in Ho Chi Minh]

I was very moved by his kindness I had to suppress the urge to bawl like a kid. The emotional trauma that I experienced in Vietnam lingered in my heart for days, hence, to receive this kindness from a stranger was not something that I was expecting at all.

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For his kindness alone I would recommend Vinith to anyone in need of a tour guide in Siem Reap. More than that, Vin is worth every penny because he possesses vast knowledge of the history, culture, and religions of Cambodia. He would help you gain insight and genuine appreciation of this beautiful country. He is an honest man, considerate, and generous.


For an amazing temple run in Siem Reap, hire Vin. You may contact him through his Facebook page, Traveling to Cambodia? Angkor Wat tours here. 

 

 

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51 Comments

  • Reply
    Zineb
    December 30, 2017 at 1:13 PM

    Vin looks like an incredible guide! They should be all like him.
    Btw, we are absolutely in love with this article! It’s so clear and make us super curious about Cambodia that it’s a country we would like to visit since many years.
    Thanks 🙂

  • Reply
    Kevin Nightingale
    June 8, 2017 at 7:07 PM

    Great post. I’m heading to Cambodia in September and I can’t wait to visit Angkor Wat. I’ve dreamed of going since I was a child. Your post has got me really excited about going and Vin sounds like a great guide.

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      June 9, 2017 at 2:17 PM

      I hope you get him as your guide. I promise he is worth it.

  • Reply
    James
    April 3, 2017 at 2:56 PM

    Hey Marjorie,
    South East Asia is filled with tons of tourist scams. Sorry to hear that you were a victim to these in Vietnam. Cambodia has just as many scams if not more. Did you visit the floating village? Tons of shaddyness going on out there.
    Aside from the scams there’s tons of amazing, honest, hard working folks such as Vin. I’ve been to Angkor Wat a few times and am always surprised by the contrast of people trying to get a buck from tourists and those on the other spectrum, the gentle-hearted, meek types.
    Thanks again,
    James

  • Reply
    Voyager
    May 7, 2016 at 2:04 PM

    What a wonderful post which captures the magnificence of the temples of Cambodia. Vin seems to be a real treasure. Would definitely look to hiring him when we get there.

  • Reply
    Arni
    April 26, 2016 at 9:03 AM

    What a beautiful and touching post. It’s amazing to find kindness in the most surprising and unexpected way. It’s like God’s sudden embrace after a sad and disappointing experience.

  • Reply
    Rachel Arandilla
    April 22, 2016 at 9:46 AM

    It’s great you got to see Cambodia. I love that place–are you going to Phnom Penh too? Food, beers and everything here is pretty cheap! I hope you got to try the fried insects too!

  • Reply
    Sonnie
    April 22, 2016 at 1:24 AM

    Hi Marge,

    What happened in Vietnam? I’m looking for a link, apparently, it seems you have not written (yet?) about it.

    Anyway, Cambodia seems to have a rich culture, I would love to visit that place one day. Too bad, if not for politics, Cambodia could have been in better position today.

  • Reply
    AIKA LORAINE
    April 22, 2016 at 1:15 AM

    I remember Patricia when I am reading this blog post. she is one of the speakers in a BDJ event I attended. Anyway,I am curious what happened to you (scam). your photos made me feel like travelling in cambodia. oh, how i love to see angkor wat. 🙂

  • Reply
    Bernard Tan
    April 21, 2016 at 10:46 AM

    Awesome post! I am heading to Cambodia this coming July again and would be going to the Angkor Wat!

  • Reply
    Cheryle
    April 21, 2016 at 7:08 AM

    Wow, what an adventure (with Vin)! Your amazing photos make me want to go to Cambodia. And I will be visiting Angkor Wat first! Enjoy the best of Cambodia, Marj!

  • Reply
    Pete Zafra
    April 20, 2016 at 8:57 PM

    I really love your pictures. They sure are beautiful. It’s amazing how rich in history these sites are. Makes me want to visit and explore these places myself.

    Vin sure sounds awesome. He’d be happy to see and read this post. It’s good that you were able to meet someone of that type. Sure made all the bad and negative things fall into the shadow. Sounds like you had a great trip. Thanks for sharing his services with us.

  • Reply
    Eunis
    April 20, 2016 at 3:24 PM

    A teary eyed while reading what your tour guide did for you. I really do believed that unexpected kindness is always the touching ones. And it only means that you really have a good heart that’s why you are being blessed by that. On the other side, I wan’t to try that Palm Tree drink badly. Cambodia will definitely be in my bucket list. 😀 I would also love to experience the feeling in being in that temple. You are stunning in your photo’s btw.

  • Reply
    Johna
    April 20, 2016 at 3:02 PM

    Wow your photos look so amazing! I’ve always wanted to go to Cambodia, the temples just look so beautiful and picturesque 🙂

  • Reply
    Dominic Barrios
    April 20, 2016 at 1:36 PM

    I enjoyed reading your stories. Surely, that tourist guide, Vin, was an angel to give you that awesome gift of touring you with no charge.

    Angkor Wat is one of the places to go to in my travel bucket list. I’ve only seen it via movie films and photos from friends’ vacation. Reading your post made me want to go to that place more hopefully soon.

    Thanks for the referrals

  • Reply
    Berlin
    April 20, 2016 at 9:57 AM

    I love reading travel journals and blogs. Makes me experience the place somehow and gives me warning on what to do and not to. I still dream of conquering Cambodia someday. Not in the near future I know as I still nurse my somewhat new born baby. But I will be there, I know. In the meantime, I will bookmark this and reread it again should the time comes —

  • Reply
    Sally
    April 20, 2016 at 7:38 AM

    A great post, I really enjoyed reading about your experience as I went there in 2013 and you forget so easily! That is very thoughtful that man gave you the whole day for free, what goes around comes around 🙂

  • Reply
    Airina April Bernabe Desuyo
    April 20, 2016 at 5:32 AM

    I will definitely consider Vin if I go to Cambodia; but I would have to split the bill with many people; his professional fee is quite a lot! If you don’t mind me asking, what happened in your Couchsurfing experience in Vietnam and the rip-offs in Ho Chi Minh? Thanks!

    airinaapril.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    sam
    April 20, 2016 at 3:13 AM

    if there’s a place i’d gladly return to, it’s siem reap. i really love the angkor wat as much as i like old things! it tells a great story!

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 20, 2016 at 7:52 AM

      I agree with you Sam. Angkor Wat is very rich in history.

  • Reply
    anna
    April 20, 2016 at 2:01 AM

    Thanks for the comprehensive review of the temples in Siem Reap. Its been years since I was last there so reading this was a like a walk down memory lane.

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 20, 2016 at 7:53 AM

      You’re welcome Anna. 🙂

  • Reply
    Riley
    April 19, 2016 at 11:44 PM

    This looks like it was just incredible. Truly. I found myself murmuring “oh my gooood” in admiration many times while reading this. I must look into this more and perhaps take a trip myself.

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 20, 2016 at 7:54 AM

      You will love Angkor Wat Riley, hope you can go and see it for yourself. 🙂

  • Reply
    Adina M
    April 19, 2016 at 11:19 PM

    Your photos for this post are so gorgeous and dreaming. Makes me want to travel. Cambodia is definitely on my bucket list. Hope to make it to that area of the world soon!

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 20, 2016 at 7:54 AM

      Thank you Adina! 🙂

  • Reply
    Kat
    April 19, 2016 at 8:06 AM

    I felt tears in my eyes reading what your tour guide did for you. Indeed, unexpected kindness is always the most touching.

    Your photos of these temples in Siem Reap is just awe inspiring. I particularly like the bas-relief and carvings featuring Hindu mythology tales. Even today, it amazes me how people from all over the world have different spiritual beliefs.

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 20, 2016 at 7:55 AM

      The bas-relief is mind-blowing. It was quite an experience to inspect them up close.

  • Reply
    Darlene
    April 19, 2016 at 7:06 AM

    Lucky that you met Vin after your Vietnam disaster! Yeah he’s definitely a good Samaritan. I love the Apsaras too and fascinated how they have different faces and poses in different temples too. 🙂

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 19, 2016 at 7:15 AM

      Vin is such a life-saver. I will never forget his kindness and I hope more people would get him as their tour guide.

  • Reply
    Ivan
    April 19, 2016 at 4:30 AM

    Hi, Marge. So sorry to hear about that unfortunate incident but I’m glad you did not let it spoil your trip. Nevertheless, I’m sure you felt bad and would’ve enjoyed your adventure more if that didn’t happen. Great also that you chose to still see the good in other people and trusted your guide.

    Your photos are amazing, I should put Cambodia in my bucket list.

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 19, 2016 at 7:14 AM

      Back then I was, of course, feeling disheartened. But when I look back now, I am not grateful that it did happen because it taught me a lot of things. Also, I have now great stories to tell to people haha…

  • Reply
    Jen
    April 19, 2016 at 1:51 AM

    Just wow! I’ve never been to any other countries before. You’re so lucky that you have the time to travel and go to stunning places like this one. I’d like to explore other places and culture just like you. Anyhoo, I’d love to try the juice on that palm tree too! 😀

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 19, 2016 at 7:13 AM

      I didn’t use my vacation leaves for this trip haha…

  • Reply
    Pia Dysangco Villamor
    April 19, 2016 at 1:31 AM

    The temples look amazing!!! I loved how you described each place in detail, it made the post so much more interesting. 🙂 I’m especially interested in Ta Prohm – that will probably be my non-negotiable if ever I do visit Cambodia. I’m sorry you had a couple of unfortunate incidents though but I’m glad it all worked out in the end. 🙂

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 19, 2016 at 7:12 AM

      Thanks Pia. Yes, do visit Ta Prohm. It’s my favorite for a reason. 🙂

  • Reply
    Klaudia
    April 18, 2016 at 9:23 PM

    Oh , wow …. these photos are just breathtaking . I love the carved faces best , so impressing , they seem to be huge . I always wonder , how could people manage to build all these temples and monuments these days without ‘proper tools’ ? When I started reading , I felt so sorry for you about the bad experience , but look how this trip worked out so exciting for you . Stunning post !

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 19, 2016 at 7:10 AM

      According to my guide, they just used stones to carves those sculptures, isn’t that amazing?

  • Reply
    Alison
    April 18, 2016 at 8:04 PM

    This trip was amazing! The pictures gave a great sense of your trip, too. I think I was most intrigued by the fact that you can drink from a palm tree. Never in a million years would I have thought of that before. There were so many tourists around and it really has my interest peaked in going there someday!

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 19, 2016 at 7:09 AM

      I can understand your curiosity because I honestly didn’t know there’s juice from the palm tree.

  • Reply
    Sabine - SofarsoSabine
    April 18, 2016 at 5:34 PM

    It’s often true that negative experience fade out the good. But as what I can see from your article with fresh eyes; it looks really amazing. I love the tree pictures the most. I think the tree is the intruder, but officially nature was first maybe. Although the nature won, that’s showing. What a massive tree. I love your hair color by the way, if I’m allowed to give you a compliment. I would really love to travel there, but mostly to the sculptors of Cambodia, it’s looks so amazing.

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 18, 2016 at 6:02 PM

      My roots were already showing hahaha… But thanks for the compliment Sabine, you’re so sweet.

  • Reply
    Swayam Tiwari
    April 18, 2016 at 3:44 PM

    What an amazing story you have carved out!Just like the stones that have been chiselled into gods by the sculptors of Cambodia, you too have done a great work.Congratulations!Are you planning to come to India?If yes, let us stay in touch and I will be happy to take you around.We have many such wonderful temples here in India

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 18, 2016 at 6:08 PM

      I don’t have plans to go to India yet, but if ever I do I might contact you. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Clair Kelly
    April 18, 2016 at 3:42 PM

    This is an excellent and informative post. I’m so sorry that you were a victim of scamming. That always puts a bad sheen on a holiday. I also agree with you how annoying it is to try photograph such amazing landmarks when it is so full of tourists!!!

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 18, 2016 at 7:17 PM

      Yes, photographing a beautiful place teeming with tourists is challenging and frustrating. I just learn to accept that when I go to a tourist spot, I should expect that there’d be lots of people in there too. That way I’m able to manage my expectations.

  • Reply
    ROBERT LEE
    April 18, 2016 at 3:03 PM

    Marge,

    Looking at the photos, I wish I could have the opportunity to visit and see for myself Angkor Wat. One thing I do not like is the number of tourists there. Nothing that can be done as a lot of people really visit that site.

    Imagine that tree, it is so big and old and it has grown on top of the structure… imagine the history and the mystery surrounding the temple.

    What an experience.

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      April 18, 2016 at 7:18 PM

      Do visit Angkor Wat Robert, you will love it for sure. It is rich with history and it also oh so beautiful.

      • Reply
        ROBERT LEE
        April 20, 2016 at 8:18 AM

        Marge,

        I wish! Also, Angkor Wat reminds me of the tomb raider movie. One of the trilogy was shot there, right?

        • Reply
          Marjorie Gavan
          April 20, 2016 at 9:10 AM

          Yes, Ta Prohm is now known as Tomb Raider because of that movie.

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