Phnom Penh and Siem Reap

(Ta Phrom)

Once again, I am reminded how fortunate I am to live in this region of the world. Vietnam just celebrated two back-to-back holidays (Reunification/Liberation Day on April 30th, followed by International Labor Day on May 3rd), providing a 4-day window to travel.

(buying fruit in the market)

As such, I jumped on the opportunity and booked a flight to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia. One of my friends from Shawnee Mission East High School, Kyle Latinis, is now Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Cambodia! Talk about an impressive position, Kyle oversees the College of Arts and Humanities, College of Education, College of Law, College of Management, College of Sciences and Technology and the College of Social Sciences. Needless to say, I was beaming with pride and joy after reuniting with Kyle twenty-three years post graduation!

(Amy & Kyle)

Kyle graciously met us at the airport (I was traveling with one of my friends, Roger, who also worked with me in Malawi), arranged a private tuk-tuk and driver for the day, and accompanied us on an all-day city tour of Phnom Penh.

(Monk at the top of Chisor)

I immediately fell in love with Phnom Penh! The city itself sits upon the banks of the mighty Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers, and is rich in history. Our hotel offered beautiful views of the royal palace and the National Museum – which contains the world’s finest selection of Khmer sculptures, and was centrally located to all the major highlights. My favorite stop was the Russian Market, where we wound our way to the heart of the food stalls in order to sample a variety of local cuisine. Absolutely delicious!

(Side alley in Phnom Penh)

Yet, the real beauty of Phnom Penh was its personal charm. The streets were lined with trendy boutiques, outdoor cafés, street vendors, and a beautiful blend of old and new architecture. But what struck me the most was its laid-back vibe, with people (tourists and locals alike) lining the streets, admiring the scenery and open space, and chilling with friends and family. I could easily see myself living there!

(Little girl on top of the ruins in Chisor)

On Saturday morning, six of us went on motorbike approximately 60 kms outside of Phnom Penh to explore one of Kyle’s archeological sites, Chisor – a 10th to 11th century temple site. The entire trip was exquisite, from the gorgeous scenery along the way, to stopping on the side of the road to buy fruits and drinks, to absorbing the historical significance of the ancient ruins. And I couldn’t have asked for a better guide.

(On the way to Chisor)

Kyle’s knowledge and breadth of life experiences is astonishing. As he was explaining the significance of the carvings, the architectural layout of the temple, and the symbolism of the statues, the “professor” in him came shining through. Beaming with respect and awe, I attempted to be a good student and to soak up everything that he had to say.


Finally, on our way to the airport we were able to briefly meet Swee Chiang and Mina, Kyle’s wife and daughter respectively. They were both so lovely! I loved seeing Kyle so happy and in his element. Granted, according to Kyle, “you’re diminishing my reprobate lost soul gone tropo image I have worked two decades on creating. I can’t afford to have anyone back in the States think I have any kind of normalcy to life.” Don’t worry, Kyle…your life is anything but normal ☺

(Kyle with Chisor at the top of the hill in the background)

(On top of Chisor)

(Lunch in the market @ Angkor Wat)

Now on to Siem Reap! Similar to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap is a charming, charismatic city – much more touristy and developed than I had anticipated, but still wonderful. The streets are paved with one five-star hotel after another, with spas, upscale shopping centers and restaurants. But it also has quaint little guesthouses, cool markets, and local eateries off the beaten path. Considering the fact that there’s a direct flight from Hanoi to Siem Reap, I’ll definitely return just to get away for the weekend!

(Ta Phrom – Unlike other temples at Angkor, Ta Prohm has been left as it was found, preserved as an example of what a tropical forest will do to an architectural monument when the protective hands of humans are withdrawn. Ta Prohm’s walls, roofs, chambers and courtyards have been sufficiently repaired to stop further deterioration and the inner sanctuary has been cleared of bushes and thick undergrowth. But the temple itself has been left in the stranglehold of trees. Having planted themselves centuries ago, the tree’s serpentine roots pry apart the ancient stones and their immense trunks straddle the once bustling Buddhist temple. Built in the later part of the 12th century by Jayavarman VII, Ta Prohm is the terrestrial counterpart of the star Eta Draconis the Draco constellation.)

But the real reason why one would fly to Siem Reap is to see the many wonders of Angkor Wat!

(Amy in Ta Phrom)

Unlike Kyle’s penchant to remember everything about each temple, I am more akin to a human sieve, forgetting the name of the previous temple by the time I arrive at the next. However, that didn’t diminish my fascination and excitement of ancient Angkor!

(Sunset on Phnom Bakheng)

Angkor’s grandeur is difficult to fathom. It’s spread over an area approximately 400 square kilometers, thus it’s virtually impossible to see Angkor in its entirety in one visit (or in a lifetime, for that matter). As a result, most people hire a tuk-tuk and driver for the day (although I’d love to return and rent mountain bikes) and are driven from one temple to the next.

(Not sure)


Immediately upon our entrance into the UNESCO World Heritage Site, we drove directly to Angkor Wat. Without a doubt, this is the most breathtaking monument I have ever seen (much more impressive than Tikal and Machu Pichu, in my opinion).


Built during the early years of the 12th century by Suryavaram II, Angkor Wat honors the Hindu god Vishnu and is a symbolic representation of Hindu cosmology. Consisting of an enormous temple symbolizing the mythic Mt. Meru, its five inter-nested rectangular walls and moats represent chains of mountains and the ocean.

(Angkor Thom and Bayan)

We happened to be in Angkor Wat the same day as the King! At first, I thought that was pretty cool…but in reality, it translated into hoards of people, heightened security, and endless roadblocks! Not exactly an ideal scenario for your first visit to the ancient ruins!

(Roger and Jutta)

(Jutta inside Angkor Wat)

However, in the day and a half that I was there, I managed to see the following temples (and then some):

Angkor Wat
Ta Phrom
Banteay Kdei
Phnom Bakheng
Kbal Spean
Banteay Srei
Pre Rup Temple
Angkor Thom

By in large, the holiday weekend was a phenomenal success! I fell in love with Cambodia and will definitely return – hopefully with frequency!


On the home front, Melanie is literally en route to Vietnam. I’m heading to the airport in a few hours to meet her! Karin is still here, and Wayne is arriving on Tuesday! Talk about an Emory Reunion! Can’t wait to catch up with everyone.



Sending much love to all,

3 comments to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap

  • Wow….
    I found your site through a Foreign Service link and just spent the last 2+hours enthralled in your photography. You have a wonderful eye, skill and have visited amazing areas of the world. We too were in Ta Prohm in 2007, while awaiting the adoption of our daughter. Our last hoorah, shall we say. The people and temples of Cambodia are magical.

    Though we may not experience all that you have, we hope to make a dent. My husband is working for the State Dept, and we hope to be posted overseas within the next year.

    Happy Travels~ Denise

  • sue

    Hi Amy, It is always a pleasure to receive pictorial story of your life in a magnificent country. I love that you can see and share the beauty of a country where most of us can only imagine devastation. You see with the eyes of God because he sees the beauty in all he creates.

    Thank you for sharing this with me

    Love ya

  • Rafael

    Hi Amy!
    wonderful pictures and exotic places. It is always good to read about your work and your experiences.
    Un abrazo

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