Ancient Angkor

Trip Start Sep 24, 2006
Trip End Sep 01, 2007

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Where I stayed
Royal Asia Lodge

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Sunday, April 15, 2007

A couple of observations regarding Cambodia versus Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.  Like Laos and Thailand, there is a lot of garbage lying around as people have not been conditioned to use containers.  Life has been so hard and still is as well as ongoing political and police corruption I think have led to people feeling helpless. The Gross National Product is  $340 US per capita annually, a shocking paltry amount a little less than Laos, but extremely below Thailand which I believe is around $2500.  The Vietnamese displayed more ambition and certainly are making an effort to clean up the environment and dispose of garbage. Level of poverty here is comparable to Laos, tiny stalls line roadsides and city sidewalks (coupled with the motorbikes parked on sidewalks, pedestrians are left with walking on the streets, amongst the traffic... a weird setup). Stall often are selling only a few things such as bottles of water, beer, juice and pop; staffed by people who set up at dawn and are there until dark every day trying to earn a couple of dollars, about what people earn per day, with really no hope of improvement.  Stall competition is fierce as well around the Angkor site, with stalls selling clothing, books, souvenirs, pineapple etc. all same same as each other.  Also many small open restaurants with good food but prices here are a lot more expensive than any of the other 3 countries in SE Asia. Not sure why that is, but for example, noodle soup is $3 US here (only tourists pay that) versus I could get noodle soup in Vietnam for less than $1 and the meal is comparable.  1.5 l water at a stand sells for $2 (then you bargain down) whereas in Vietnam it was 50 cents.  (Update, had breakfast in Siem Reap at the Soup Dragon after I wrote this, and paid 3000 riels (75 cents) for a big bowl of noodle soup and 50 cent for coffee so meal was $1.10)
A common sight is the hotel staff all sleeping wherever they can find a space in the guest house reception area. They have no home to go to so all sleep on the floor on mattresses or on couches if they are available. The last 2 mornings I have left at 5:30 a.m. to visit the temples during sunrise and to enjoy the cooler temps and practically have to step over the bodies of about 7 men all sleeping in the reception area.  There is an armed guard 24 hours in front of guest house and apparently that is to protect the safety of the car and motorbikes of owner/staff parked in front of building.  In all SE Asia that is a common phenomenon, and actually I experienced it as well with an Indian owned hotel in London England where staff sleep on the floor overnight. 
Have had 3 days now of visiting Angkor, which is about 9 km outside of Siem Reap, a pleasant little city with a lot of unpaved roads and small shops and huge multinational gorgeous hotels such as Sofitel looking like they are on a movie set, so out of place with the environment but matching hte majesty of Angkor,  which according to UNESCO website: "Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 sq. km, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. These include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings."
THe first a.m. La picked me up as arranged at 8:30 p.m. for the 20 minute ride on his motorbike to Bayon, just one temple/library etc. of Angkor Thom, a Khmer village in the 9th century of 100,000 peopl, in contrast with  Angkor Wat was built as a funeral temple.  Amazing huge carved stone slabs with pictures of life at Angkor, mythology and Hindu and Buddhist images such as garudas and asparas.. Went to Preah Kahn and Angkor Wat after that, both amazing places with lots of stones fallen down, doorways, shrines, halls, different levels of temples and many steep steps to go up from one level of temples to another (not for me, no railings and I am a prairie girl at heart)  and as by that time it was 4 p.m. and hot and crowded, I thought I had put in a good day of sightseeing. Lots of bus tours of Koreans, Japanese etc. and i met a woman from Vancouver who was a teacher also on a year off.  Got back to Guesthouse and who had just arrived by bus from Phnom Penh and were also staying at King, but George and Tonje who were just heading out by tuk tuk to Angkor to catch the sunset. La was visibly upset that I was talking to them, as we were considering going together the next day by tuk tuk, and La blurted to me that it was unfair, he needed the business too and many clients double up, leaving him without any business.  I told him I would go with him the next day (although I would have preferred the more comfortable tuk tuk and enjoying looking at the temples with Tonje and George, I realized La needed the money) but I couldn't guarantee Wed. Tonje and I made plans to meet for breakfast the next day at the food stalls at the temples at 7 a.m. as we were both going early (them at 5, me at 5:30 a.m.) to catch the sunrise. 
The next day La picked me up at 5:30 a.m. and we rode out in the dark.  On the way La suggested we go to Srah Srang to watch the sunrise over the reservoir and I had told him I wanted to go for breakfast at 7 a.m. at the place we had lunch the day before as that is where I had told Tonje I would be (La didn't know we made plans).  Turns out La had his own agenda for the day and he again was upset that I had plans and he said when he makes plans for guests they stick to the plan and I said I didn't know what his plan was, and in fact we had just decided on the spur of the moment to go to Srah Srang rather than Angkor Wat.  He argued with me that it was long way back to the food stall and why don't we just continue on our way to see other temples and I said no, I had made plans and wanted to keep them.  Again, I think he thought I was going to abandon him after breakfast but that was not my intention. I finally had to say to him (all this haggle while we are on a motorbike) that I made my mind up and wanted to go back and I would see the temples the next day, if I wanted to.  So met up with Tonje and George at Food Stall 001 and they had almost the same conversation with their driver by the sounds of it - he was really confused that they had ideas of where they wanted to go. We ended up having a lovely breakfast and went on our way with our drivers, who also ate there (drivers eat for free if they bring customers, guess that is why ours are relatively expensive ($3 US). After breakfast I saw Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm, Ta Keo and Thommannon.
Tonje, George and I made plans to meet at 7:30 at The Dead Fish Restaurant close to our hotel.  It has a sign outside that they don't serve rat, dog, etc. but I can tell you they serve dead fish!  Great food, and free entertainment - Cambodian traditional dance. It was one of, if not the most, quirky restaurant I had been to, with several 'chill out' areas, a couple of floors, some seating on futons on the floor, and waitresses wearing what looked like starched nurses' caps!  After we finished eating, we were joined by a young English lad, Tom, a pig who decided to cross in front of him, and it was Tom's night off from visiting him at the hospital!.  He had been teaching English but was going on to NZ to teach ww rafting and kayaking through a company and I have an invitation when I go to NZ to contact him and maybe his rich uncle can put me up!  Said goodbye to George and Tonje who were moving to another hotel the next day, and then going to Bangkok in the morning of Monday the 16th while I was flying out in the afternoon.
On the third Wat visiting day, La picked me up at 5:30 am again as it is really lovely in the morning, cooler, less traffic. I went to Pre Rup and Ta Som where I swear I was the only one there!  It was a very eerie feeling, not even the stalls were set up, children were not running after me to sell bracelets, little bronze images, etc. Then I went to Neak Pean and East Mabon, all considered on the "Grand Tour". At 10:30 it was hot hot and we headed back to Siem Reap against such horrendous traffic of local people going to the waterfall and to the temples in hour of Chaul Chnam (New Year celebrations) plus lots and lots of tour buses. Was so glad we were headed in the opposite direction!  Chilled out in my room until the heat of the afternoon was over, then walked around, ending up at the Foreign Correspondents Club for Happy Hour. IT is an offshoot of the one in Phnom Penh and has an outside bar around a wonderful little pool and an inside upstairs dining area.  Wonderful place to cool down. Then I went to a restaurant "Shadow of Angkor' for a salad, first one I had had in months!
Monday, the next day, had my $1.10 breakfast of noodle soup and cofffee and La came for me and took me to the airport - again riding his motorbike with my pack in front of him, a bag between he and I and another pack on my back. But he is a good driver.
Left at 1 p.m. exactly on Royal Bhutan Airways for 45 min flight to Bangkok. Got a cold sandwich, juice and cake, a nice treat.  Talked for a couple of minutes with a doctor from Texas and her dad who lives in BKK and is married to a Thai. Turns out he has been to Yellowknife, for a job interview with NWT Power Corp !  Small world... Got to my Hotel, Royal Asia Lodge at 4 p.m. after a harried taxi ride, drove 120 km in an 80 km zone, no seat belt!
will write more from BKK..
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