Along the drive we stopped at the side of the road to enjoy a snack (recommended by Perry as it is one of his favorites). Not sure what it is called, but they stuff rice and beans into a bamboo stick, then pour coconut milk over top and toss in the fire until finished. We got two and gave one to Perry as a thank you.
We finally arrived at Beng Mealea and at first glance think that the drive will be the highlight of the day as the temple is in pretty bad shape. Similar to the Tomb Raider Temple, there are trees covering (and destroying) most of the temple, but Beng Mealea has not been restored yet. We start to walk around the complex and notice all of the signs from CMAC explaining that the path is free of land mines. Mines are a huge problem in Cambodia and as recently as 10 years ago, there was a chance you would walk away from visiting this country with one less limb. This all started back when mines were planted all over the country in the Khmer Rouge days but since every year the wet season moves the ground you could potentially unleash a new mine after a new rainy season. Now, the touristy areas are all very safe.
As we got close to the entrance of the temple, a local woman wearing a very important patch on her shirt that indicates she’s neither police nor tour guide told us to cross a wooden plank and climb into the temple. I started to head in but the path is almost completely blocked by the fallen stones from the temple. My first thought was there must be a lot of living things in there. We start to walk away when the same lady asked us where we are from and Amy responded with Canada (I guess we are still playing that game). By responding to her question, I think we just hired a tour guide. She tells us to follow her as she climbs over the rocks.
We enter the temple and are amazed at how we are able to just climb wherever we want. There are maybe 10 other tourists in the whole area (most don’t go as it is far from Siem Reap). Our new tour guide shows us different rooms and swings that were created from the vines of the trees. Each room we enter seems more distressed than the last. We noticed a lot of local kids running around. I guess this is their playground as there is a lot to climb and swing from. After 40 minutes we finally make it the whole way through the temple and I give our tour guide some money as a thank you. Without her we would have just walked around the temple (not inside it) and been disappointed that we traveled out to see Beng Mealea.
As we paid her, some of the local kids were loitering around. One started to follow us as we continued to walk the perimeter of the temple for a complete view. Amy kept trying to shoo him away, but no matter what we did he would continue to follow us. I have to give him credit for his persistence and his English and knowledge of the temple was pretty good (better than the lady we just gave money to). We finally made it around the temple, so I gave him close to sixty cents. Normally I wouldn’t encourage the kid by giving him money since he is not in school, but I felt bad. Well I shouldn’t have as he started pushing for me to give him a dollar. I explained he was lucky to get any money as we told him to leave us alone and he didn’t show us anything we wouldn’t have seen by ourselves. So he finally left.
We made it back to the tuk tuk and got Perry out of the hammock he was laying in waiting for us. Next we were headed back towards Siem Reap to a floating village. We had seen a floating village in Halong Bay, but were told this one was bigger. As we got close, we turned off the main road and started to drive down a very bumpy dirt path (Amy almost fell out of the vehicle it was so bumpy). As we rode on the path, all of the local kids were waving at us (either because they don’t see many westerners or they were scared because my "facemask" made me look like a bank robber). Regardless, we waved back.
Just before getting to the floating village, we stopped at a hut on the side of the road. The tuk tuk was almost out of gas, so Perry gave a dollar to the lady and she pulled out an old Johnny Walker bottle filled with gasoline to reload the moto pulling the tuk tuk.
Back on track we finally arrived at the floating village. However, since it is the dry season, we are told we would have to take a small boat to a bigger boat to another boat to get to the village which has moved because the water level is low. We decided it wasn’t worth it and were starting to get hungry, so we just wanted to go back to Siem Reap. But Perry was determined to show us a floating village, so off we went to another. He took a shortcut, which was another, bumpier road through the jungle. At one point I grabbed the arm rest tightly and made some kind of incoherent sound. Amy asked what happened and I told her not to worry. Apparently, what I thought was a stick lying in the road started to slither into the grass (guess it wasn’t a stick). The shortcut was finally over and we made it to the major road again and to the second floating village. Perry tells us he will meet us at the end and we follow another man to the ticket booth.
He takes us to a table and tells us for $20 a person (the same price to enter all of the temples in the Siem Reap area built in the 11th century) we can get a private boat to the village and see crocodiles, a market, and a school. Hmmm, no thanks (we have already seen a floating village, a market, and a school, and I am sure Australia has some crocodiles to see). As we look around we see other tourists having the same conversation with their respective salesmen. We finally get the price down to $15 before we decide to pass. Later we were told that the price is inflated when policemen are around because they need their cut (Cambodia is very corrupt). We decide to walk towards the meeting point with Perry, but he spots us leaving and picks us up. I felt bad as we drove quite a way in order to see the floating village, and he probably missed out on a commission for taking us there (we gave him a tip at the end to make up for it). However, we enjoyed the ride through the countryside today as we got a real taste for local life. The poverty is astounding, but at the same time the celebrations for the New Year were in full effect so there were lots of parties, loud music and other festivities along the way.
We finally head back to Siem Reap and went directly to lunch. Once again we head to pub street and decide to have Mexican food since there is a special on margaritas and tacos. That’s all we need to see (along with the sign that says "Best Mexican food in Asia"). The food was surprisingly very good as everything was homemade (I guess you can’t get tortillas in Cambodia). Since we just finished our Mexican lunch, we decided to take a siesta (well Amy did at least). I had to figure out our next steps as the Thai, Cambodia, and Laos New Year was making travel quite difficult. We were planning to go to Bangkok the next day, but were strongly advised to avoid the city. New Years is a weeklong festivity where the streets are closed down and the people have water fights (sounds like it would get old quickly). You can’t go 10 feet without getting drenched. We could go to Laos, but that would involve a pricey flight (and Laos supposedly shuts down during the week). Our last option was to go to Koh Chang (beach in Thailand), but all of the hotels were booked for the next two days. So we decided to stay in Siem Reap a little longer as the town was touristy enough that at least some restaurants would remain open. Plus, our hostel is pretty great and the owners, Melissa and David, are super helpful and nice. Then we would go to Koh Chang to wait out the rest of the holiday.
Now that we had that figured out, it was time for dinner. David (the owner of the hostel) recommends yet another restaurant on pub street. Although the food isn’t that great, we got a seat on the sidewalk with a view of the Temple Club (pub across the street). We have seen lots of backpackers wearing Temple Club tshirts, so I am immediately intrigued. I read the sign "Buy 1 cocktail pitcher and receive a free tshirt" (I told you there were a lot of free tshirts in this town). Guess where we went after dinner (this place reminded me of Thursday nights at KOK in Bloomington).
The pitchers of cocktails were fairly overpriced, but we decided on something called the Welcome to Temple, which consisted on numerous different liquors, orange juice, pineapple juice, and lime juice. I ask for an XL tshirt in black (color choices were limited to white, grey, and black). (Amy here: This was the most aggressive and motived I’ve seen Dave this whole trip). So we wait for our pitcher (and my new tshirt), and the waiter comes back and hands me a blue shirt that would only fit someone under the age of 12. I was kind of upset since the shirt fit neither Amy nor I and we got duped into purchasing a crappy pitcher of liquor instead of spending a third the amount for beer. The waiter said that this is the only size and color they have left. My 5 year old nephew is the only person I know under the age of 12, and giving him a tshirt from a bar probably isn’t the most grown up thing to do. Guess I will have to find some other person who is smaller than 5 feet tall and weighs less than 80 pounds who really likes tshirts from bars (congrats Sujata). We finished our pitcher and immediately left to go back to sleep. That place was dead anyway.
Another day, another temple. We got to sleep in a little later today as Perry was picking us up at 8am. But before that we had some breakfast at the hostel. Since it is run by a Canadian couple, we had maple syrup for the first time in a month (to go with my french toast). We finished up and hopped in the tuk tuk for the 70km drive to Beng Mealea. Perry asks if we would prefer to get there in 1.5 hours or 2 hours, we tell him to drive at the speed where he feels comfortable. The drive was most of the fun for the day as we got a great look into the local life. However I was starting to develop some sinus issues from the dust in the air (along with the fact that we went from 30 degree weather to 95 degree weather in less than two weeks), so I brought along one of my new kramas to use as a facemask. Now I really feel like a local. It was a good thing I had the facemask as throughout the drive I was hit in the face by numerous bugs, a rock, and even a bird (I don't think the bird made it after colliding with my giant melon).