Back on Track and doing it Lara Croft Style
Trip Start Sep 28, 2009
92Trip End Apr 22, 2011
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We've had three journeys leaving Bangkok in this trip and they have all been incredibly shambolic. We booked our ticket and wait outside our accommodation to be picked up the designated time. By picked up I mean someone will turn up, call out our destination and you then follow them carrying your own rucksacks round the streets of Khoa San Road while they visit other guest houses and pick up more people up. This people train then snakes its way across a main road and out to a coach stop where you are told to wait....while they go and find more people! Someone then comes round and looks at your ticket and tells you to wait. A VIP bus turns up, they look at your tickets again and you are told to wait. The VIP bus loads up and drives off, you ask a question to which the answer is please be waiting? Another VIP bus turns up, loads up, and still you’re not on it. Finally a prison bus turns up, plastic seats, pathetic air con and no suspension.... oh good this is our bus. Four hours bouncing around this nasty little bus until we reach the boarder of Thailand and Cambodia. We are then told to get off the bus with our rucksacks and follow our guide through Passport Control in Thailand. We then walk across no man’s land for 200 yards in roasting hot sun to Passport Control in Cambodia. A seriously sweaty mess by this point we are loaded on to a courtesy bus to the central bus depo before being loaded on to another prison bus, with even less air con, park bench seats and a Hitler of a drive who turn to air con off if anyone dares to opened a window....the ones that weren’t already glued shut. To top it all they dump you 7km outside of town so you have to get a Tuk Tuk to your Guest House. I believe in helping the local community but this is just a big con there is no reason at all they can’t stop in town all the local buses do.
We arrived in Siem Reap at 7pm and book into a lovely Guest House, a recommendation from Grant when we met up in January. It’s a charming place and at £10 a night comes with Air Con, Hot Water, TV (7 Sports Channels and 6 Film Channels), free Wi-Fi in the room and a fridge. After a hot shower and a bit of time in the Air con we went out for some supper. It’s a good job we came here from Bangkok rather than Laos which was the original intention as it’s very in your face here and after laid back Laos it would have been a huge culture shock. It’s not busy like Bangkok, just full on, everyone wants to sell you something, you can walk a whole line of Tuk Tuk drives all parked next to each other and each one of them will ask you if you want a Tuk Tuk even though they have just heard you say no to the previous four. Every stall holder wants you to buy something from their stall, every restaurant has someone outside to drag you in with offers cheap booze. For our first night in Cambodia it was a little too much, it probably didn’t help that we’d had such a rubbish journey and we were overtired.
The next day we got up at leisure and went to explore. We found some lovely little lanes that had pretty restaurants and boutiques in them. We chose one that had draft beer for 50c a pint and sat back and watch the world go by. In this small lane we got a taste of what Cambodia was about, there was a number of beggars with prosthetic limps or just limps missing because of the land mines, children are used to sell postcards to the tourists and mothers sit on pavements with small babies begging. Cambodia has a lot of poverty, and it really isn’t there fault. In the last 50 years they have had a gruelling time, used by the US as bombing practice during the Vietnam war, take over by a lunatic dictator who massacre a quarter of the nation, a famine followed his defeat and to top all that there are more than six million landmines still undetected in random fields and rivers around small villages making it impossible to farm.
Walking back from lunch brought me in contact with a very sweet child, who place his hand in mine and asked if I could buy some milk for his baby sister. Knowing this was a scam but not seeing the gain, I looked to Gary for some money. It was at this point I felt his little fingers gently pulling at my little silver ring. Oh I chased him off swiftly, the little sod. I was lucky really, my gold wedding ring is really loose on my finger if he had tried that one rather the one I have had on for nearly 20 years and is glued to my finger, it would have just slipped off. This shook me up a bit, firstly for being so naive when I am usually not, and secondly because we have lost so much already I am not sure I could deal with loosing something again so soon.
At this point neither of us had really warmed to Cambodia, shutting ourselves in our room for two days watching continuous episodes of CSI and only coming out for food seemed to be the answer. Sounds a bit sad but doing a few things that remind you of home, like watching TV is great way to chill out.
Angkor Wat is the main reason to come to Siem Reap, if you haven’t heard of Angkor Wat I am sure you have seen the pictures or better still watched Lara Croft Tomb Raider. If I had to choose one sight to visit in Cambodia then this would have been it. There are many ways to see Angkor Wat Tuk Tuk is the most popular but we thought we would get energetic and hire a couple of bikes and ride round it. 7km outside town and each temple is at least 3km apart it was going to be a fun way to see it all. There are a number of temples and the guide books recommend you do a bit of research before you start so you don’t miss anything. We started off a bit later than we had planned, about 2 hours due to the fact that we turned the alarm off. It was a cool morning as it had rained over night and was still a bit over case. Perfect for what we wanted. 7km ride to the Wat took us up a lovely tarmaced road alongside a small river. The traffic was light and it was very flat and easy, perfect really. We bought our ticket (bit expensive at $20 each) but it was going to be worth it.
We cycled up a tree lined road and arrived at the moat surrounding Angkor Wat. At the gateway we had to find somewhere to leave our bikes and a helpful little girl offered to keep an eye on them as long as we bought a drink from her stall when we came back. We locked the bikes up and when to explore. I won’t bore you with the details of each temple we visited you can do that yourself by looking at the pictures but I will tell you what a great day we had. The bike ride between temples was picturesque, tree lined road through lush jungle. Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples were left undisturbed in the jungle since the 15th century, the jungle had grown over them. Most of them have been restored except for Ta Prohm which they left untouched and for me is the most remarkable.
A fantastic day, that only cost us $3 for the hire of the bikes – we were quotes anything from $25 -$38 for a Tuk Tuk for the day. We think the whole ride was about 30km long but was really easy on lovely smooth roads.
The next evening we went to the Night Market, we had previously visited it briefly to purchase my new cap, so we went back to have a good look. There were some beautiful things to buy, sadly the lack of room in our rucksack meant we could only look and not touch....shame!! The stall holders are still frantic for you to buy something but I think we are getting impervious to it all now, it doesn’t seem as full on.
We took a Tuk Tuk the next day to the Angkor Museum, it was a bit expensive to get in but the building was lovely and really well set out. There was a lot to look at, all brought up from Angkor Wat and great videos on the history and design of Angkor Wat.
You will notice that I refer to the cost of things in US dollars. They price everything in US Dollars, you can pay in Thai Baht but you will get your change in Cambodian Ril. Very confusing I can tell you.
We’ve had a few good days and it has really changed our opinion of Cambodia and I think after a sluggish start we are really going to enjoy this country.
You can’t come here without wanting to know their sad history – if you want to read more click on the following links for information on Pol Pot and Cambodian Mine action.