Angkor What? Where?
Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
86Trip End Jul 27, 2011
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Siem Reap is the city you go to if you want to visit the ancient city of Angkor. We were warned that SR is a very artificial town, essentially built around tourism to facilitate visits to Angkor. So I expect a sort of Niagara Falls. It's probably another sign that we'll never be the true, rugged, hard core backpackers we might aspire to be that despite these warnings we loved it so much, we stayed longer. Yes, it is touristy and rather artificial. But it has its own charm and finding good coffee and breakfast menues is sometimes all it takes to make us happy. SR also has a thriving art scene with so many cute handicraft stores and affordable restaurants that we are struggling to avoid (too many) shopping and dining excesses. But we didn't come for that. We came for Angkor and its famous Wat
Following recommendations of several globetrotting friends, we rent bicycles for our first ride into it. The rental place briefs us: "This is not Europe, there are no traffic rules, be careful, watch where you are going, stay on the right side of the road." Indeed, the traffic regulations here are limited to the law of the honking horn and right of way by eye contact. Never mind the right hand traffic, vehicles are coming at you from all directions regardless of which side of the street you are on.
Our plan is to visit some smaller and lesser known temples first, then watch sunset at Pre Rup. Then on another day, visit some more impressive temples and finish it off with sunset at Angkor Wat. You know the saying: "Assume makes an ass out of u and me", right? Well, our assumption was that our entry ticket includes a map. I doesn't. Luckily, I had downloaded a PDF on my iPhone. That should suffice. We thought.
So for the first half of the day, we chase a temple complex we can't find, looking at the tiny reflecting iPhone PDF
When we are done, the sun is nearly gone, making for an adventurous bike ride home
The next day we are disappointed that moped rentals are prohibited in SR. Our behinds are too sore to rent bikes again, so we end up not doing any sight seeing at all that day. Before we head back into Angkor via tuktuk a few days later, we do a day trip to the surrounding area, visiting the countryside, fishing villages and Tonle Sap Lake with its floating villages. One other morning we take a Khmer cooking class that includes a visit to a local village. On two evenings, we watch a free Apsara dance show. Between those activities, we can't help but grin at the many offers for tuk tuks, fish massages (where you have little fish in a tank nibbling a your dead skin cells - see the video from Bangkok to get a sense for its therapeutic and entertainment value), meals and souvenirs. Even though the vendors cries still ring in my ears, they do it in such a sweet way that it doesn't bother me. Instead I find it hilariously funny
Eventually it is time for our 2nd trip into Angkor. This time with a proper map and a tuktuk. So surely, we'll know where we are going now. In the meantime, we figured out that what we thought to be Angkor Wat was actually Bayon temple of Angkor Tom. Whoops. So we make Angor Wat our first stop this time. Maybe it is because of the silly mix-up earlier, or because of the hoards of tourists, or the scorching heat, or the construction scaffolding, or the hazy light, but approaching this most famous of all temples, I am not feeling anything. Not impressed, not touched, not in awe. Yes, it is large and beautiful. But that 'wow' I had expected doesn't kick in. Not like the other day at Angkor Tom. Slightly disappointed, we move on to see some more other, smaller temples. And I find myself enjoying them all more than the 'mother of temples'. At dusk, we return for sunset. Which is nice. I enjoy walking the interior as the sun sets and only few tourists are left.
So was it all the hype I made it up to be? Was it the best, most favourite, amazing and mind-boggling of sights as I expected? Not Angkor Wat, it wasn't. Not for me anyways. But the city of Angkor and some of its smaller temples certainly did justice to my high expectations
As one last comparative thought: Jordan was my top 2 country, Cambodia was my number 1. In conclusion, they both remain at the top of my favourite places list. I probably had more magical moments in Jordan, partly due to the way we traveled there and having been a little fresher then. But Cambodia is a place I can imagine myself living in.
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