Our first journey as a family after 6 weeks in India started in Siem Reap. We took an early morning flight connecting through Bangkok and the kids did great on both legs. On arrival in Siem Reap we were greeted with a clean and organized airport where it was quick to obtain our visa on arrival. We took a taxi to the Le Meredien and we liked our driver so much that we decided to hire him for our entire stay here for $90. We figured it’ll be easier to be in an AC car while visiting the temples than Tuktuks in the sweltering heat. That first night we just relaxed in the lounge where the kids had some pizza and we had some great cocktails and after they slept early we had a date night dinner in the Italian restaurant downstairs.
On our first morning in Siem Reap (named for the city’s Victory over Thailand), we woke up comfortably and we had a sumptuous breakfast including local dishes. For our first trip to Angkor Wat we decided to get a babysitter to watch the kids while we covered the more strenuous temples. We got dropped off first at the Angkor Thom complex starting at the famous Bayon temple. Angkor Wat (or temple city) is filled with the legends of Ramayan, Mahabharata and Buddha and went back and forth between Buddhism and Hinduism. Bayon was our favorite temple with its face covered edifices and different levels. After Bayon we visited the nearby Baphuon, another important temple in the complex with a grand walkway to it and a terrace at the top. We were glad we left the kids as there was a lot of climbing with very high steps and extreme heat. We also explored the several Buddha statues, Elephant and Lepper King terrace, Phimeanakas and a detour to Prah Palilay as Anjali and I got lost in the magic of the jungle. After 2 hours of strolling we were tired and stopped for a local Cambodian lunch with shrimp noodles and lemongrass chicken with Angkor beer. The short hiatus energized us to go see the grand Angkor Wat temple. Right from entering the moat, the temple is majestic and as you enter the west gate a long walkway leads to the main temple. The reflection of the temple in the pond nearby is a photographers dream! Climbing to the top of the temple we got a fantastic view into the Khmer empire among the forest that was built in the 12th century. That afternoon we decided to take it chill and we relaxed in the pool with the kids. We ventured out to Pub Street at night and ate a fantastic dinner that Ayaan really enjoyed at nearby Khmer Kitchen. Siem Reap is a fascinating little city that is well planned along the river and is extremely cheap with $6 massages and 50c beers.
The second morning, we took the kids and drove 45 mins to Kampong Phluk – one of four floating villages in South East Asia’s largest lake. We took a traditional boat out for 2 hours that took us to the amazing floating village comprised of houses, school, hospitals, temples, a church and restaurants where 600 people live. The kids did very well and were fascinated by seeing crocodiles, snakes and rabbitd all of which the locals eat and makes goods of. They also enjoyed seeing the mangroves growing in the lake. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a great place for lunch that our driver Sophian recommended where we sat is a private hut and our table was essentially a large swing in the gardens. The food as always was delicious and Ayaan particularly excited that he got sticky rice with mangoes (something he tried to order on the flight in but they didn’t have). The kids napped well after lunch while I had a foot massage and when they awoke we were off to the main Angkor Wat temple again to watch the sunset. Although not extraordinary (it’s better for sunrise but we were too lazy), the kids enjoyed their first visit to the temple and saw some monkeys as well. We once again ended the day with dinner at a Pub Street restaurant called Monsoon and walked the Night Market as well (that had $1 massages!). At night we had a little adventure as we sat in the hotel bar downstairs while the kids slept upstairs only to be called by the staff to let us know that Ayaan has escaped to the lobby!
On our final day, we visited the temples with the kids again. We first visited Preah Khan which worked out great with kids as they were able to walk the entire temple themselves, exploring it holding hands and posing for cute pictures. It wasn’t very crowded which worked well and it was quite an experience strolling through the long corridors with historic pillars and rubble. Ariana was happily singing songs while walking back through the jungle while Ayaan was busy collecting sticks and leaves. Our last stop at the temples was at the famous Ta Prohm temple made famous in the Tomb raider with many of its temples devoured by overgrown trees. It was an impressive site but it was too crowded with Chinese tour groups all of whom for some reason wanted to take pictures with our kids (it got creepy soon). We came to back to room service for lunch and after the nap took off for our short flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. Cambodia has been very kid friendly with amazing food, cheap, and We leave wondering why Angkor Wat is not a wonder of the world.
After a couple of weeks break in India that included a trip to Delhi, Anjali and I set off on our much anticipated trip to Jordan without the kids. It was our longest time away from the kids (last December we escaped to Bangkok for a couple of nights). So thankful to our parents for taking care of Ayaan and Ariana for 5 nights! Jordan is the 50th country that I have visited which is a personal milestone I’ve been awaiting. I’m enamoured with Middle Eastern Arabic countries with the culture, architecture, food and shisha having been to a few including Egypt, Zanzibar, Turkey, Dubai etc. The fact that Jordan is my 50th is just ideal.
After a movie-filled flight through Muscat, we landed in Amman around midnight. Immigration was seamless and since we traveled without kids we had no checked bags! 45 mins after landing we arrived at the W Amman, a swanking new property. Anjali wasn’t too well that night and we both were exhausted so we passed out in our amazing suite overlooking the city of Amman. We had 1 day in Amman and decided to head out to Jerash to spend the late morning after a sumptuous breakfast. Jerash is about 45 mins away from Amman and is home to the magnificent Roman site, only second to what you find in Rome itself. After a few failed uber/taxi attempts we negotiated a taxi ride to Jerash and back for 40 JOD. Anjali was quite frustrated with all the lame attempts by taxi drivers to fleece you, but we were too seasoned to get caught by them. Jerash was incredible from the moment we entered through the grand gates and wasn’t too crowded. Traditionally Roman architecture with rows of columns, the Temple of Artemis and amazing views of the surrounding hilly town. We spent a couple of hours in Jerash, but my favorite part was the 35 min live Gladiator show with a demonstration of the Roman army, gladiators fighting and chariot racing. It was heavily attended by Americans and took me right back to one of my favorite movies of all time. After Jerash, we got dropped off at Jabbal Amman where we ate at some of the most famous local joints including Hashem with its mouth-watering Hummus and crisp Falafel followed by Habibah that served a local desert that was basically a baklava with cheese! We ended our sightseeing with a quick trip to the Citadel that had awe-inspiring views of the crowded single-stone hills of houses in Amman. We decided to spend the rest of the evening at the W dipping in the pool and hot tub, smoking shisha at the terrace watching the sunset over Amman, and drinking cocktails at the W bar – things we couldn’t do with the kids. Both of us were quite amused by how much we could achieve in a travel day without kids.
Our second morning kicked off with another great breakfast, followed by a pickup of our rental car at a nearby SixT. A lot of friends recommended that we take a driver, but we preferred driving on our own to get some privacy and explore at our own pace. Also I love driving and after driving in more than 20 countries (and especially Western Ireland) am fairly comfortable. We drove for 3 hours through the desert landscape to the highlight, Petra. One thing to note is that the toilets in Jordan are disgusting (or ‘gustin as Ayaan says it). After our first day, we were wiser and carried our own toilet paper and soap, something that was non-existent is most toilets. We reached the historical site of Petra and found parking very easily right by the entrance. We had a quick average meal, before entering the grand site. Petra is my 6th wonder of the world and Anjali’s 5th, Machu Pichu remains elusive. We bought a 2 day pass for 55 JOD each fearing we may not be able to cover enough in the 5 hours we had that afternoon (It was more than sufficient to see everything we wanted to see in Petra). Petra or the red rose city is absolutely breathtaking and worth the travel to get here. It’s the most incredible wonder civilized in 1st century BC and carved out entirely from the natural, unique red Stone Mountain. As we walked through the 1.2 km Siq, we were reminded of Zion and Bryce. At the other end of the narrow gorge, is the absolutely stunning and famous Treasury – a huge building carved out. We explored the Urn tomb and the theatre, before climbing up to the Monastery – a steep climb but very worth it to get away from the crowds and get some spectacular views of the valley. Petra has many hawkers and is quite crowded as you would expect, but once it cleared out around 430pm (it closes as 6pm), is it charming. Our favorite was the 360 views from the temples of the Winged Lion and Byzantine Church. What was incredible about Petra is that we were more in love with it as we walked back out, which is usually the opposite at the end of 5 hours when you are jaded and tired. We were exhausted after hiking for 5 hours but luckily the weather is amazing in October. We retreated to our home for the night at the Marriott in Petra – an amazing location overlooking Petra and the sunset over it. We had a quick dinner and ended the night relaxing in the local Bedouin tent, smoking shisha, listening to live Bedouin music and sipping the local tea while staring at the stars. Petra was all that and more. 3 more days of exploring Jordan with #nokids …