Trip Start Aug 08, 2004
34Trip End Aug 2005
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We had seats below in the long, narrow cabin, jammed in with 100 other people. Our seats were in the very back-93 and 94 respectively. About as far away from the exit as you could possibly get. In addition to the passengers in the cabin and the luggage in the hold, roughly another 100 people were packed onto the roof. I realized that we had been about 6 tickets away from frying in the hot Cambodian sun for 8 hours. The whole situation was horrific and grossly unsafe (200 people + 0 life preservers = bad times)
I sat there staring out at the endless Tonle Sap Lake, thinking up contingency plans and details like, "is it better to go head first or feet first out the window?" My fears about drowning were somewhat assuaged later in the ride when we got stuck in the shallow lake water. Twice. You know how a hydrofoil is supposed to float on water, skimming across the surface? Yeah, well this one didn't. We sat for hours in one spot. Every once in awhile they would fire up the engines and try to move the boat, which involved violent pitching from left to right. People on tour boats going in the opposite direction stood out on their decks and pointed and laughed at our immobility. I hated them all.
As we finally neared land, all of the passengers were unloaded and transferred to a fleet of smaller boats so that we could sail up the narrow waterways. Ours was the last to depart because a Chinese tourist on board had forgotten his wet wipes on the larger boat and made the small boat circle around to get them
The place where we finally docked was nothing more than a collection of wooden huts. I was blown away by the smell, which was something like a rotting fish/manure mixture. The heat was absolutely oppressive and the flies swarmed around our heads. Children with stick legs and rags for clothes dogged our every step asking for money in their high, plaintive voices. This was not Siem Reap. The hotel hawkers, waiting like cats to pounce on the disoriented travelers, herded us through the shanty town as quickly as possible and loaded us into mini-buses for the final jaunt into town. We drove down roads pockmarked with the biggest potholes (actually small craters) I have ever seen. This place reminds me a lot of Tanzania: banana trees and dilapidated thatched roof huts and naked brown babies playing in the dust. Siem Reap is a burgeoning backpacker oasis in the midst of dire poverty.
Although we had purchased a room in advance in PP, we arrived at our guesthouse only to be told that (naturally) there were no free rooms. So, we were shuttled off to another guesthouse across town
During our stay in Siem Reap, we rode everywhere in a tuk-tuk (motorcycle in front pulling a carriage-like appendage). Ours was manned by a sweet, skinny kid whom we christened Snoop (he was wearing a shirt that said "Snoop 43" on the back). He took us to see the sunset at one of the most popular spots. It was so popular, in fact, that hundreds of other people decided to share in the special moment as well. I felt like I was in a crowded movie theater waiting for the show to begin.
The next day we got a later start (8:30am) having decided to bypass the 5am wake-up call necessary to see the sun rise. Much of the morning was spent clambering over massive piles of rubble and losing ourselves in the maze of stone corridors and stairwells of the temples. During the afternoon we visited Ta Prohm, my favorite temple. The jungle is slowly reclaiming the structures here; giant tree roots have worked themselves around the stones so that the two are inextricably entwined.
We took a water break in a small courtyard. I looked to my right and lazily watched an old Cambodian man who was sitting on the steps next to me, selling wooden trinkets. I thought to myself, wow, he looks kind of that little stoop-backed bald Cambodian man on the cover of the Lonely Planet book. And then it dawned on me: that photo was taken at Angkor. Maybe he was the little stoop-backed bald Cambodian man on the cover of Lonely Planet
The final sight of the day was Angkor Wat. I won't go in depth with my descriptions, but it was truly overwhelming and stunning. The spires looked like they had been dripped down from the heavens. I wish we could linger in Siem Reap for a few days to really absorb the atmosphere, but the schedule is tight and so is our budget. Back to PP tomorrow, and I think we will opt for the bus this time.