Next up.. Cambodia
Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
158Trip End Mar 11, 2011
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A boring wait and a short flight later we landed at the airport of Siem Reap, in the middle of the country of Cambodia. The landscape is noticeably different here, and it actually looks a bit like Holland from the sky. A flat piece of land covered with patches of agriculture. Of course here you do not see the black highways crossing the flat plane. Neither do you see the monotonous and utterly boring commuter towns dotted around the landscape. So in a way it is a lot different. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and it shows. Down in the city the roads are dusty, the main transport are bikes and taxis consisting of a bike pulling a cart. The houses and shops look old and most of them are in need of repairs. But the town of Siem Reap is also the gateway city to Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and many other temples in the area. These sites attract a lot of tourists from all over the world, and they are catered for in a wild array of luxury hotels and villas which are in strong contrast to the rest of the town.
We decided not to stay at one of the many big five star resorts with impeccable service and on site spa. Not because of the price, because this luxury actually comes pretty cheap here in Siem Reap. We heard of an interesting little project called Sala Bai, which means the school of rice. This is a hotel and restaurant school that gives the less fortunate people the chance to learn a trade and earn a living in the hospitality industry. The school has only four rooms on the top floor of the building. You reach them by taking the stairs up to the second floor. On your way up you pass the school class rooms. The ground floor is the restaurant area. This is only open on weekdays and for breakfast and lunch because it is also ran by the students. We got ourselves the suite room which was very big, perfectly clean, but of course not the Fairmont. But the service was perfect as everyone is trying their best to get good grades. We sat down at the restaurant and tried the cooking skills of the school of rice. I must say it was a very interesting blend of Cambodian food influenced with French cuisine.
After lunch we headed out in to town to get our bearings in the surrounding area. There was not much around here, just a couple of streets with bars and restaurants to entertain the hordes of tourists and a rather interesting market, selling souvenirs and clothing. It was the middle of the day so it was particularly hot outside. We found refuge in the air conditioned comfort of the XXX [Blue Pumpkin] cafe. The downstairs is a bakery, and the upstairs is a funky lounge area where we had a nice cup of coffee and enjoyed the free Internet. On the web we found a tour agent that we could use to book our visits to the temples. This is a bit like arranging visits to Disney Land, there are different types of passes, day passes, three day passes, week passes etcetera. And you have to plan your trip along the temples in a way that you see what you want to see without getting a temple overdose. We headed out to the tour agent theat we had found on the web. It was located in one of the many hotels. But this one had a cool name, it was called the 'Kool' hotel, go figure. We tried our luck on a tuk tuk taxi, and of course we paid way too much, but still only two dollars.
At the hotel the receptionist / tour agent went over the wide array of possibilities with us and we decided on three day itinerary, starting tomorrow. But we do not go and see temples all the time, we also are going to visit the Koulen mountain, a sacred mountain which used to be the home of the first king, King Jayavarma II. It was here that he proclaimed independence from Java in 802 AD . We also go and visit the fisherman's village of Kampung Phluk along the lake Tonlé Sap, which should be an experience by itself.
With all activities planned, we head back to the hotel to freshen up and rest a bit. But here we ran into an unpleasant surprise. When we flipped on the AC to cool the room down it did not seem to work. This would be a problem, as it is burning hot up here. The Hotel manager tries his best to get things going and ends up calling a befriended AC specialist. His friend arrives at the hotel within fifteen minutes and manages to bring our AC unit back to live. For a moment we thought we would have to find other accommodation, but luckily it all turned out just fine. That evening we head out to the tourist center of Siem Reap known as the pub street. In the evening this part of town transforms into party central, the bars are lively and hordes of tourists are getting drunk on cheap liquor. We have a meal at one of the many restaurants in the street and observe the crowds from the balcony where we were seated.
Tomorrow we head out in to ancient Cambodia, to see the temples of glorious times long gone.
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