Staying in a big casino style hotel back in Phnom Penh called Nagaworld was a change from our usual hotels. It was full of wealthy Asians itching to throw their money on the poker tables and in slot machines – with minimum $10 bets the stakes got a lot higher and the tensions even higher still. We had not got the money to spend in this Las Vegas style hotel but it was fun to watch others spending money like water through their hands, itching to win one of the jackpots up to half a million US Dollars. The food was as abundant as the money passing hands at the casino, all manner of cuisines filled several top class restaurants within. Back in our hotel room we found another form of amusement – we discovered a TV channel that showed English speaking films but with subtitles. Not that unusual you may think, but the subtitles were also in English and not written as was spoken either. I suspect that the film had originally been badly translated into Cambodian and then badly translated back to English! Talk about lost in translation...most of the dialogs were totally different to the subtitles. Oh, and just to confuse you even more, when a film we watched also had Italian dialog in parts, the subtitles switched to Russian!
On the road to Siem Reap, the roads were even rougher than before and we did end up travelling in the dark as the journey was longer than we had expected. We arrived in Siem Reap at 8.30pm so by the time we had checked in we were just happy to crash out in our room.
In the morning, we had our breakfast and wandered around the French and the Old Quarters. There isn’t that much in Siem Reap apart from Angkor and it’s temples (which we were leaving out until we had settled in a bit) so it didn’t take us long check out the city but we noticed how much cleaner it was to other places we have visited in the country. There is a small palace residence and an old but very nice pagoda along the river and that’s about it. The best times were at night when a wonderful night market comes to life and a group of streets chocka with good quality restaurants and bars catering for the influx of mass tourism coming here just to visit Angkor. The night market had so many things that we would have liked to buy but what we buy we have to carry about for the next few months so we had to limit our purchases to small trinkets. Right in the middle of the market is a big bar where we lay down on a huge bed, sipped cocktails and watched a crazy Japanese comedy show on a small stage.
Our first few days were full of events, from witnessing an old lady on a push bike being hit by a motorcyclist who quickly drove off to avoid being held accountable to Waffle helping a guy on a 'ice-cream’ bike who got stuck in a ditch. We had Khmer BBQ’s including snake, frog, crocodile and other exotic meats which we had to cook ourselves at the table (crocodile was our favourite) and we listened to musicians who had lost limbs recovering mines playing near the market and were amazed by the multi-lingual child beggars reciting more about our country than we knew – all the past Prime Ministers in order, cities, population etc, etc (we later found out that they can speak over 5 languages but cannot read or write). You can even get a foot massage from 'Dr Fish' - it is actually a large fish tank full of small fish that suck on your feet and is supposed to be cleansing and relaxing and they promise there are no piranhas!
We were all set for a bit of excitement so we booked a couple of flights on a microlite with a company called Skyventures which offered flights over Angkor and the rice paddy fields surrounding it. When we arrived at the airfield, we were greeted by one of the owners; David who
was a retired RAF pilot and we chatted for a while about life in Cambodia before the other owner (our pilot) Eddie, from Virginia, USA arrived. I waited with our tuk-tuk driver while Waffle went up first then they refuelled for my turn. The flight was fantastic, we had headsets so that we could talk to Eddie up in the sky and he took each of us over a few Angkor temples, a Korean golf course and across the countryside. The temples looked quite small until you see the tiny coaches near them which gave you a scale to work from. It was an experience not to be missed and so peaceful sailing across the skies. Now we had scanned the area from above we were ready to see it all up close. We asked our driver to take us out for a few days to explore the temples and he did not disappoint...
The tuk-tuk driver recommended that we went to Tonle Sap for a boat trip to the lake to see the floating villages so we went there the next day. He dropped us off at the river and we hopped on a boat steered by a boy who still attended school. We had the boat to ourselves. Along the river we watched fishermen casting nets from in the water until we reached the lake. We passed one tour boat that was stuck in the mud (because it is dry season the river is just 1 metre deep at most), the tourists had to wait to be offloaded on to
another boat – we on the other hand just sailed along freely. On the lake, he took us to a crocodile farm and then a school both on the water. The children at the school rely on donations to study and even to eat and you could buy food or supplies to take to the headmaster. We passed a police station, a catholic school and all kinds of homes and businesses held up by bamboo and empty oil drums. He told us that they move around according to the level of the water. When we got into more open waters, he let us take control of the boat which was really cool.
ANGKOR AND IT’S TEMPLES
The following day we set off early in the morning for Angkor Wat, classed as the 8th wonder of the world and the world’s largest religious building, is an ancient complex built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. It is the best preserved complex in the area with others dating back as far as the 6th century. These temples had been lost for centuries and discovered by a Portuguese monk who visited it in 1586 and said that it "is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of" – visiting it you understand what he meant...It was huge and adorned with intricate Hindu stone carvings both inside and out. A 200m moat surrounds the complex with 4 gates north, east, south and west.
We entered from the south gate and each section just blew us away. By midday, the heat was immense bearing down on us but with plenty of drinks we explored the buildings enjoying every minute. The design was to represent the world with 5 spires being the mountains and the moat being the oceans. Originally a Hindu temple it was adopted by the local Buddhists as a place of worship so the details show lots of Hindu Gods such as Vishnu and Shiva and various animals. After several hours we returned to our driver who then took us to
Angkor Thom, a larger complex (9 sq. Km) again with a moat and including The Bayon which has huge carvings of faces on the structures and gateways over 20 metres high. All in all, those 2 complexes take up a whole day strolling from one section to the next each with it’s own style. Angkor has loads of these complexes (all unique in their own right) so for the next few days our friendly tuk-tuk driver took us to as many as we physically could. Temples dedicated to serpents, elephants, ladies etc, etc some were just relics with huge trees growing over them and some with so much detail it is incredible to conceive how and why they constructed them. Each day our feet and legs got covered in the orange dust of the grounds
we walked over and ached through walking up and down the narrow but steep steps but it was worth it. He took us to Kbal Spean waterfalls for a break from the temples but that turned out to be harder work. We trekked through a national park for 2km to get to the falls. It was very rocky and a steep climb was difficult in the heat although we were partly covered by the jungle landscape. When we got there I found that my camera’s battery was flat so I couldn’t take any more pics after a few snaps of a mass of butterflies milling about the water! I have never seen so many different species of large butterflies as I have in Cambodia – all the colours of the rainbow – but the best ones don’t sit still for long enough for me to take photos until we went to the waterfalls just a shame about my camera battery.
Tomorrow we are leaving Cambodia for Thailand – Bangkok to be exact. We are quite close to the border so we are getting a taxi to Poipet to the immigration point where we will be getting a taxi or bus straight to the big city.
Siem Reap has quickly become our favourite place in Cambodia and our hearts go out to these happy go lucky people of Cambodia who have such tragic lives, the people and the Country we will never forget. It definitely makes you reflect on the World we live in – how can we waste money and food so freely and not help those who were unlucky enough to be born without the opportunities to be able to support themselves. These last few weeks we have seen poverty in abundance, we have learned about what they have to do to
survive. Some children are lucky enough to receive a limited kind of schooling but their prospects are poor. The country is split between the wealthy (mainly Khmers) and those who have absolutely nothing. It is hard to imagine what life is like living on the streets or in crudely built stilt homes with no education, no financial support, police corruption and very little medical help. One type of ‘job’ people do here is to find unexploded bombs in the countryside and cut them up for scrap to help feed the family which is very dangerous to say the least and doesn’t reward them with much cash either, just lost limbs or lives.
One thing is for sure though, we have seen happier faces on the streets and the shacks than by the wealthier tourists...real genuine smiles and laughter from people who have nothing. Cambodia is teaching us one thing, money does not bring you true happiness, I just hope that when we return to the UK we don’t forget how we feel right now. We can see how visiting here can change people’s lives. After being a little apprehensive about visiting Cambodia because of stories of the crime in Phnom Penh and the sanitation we just have one thing to say – If you get an opportunity to go, don’t hesitate just do it...It’s not called the Kingdom of Wander for nothing!
Lazy days had to come to an end but it was difficult to snap out of the chilled-out mood that Snookyville had imposed on us. We had to force ourselves to book the bus out of there and get back on schedule – we only have a 1 month visa after all. There isn't a road directly to Siem Reap so we had to go back through Phnom Penh and it was a long road ahead that we were not looking forward to. We could have taken a night bus but feeling that we may not sleep for fear of an impending accident on the pitch black and rough roads we decided to break up the journey and stay for one more night in the capital and then get another bus to Siem Reap the next day.