Not another ruined temple!

Trip Start May 27, 2009
Trip End Nov 14, 2009

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Monday, November 2, 2009

The earliest start yet – up at 3.15 to catch bus to the airport for my flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia to visit the temples at Angkor Wat. Very kindly my friend and her husband gave me a lift to the bus station but as it turned out we could all have had an extra 2 hours in bed as Air Asia, one of the no frills airlines here, had changed the flight time without letting us know.

The flight lasted about 2 hours which passed easily as most of it was spent filling in the numerous immigration, customs and health declaration forms. Then on landing there was the visa application process and then another arrival card. So after all that faffing I was delighted to be met by a driver from the hotel holding up a card with my name – that was a bonus I hadn't expected. I picked the City River Hotel after hours of internet searching – many of the hotels are on the airport road but I didn't want to be stuck out of town in some resort hotel so I had picked this one  as it was within 5 minutes walk to the centre of the town. It was perfect – easy walk to the central market and more importantly Pub Street, fab rooftop swimming pool, on site massage, free internet and breakfast and all for US$40 per night  and yes I know you can get cheaper deals to be had but I didn’t want to take any chances.

As I am on the home straight now I felt it might be time to do some shopping – first purchase a new daypack – I will be sorry to see my wee spotty one go, but it has taken a lot of punishment  and is showing definite signs of wear and tear. Bought some other stuff too but a press embargo on the details may be in place till 25 December. Had my first alcoholic drink since arriving on SE Asia – a Mojito which seemed more lime juice than anything else but at only US $1.50 could I complain? And that is the odd thing here the currency used for tourists is the US $.

On my walk round town it is clear that the infrastructure is not great , most of the roads are not surfaced and I can’t remember seeing many street lights but the well prepared traveler that I am I had my Magilite torch with me! Pub Street was the place to be and contained more Western people than I had seen since leaving Australia and unfortunately I have to conclude that some of them may not have been in Cambodia to see the temples.

And so for three days of temple visiting by the end of which I could hardly tell Angkor Wat from Angkor Beer – of course I exaggerate but just a tad. However I am glad I didn’t have a guide as that would have been information overload. My transport for the three days was by tuk tuk, basically a motor bike with a trailer but much better fun than bus or taxi. My driver was called Pheach and he was, particularly when on the first day due temple overdose I forgot his instructions about where to meet.

I have to say that my first sight of Angkor Wat was one o those 'pinch yourself I can’t believe I’m actually here moments’ – it is a huge complex and had some amazingly detailed murals and carvings on the interior walls. I realised that not coming for the sunrise was a mistake which I fixed on my third day.  I had bought a 3 day pass so it was no problem to come back again. If you are coming for longer the thing to do would be to get a 7 day pass and then you can have a day or two of rest in between those spent visiting temples.

It is coming back to me – Bauphon is the one with the very steep climb – very high but narrow steps which given that the people here are not tall and are very slightly built, I can only assume that the point was that they should climb on their hands and knees; Bayon is the one with all the carved Buddha faces. Too many more to see that afternoon and the climb to Phnom Bateng to watch the sunset was a disappointment - it was a very strenuous climb with hundreds of other people and when we got there – well it was just a sunset over the countryside – not Angkor Wat as I had expected.

There are hundreds of souvenir sellers everywhere with over 90% of them children. I was sure I read that it is not responsible to encourage them as if they make a living selling stuff there is no incentive for their parents to send them to school but it is so trained in the school of selling but when the cutest little boy with the saddest eyes pleads with you to buy a few postcards it is painful to ignore him - but I did.

On the second day we went further out of town to a temple complex called Bantay Srei. I must have then seen about 6 or 7 more temples. Some of them were almost swallowed by the jungle before the renovations of the 20th century. The temples must have been fabulous when built and ther must have been incredible wealth in the country at that time.It is certainly not so evident now.What was really enjoyable was the longer journey in the tuk tuk going past all the normal villages with stalls selling all manner of stuff, including an amazing range of basket wear – you name the purpose and I’m sure someone here will weave something to suit. It was difficult to take photos from the moving tuk tuk – I just wish I could have shown you the motorbikes with whole family groups of up to 4 or 5 on them, complying with the letter of the law to the extent that driver is wearing a helmet – but no-one else. An Englishman who runs the bar next to the hotel says that he once saw 7!

After a relaxing time at the rooftop pool in the late afternoon I opted to have an hour’s massage to completely de-stress after all that temple tramping – well actually it was an hour of complete pummelling by a wee slip of a girl – she walked up and down my back pulled me this way and that, seemed to crack every joint and all for only $8 - wow!

My timing was perfect as this is the time for the annual Water Festival which involves narrow boat races, with teams of about a dozen oarsmen and women, but along the river there were all sorts of stalls much like a funfair but with lots of food options too. At night the atmosphere was amazing and it was catering mostly to the locals as for once the quoted prices were in the local currency, the riel. Most westerners seemed to stick with Pub Street but I was lucky it was all happening just at my doorstep. Saturday night and the locals were all dressed in their best gear for promenading and yes the custom of wearing pyjamas as outdoor wear is alive and well in Cambodia – no photos as I thought it might be a bit impolite. Also I have never seen so many young people–apparently the average family has more than 3 children.

I had an early start to my final day of sightseeing as I had decided to see the sunrise at Angkor Way – glad that I did, it was definitely worth it. At one of the temples later in the morning a young student monk  started chatting to me to practice his English and being the cynic I kept waiting for the sting in the tail request for money but I am pleased to report that he was genuine and did indeed only want to speak English – hurrah for the good guys.Unlike the guys who do the boat trips to the lake – the trip is a must as you get to see the 'floating village’ but they make the price up depending on who you are and then try to get you to take another smaller boat trip and have lunch at the village – I have to say that experience was quite uncomfortable and I seemed to be on the slowest, most breakdown prone boat in the fleet whether deliberate or otherwise – very glad to get back to shore and Mr. Pheach who had got concerned as my trip lasted way longer than was normal.

Back to town in time for the afternoon’s official start to the boat races – both sides of the river were packed and the races involved over 30 boats – apparently the one taking place at the same time in Pnhom Penh involved over 200 – that must be quite a spectacle.

Memories of Siem Reap – pyjamas as going out gear, so many children, friendly people, travelling by tuk tuk, cheap food and drink, face masks ( because of air pollution rather than swine flu I think)– oh and temples!
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Louise Knipe on

Wow what an experience. It could be a long long night looking at your holiday pics. Glad that you have remained intact and safe. Hopefully talk to you when you get back.

moiramacd on

you have had a fantastic trip and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all the blogs about your experiences. Have got used to your updates and will miss them! Look forward to seeing you soon. As always take care and safe journey home. Well done!

Agy Mag on

Wow what a trip! Looking forward to hearing about it in person. Maybe you should write a book. See you soon Love Agyx

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