Siem Reap

Trip Start Sep 26, 2004
Trip End Jan 15, 2005

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Where I stayed
Redwood Lodge

Flag of Cambodia  , Siĕm Réab,
Tuesday, December 14, 2004

December 13, 04

The road from Bangkok to Siem Reap was slow and full of delays. Besides the normal Cambodian border hassles, our bus crew decided to stop every chance they could to eat and delay our arrival into town. Normally every 2-3 hours a bus will pull into a restaurant for snacks, meals and a short break. This bus stopped more often, especially after the border. This insures a late arrival and a tired group of travelers that will want to stay at the first place they suggest. (All of these buses are privately owned, so there is no central bus station) I already had an online reservation, so it did not work on me. I walked out to the road flagged a motorbike for a ride to my hotel, and asked the driver to be my guide for 2 days at Angkor Wat. He agreed, so I got a free ride, and he arranged to pick me up the next day to tour the temples. These and other backpacker hints offered to you at no extra cost!
The temples of Angkor are 5 miles outside of Siem Reap. After stopping to buy my photo ID pass, we started the tour. Angkor Wat is only one of the many temple sites. It is the largest religious temple complex in the world, but still just one of dozens in the region. I spent the whole day being dropped off at various temples and then meeting my driver for a lift to the next one. Each temple was unique and had many unusual features to make it different from the last. Bayon, the first temple had enormous carvings of faces staring at you from every direction. Everywhere I turned there was another huge smiling face following me until I was covered by the next one. These carvings are actually made up of several large blocks of stone fitted together to form the face. They are raised above the ground on huge bases, with four heads and faces to each group. From a distance it looks like a temple with many spires rising 20 to 30 feet in the air. When you get closer you realize that each tower has faces on it. Some with different expressions, but a smile on all.
The other temples I visited on day one were good, but Bayon was the one I'll remember. Angkor was abandoned for hundreds of years, so like Tikal in Guatemala, the trees took over most of the temples long ago. Many are growing on top of and through the walls of these sites. Trees over 100 feet tall that are sitting on top of the walls and structures of the temples. The roots grew around and in between the stone, so that the tree is only attached to the ground by its roots. Hard to visualize, but the trees are not touching the ground at all except where their roots burrow deep into the soil. (Pictures coming)
I watched sunset over Angkor Wat from a temple on the only hill in the area. They call it a mountain, but it's not the Himalayas! On day two I finished the circuit at Angkor Wat. To give you an idea of the size of this complex, there is a man made moat around Angkor Wat that is almost 4 miles around the perimeter. The moat is 600 feet wide and around 10 feet deep in the middle. Up until about 100 years ago it was filled with crocodiles. Many a vanquished enemy of the king was thrown into the moat. Now just birds and some fish inhabit the water. There are two causeways leading to the temple itself. Inside the temples are covered with relief carvings and statues. Most are remarkably well preserved. The temple thieves and looters left Angkor Wat pretty much alone.
I lingered at this temple late into the day. It had been on my list for a long time so I wanted to relax and take it all in. Compared to the other temples, Angkor was teeming with people. I was almost alone at some of the others. I asked my driver to cruise the main temple roads one more time, and then headed to my hotel. I had an early bus to Phnom Penh and wanted to turn in early.
Phnom Penh is the capitol of Cambodia and its largest city. The famous Mekong River runs through it, as well as another river, and there is a large lake within the city limits. I stayed in a guest house built out over the water on this lake. A really nice spot to watch sunrise, or enjoy a cool breeze while sipping on an adult beverage in the afternoon. I did the city tour which included the famous TS-21 prison and torture center. After the euphoria of finally seeing Angkor Wat, this was a sobering experience. This was Pol Pot's main detention center and torture facility. It was a school that was hastily turned into a prison after the coup in '75. Almost 15,000 people were housed here over a 4 year period. Intellectuals, peasants, anyone who 'threatened' the socialist regime was brought here. The Killing Fields are about 10 miles away. I went there after the prison to see where they brought the prisoners for execution. There is a building with over 8,000 skulls of the victims inside. There were other killing fields all over Cambodia, and almost 2 million people were killed during the 4 year terror of the Khmer Rouge. One in every 4 Cambodians died.
The next stop was the main market in the city center. Most tourists visit the fringes of this market as it is rather large. I wandered into the maze of shops looking for the food area. My guide assured me that it was in there, and I found it. Eventually. I went from counter to counter looking for anything recognizable to eat. I stopped at one stall that had at least 10 pots and pans simmering and sitting out for inspection of their contents. I did not recognize one thing in any of them. I thought I saw corn, but upon looking closer, I wasn't really sure. I moved on. I finally found a restaurant serving rice with meat and veggies. I waited until I saw a plate being served that looked good, I pointed at it and then held my finger up. The owner pointed at a seat. I consumed the mystery meat plate which was also loaded with vegetables. Like most Asian places they serve complimentary tea with the meal. This time it was a refreshing iced ginger tea. This establishment had several family members working. Two girls washing up and cooking, the mother serving and a son running food to the other stalls in the market. I paid .75 for my meal and got several smiles as I left. I didn't see any other tourists eating in here, so I was probably a rarity to them. I found my way back out to the motorbike and off we went to the next stop. I had arranged for a massage from my guesthouse and it was quite an experience. It was done at the 'Seeing Hands' center. The people here are blind, either from mine accidents or they were born that way. I received a Shiatsu massage for an hour. I still feel good more than 24 hours later. I was asked by the man if I wanted a medium or strong massage. I chose strong. And strong he was. Shiatsu is about pressure points and muscle manipulation. His thumbs and fingers on my muscles felt like he was poking a pool cue deep into them. Some pain is good! They have several centers around the country helping these people to help themselves. It seemed a crime to pay only the $4.25 they asked, so I gave a bit more.
I'll send some pics out if I can find a good connection. I'm off to the beach for a few days while my Visas for Laos and Vietnam are taken care of here in Phnom Penh. I'll be taking the Mekong river up through the jungles into Laos, then crossing into Vietnam near what once was the border between North and South Vietnam. It may be a while before I write again, probably from Hanoi.
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