Shadows and Tall Trees
Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
92Trip End Aug 27, 2010
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We were soon boarding the bus and bidding a fond farewell to Phnom Penh, an enigmatic city that was at once shocking and endearing to us. $11 each bought our 6 hour transfer to Siem Reap on the Mekong Express. Probably lulling us into a false sense of security, the scenic and enjoyable trip to the most popular tourist town in Cambodia was followed by another tourist con that we again narrowly escaped
We arrived at Hotel 89 and were greeted with a lovely iced drink and chilled towels – an unexpected and appreciated welcome. It wasn’t long before we discovered that this would be the norm every time we returned to the hotel, whereupon someone would run to the fridge and bring us a glass of cold water and a chilled towel….our kids have never had such clean faces! The hotel staff were truly wonderful and couldn’t do enough for us the entire duration of our visit
Sarah had been yearning to see Angkor Wat at either sunrise or sunset, but taking into account our track record at early mornings we decided that sunset was more realistic. So we were soon back in the tuktuk and on our way to Angkor. As it turns out, if you buy a one day pass after 4:30pm it can be used for both the sunset that evening and again for the following day. We arrived at Phnom Bakheng (apparently the place to watch the sunset over Angkor) and trekked about twenty minutes to the temple at the top of the hill where we found literally hundreds of other tourists with the same idea. The sunset, while pretty, was a little disappointing as the sun actually sets over the airport and not over Angkor Wat.
The following day was one of high expectations as far as our entire trip goes. Angkor was the heart of the Khmer empire, which at its height covered Cambodia and large areas of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam also. The famed Angkor Wat is just one of many temples in the region, albeit the largest religious structure in the world
Next stop was the Bayon temple within the Angkor Thom complex - another Buddhist temple built in the same period as Ta Phrom and of a similar “Bayon” style. The most notable feature of Bayon is the array of stone faces with their famous enigmatic smiles. Not quite sure why they are all smiling that way but can it really be a coincidence that the golden triangle isn’t too far away??? We had great fun exploring the temple which was again delightfully free of tourists
Our last stop was the “mother of all temples”, Angkor Wat. It has been more fully restored, and what Angkor Wat lacks in intimacy, it makes up for in majesty. The style is quite different to Ta Phrom and Bayon. Built as a Hindu temple approximately 900 years ago it displays the many gods of that religion, and, later converted to a Buddhist temple, it was adorned with numerous Buddhas and all the trimmings. Unfortunately the third regime to leave its mark on this magnificent structure was the Khmer Rouge which attacked Angkor in a bid to destroy all cultural images and national identity and consequently most of the Buddhas have been beheaded. While it truly is a magnificent sight to behold, we were disappointed by the amount of scaffolding and the number of people there, both tourists and touts. Cambodians are justifiably proud of Angkor and Angkor Wat in particular and so its classic image appears everywhere from the national flag to their beer! I think we were expecting to be blown away and didn’t quite get there, actually enjoying our time at Ta Phrom and Bayon a little more. I think this is often the way when overinflated expectations of famous places set up by marketing materials’ myriad images leave little to be surprised by
Having become templed-out again we found ourselves with a day to spare in Siem Reap, which we spent wandering through town and browsing the various markets. Highlight of the day was a foot massage which was very welcome after all the walking at Angkor and the markets, but this was not just any old massage. We’ve been seeing the signs for “fish massage” ever since arriving in Bangkok several weeks ago, but never seemed to find the right time, place (or maybe courage) to try it out. This one offered a free beer/pop so we dove in (almost literally). So what is a fish massage? Well, you sit on the edge of a large paddling pool that contains hundreds of a particular kind of fish. When you put your feet into the water they swarm around and eat up all the dead skin! It’s a very strange sensation and initially is almost unbearably ticklish. The ticklishness then gives way to a feeling not unlike pins and needles, which in turn eases and then the whole thing is really quite relaxing. The kids were a little disgruntled as the number of fish attacking, I mean massaging, ones feet seems to increase with the age of the recipient….poor Alex really didn’t receive much attention at all, I guess his feet are just too new!
All too soon it was time to leave Hotel 89 (true to form they kindly gave us silk scarves as a leaving gift!) and catch the bus via Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, a journey that could take anywhere between 12 & 15 hours…..see you in Vietnam!