Angor Wat Wat Wat!

Trip Start Jul 27, 2003
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Friday, May 21, 2004

Sunday 16th May
We left early and caught our bus to Siem Reap. It was 7 hours and the road has recently been sealed so made for a fairly smooth journey as Cambodias main roads are normally dirt track but they are making big progress. We arrived in Siem Reap late afternoon and checked into the Popular Guest House for $5 a night. We headed out to have a wander round Siem Reap. It is a lovely French town with a market square surrounded by colonial buildings. Siem Reap, because of Angkow is more expensive than anywhere else in Cambodia as it has a large number of tourists. The Anglor Grand is one of a hundred hotels and is regarded a the best but at $2,000 per night also the most expensive.

May is the lowest of the low season as it is th hottest and driest month of the year but it also means there are fewer people at the temples. November to February is the cool dry season but it is often extremely busy. Town was pretty quiet and we had a drink in the old markt before heading back to our guest house to gt some dinner. After dinner we took a walk up the Tonle Sap river passed some beautiful restaurants and hotels but all empty. It would be nice to come back in the high season and see it thriving.

Monday 17th May
We had a lazy day today. We took a longer walk around Siem Reap which isn't that big a town but has a few sights. At 4pm we decided to take a Tuk Tuk to the temples of Ankgkor and buy our tickets and take in the sunset. We decided on a 3 day ticket which costs a staggering $40. I don't mean staggering as in angkor isn't worth it because it is worth every penny but unfortunately the $40 goes to a petroleum company that keep most of it for 'administration costs'. All the much need conservation projects are funded by other countries like Japan or China or organisations like UNESCO. A one day pass is $20 and a onew week $60.

We got our Tuk Tuk, which in Siem Reap is a motorbike with a trailor. We headed the 6km to the main gate and handed over $80 and passport photos for our passes. We drove through the gates and headed to Angkor Wat. The most famous and well preserved of the temples. angko includes about 50 temples over 230 sq km area, so pretty big. The main temples you can get around in a day covering about 20km. today we would just go to Angkor for the sunset. As we pulled up to the moat that surrounds Angkor Wat the heavens opened (so much for it being the dry season!) We walked across the long walkway, Angkor Wat was built between 1113 and 1150 and it is difficult to comprehend how much a magnificent structure was built in a time without computers, cranes and the technology they are using today to try and rebuild and preserve the temples. The carving in the stone is of phenomenal detail for any age but for 1,000 years old it is unbelievable. needless to say the sunset wasn't worth it but it was kind of good to see Angkor looking all dark and towering in the rain.

We headed off and got our driver to drop us off at the Foreign Correspondents Club which is a stunning cream colonial building with a beautiful pool and outside bar area and some shops. Upstairs is a bar and restaurant area with cream leather armchairs and a huge open kitchn. It has a happy hour between 5pm and 7pm with half price drinks. we had a couple of G&Ts for only $1.30 before walking home for some beef noodle soup at a street stall for just 50c.

Tuesday 18th May - Our 2nd Anniversary!!
We got up early and met our driver at 8am for a full day at the temples. It is really hard to write about the temples and give them the justification they deserve. Basically you have to go for yourself. We visited 11 temples throughout the day covering all the main ones on the 20km circuit. The first one Ta Prohm, was our favourite of the day. it has been left untouched and has been taken over by nature with massive trees growing within the temples. It also means it is full of wildlife including monkeys and birds. It also provides a lot of shade while you explore it. Unfortunately a couple of years ago a tree was struck by lightning and knocked down a section of the temple and caused some damage. A call to cut back the trees and eventually rebuild it is underway and this may actually take away some of its charm.

The second we visited was Ta Keo which was unique because it had never been decorated (no carving) the temple was built and then abandoned before carving had started. We then visited Thommanon and Chau Say, two temples oppostite each other and the latter undergoing serious renovation work. We then entered Angkor Thom, which is a city of temples surrounded by a huge 12km wall and moat with a magnificent gate on either side. Inside we visited 6 temples starting with the just amazing Bayon, which from a distance looked like a pile of rubble but when you got closer you could see that it is infact 54 towers, each with 4 giant faces. Its enchanting. We walked around Baphuon our next temple but couldn't go in as huge cranes and teams of people were working on rebuilding it. this including finding the huge sandstone blocks in the jungle and finding where they were originally placed. they had scientists and computer programmes to try and rebuild it as it was going through the laborious task of numbering the stone blocks.

We walked from here to Phimeanakas and the Preah Palilay and then we went to see the almost perfect carvings of The Terrace of the Leper King and the magnificent 350m long wall of The Terrace of Elephants which was fully carved of lions and elephants 2.5m tall. We finally headed to Angkor Wat again this time seeing it in glorious sunshine. We spent 2 hours just exploring the inside and climbing up the steep steps to the top. It was stunning.

We eventually headed back to our guest house for a much needed shower. As it was our anniversary we headed out for dinner to the FCC as we thought we should treat ourselves. We had a lovely dinner and a nice bottle of wine which was our first since Australia as wine is expensive in South East Asia. We finished up with Cheese and Biscuits which is a rare treat here as cheese is imported from France and Australia as dairy product are hard to come by (except for laughing cow cheese triangles!!). A pretty good day all in all.

Wednesday 19th May
We got up for another day at Angkor and boarded our Tuk Tuk and our driver headed out on the larger 36km circuit. Some of the temples on this route we found we had to ourselves. our first stop was Prasat Kravan which was very small but beautiful temple with some well preserved carvings inside. We then visited Pre Rup, which was used for cremations, and East Mebon that had some sandstone elephants carved in 952.

Our next stop was Ta Som another small temple which had one of its entrances held together by an enormous tree growing from the top of it. We then went on to Neak Prean which was more of a large water feature but without the water at this time of year. Onto Preah Khan, the Labyrinth, which was a close favourite with Ta Prohm. This one was huge. Our drive dropped us at the North gate and arranged to meet us at the West Gate. Preah Khan has had some restoration work but is still fairly overgrown and tumble down. I think if you are going to stand in a forest and look at a building built over a thousand years ago you don't want or expect it to look perfect. I agree they should restore the temples but I think there is a certyain charm with the ones that are looked after rather than rebuilt. Preah Khan is huge and offers lots of sheade from the trees not yet cut back so we spent ages here.

We eventually got back to our driver and had completed the Grand Circuit so we decided to go back through Angkor Thom and do a final stop at Angkor Wat and call it a day. The best view of Angkor Wat is at the entrance chapel after crossing the moat. If you walk down to the far end of the gallery you get the best view of the five towers so we sat here in the shade of the chapel watching the sunset over Angkor. We sat for an hour, pretty knackered and templed out, so decided to get dropped off at the FCC for Happy Hour and a couple of Gin & Tonics!

Thursday 20th May
We decided to head back to Bangkok today and caught an early morning bus to Poipet, th border town of Cambodia. We drove through our last section of Cambodian countryside and looked forward to the next time we visit. We stopped off in a little town before arriving at the border and Simon was offered the local delicacy of fried crickets by one of the friendly locals. To my surprise he tucked into a few of them and claimed they were tasty and taste just like (no not chicken!) but crisps!

Cambodia has been beautiful and the people so lovely, they have come so far in the short time since their war and the problems they face with landmines doesn't deter them from moving even further forward.

We crossed over the border surprisingly quickly into Thailand to a blast of Westernisation. Our first sights of the Thai town of Aranyaprathet were of fast food outlets, ATMs and huge new buses. Its like a different world to the last few months. We went to try and sort out a bus to Bangkok and found one but not leaving for a couple of hours. We didn't fancy sitting in the border town for 2 hours so Simon went in searhc of alternative while I sat with the bags. Simon managed quite by chance to ask a driver who happened to be doing a visa run for peopple who live and work in Bangkok but have to leave the country for an hour to get their Visas extended. He had 3 spare seats in his pretty fly AC people carrier and he said he would take us if we left now. We shoved our bags in the boot and jumped into the all-leather cool interior. We had 5 hours of this which was fine by us.

We sat next to a reporter and journalist called Ian who was a really interesting guy and told us lots of stories which made time fly by. We got into Bangkok and had a drink with Ian in a bar in Silom road before catching a taxi to good old Khoasan. It was amazing how much it had changed in just two months. The road had been pedestrianised and closed to traffic and nicely paved, a few shops had changed and a couple new places recently oppened, yet another 7-Eleven five doors up from the other one. We worked our way through the crowds and along Ram Buttri Road and headed to the tried and tested MerryV guest house and got ourselves a room. We dummped our bags, put a load in the laundry and got a Pad Thai on the street before calling it a night! It was nice to be back!
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