Off to Banteay Chhmar, can we go by car...?
Trip Start Sep 09, 2007
33Trip End Ongoing
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The flight to Bangkok hit a bit of turbulence - one guy got a cup of hot tea all down his back courtesy of the woman in the seat behind him - but we arrived safe and sound in Thailand. Upon arrival we were met with some of the rudest, most surly airport staff yet; deliberately being unhelpful and at times even obstructive. The funniest part was that one of them, the lady at passport control was sitting behind a Thai tourism poster emblazoned with their famous 'Land of Smiles' slogan. The sad truth is that the smiles we've encountered during our time here have invariably been associated to money changing hands (I.e. our money into their hands), not at all like the honest, genuine and at times heartwarming smiles beamed at us in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and even Malaysia.
We also took our camera in to an internet café to make backup DVDs of all our photos so far. Unfortunately we chose the two most incompetent dumbasses in Thailand to burn the discs, and we returned from collecting our Vietnam visas to find they'd only put half the photos onto disk, had wiped two of our cards and, not content with that had also infected them both with a virus! When I asked Dumb & Dumber what they were going to do about it, they just giggled and shrugged their shoulders.
After easing our frustration with some tasty sweet chilli chicken (nothing like a good bit of street food to comfort you!) we set out in search of a geek in shining armour to save us. When we walked into a camera shop and found this chap playing Civilization and eating his packed lunch we knew we'd found our man!!
After a frustrating but eventful few days in which we also befriended a tramp with skin like puff pastry, we finally managed to escape the sticky glue of Bangkok and take the bus to the border. We were glad to be leaving our hostel which seemed to be staging a how-loud-can-you-slam-your-door-at-ridiculous-times-in-the-morning competition and came 'manned' by a miserable, rude and overly effeminate guy (we think!?) on reception we nicknamed 'Ray' for the little ray of sunshine he/she was.
Everybody else seemed to be heading straight to Siem Reap and it was much to the confusion and bemusement of the guy at the bus stand when we asked for tickets to Sisophon, a smaller town on the road to Siem Reap.
The scenery in Cambodia is unspectacular but very pleasant, its roadsides littered with lily ponds and small farms and the air is filled with hundreds of butterflies. Its lush, green and very flat land is reminiscent of parts of England in some areas which was a strange feeling... luckily there are enough mopeds carrying basket loads of live pigs, and tractor engines towing carts overloaded with people, bikes and chickens to remind you you're still in Asia. The roads could also pass as a real-life car advert as seemingly everyone drives a Toyota Camry. It's not just the car in front; it's the car behind you, the car next to you; the car with 8 people in the back; the car with the guy riding on the bonnet; the car with 2 tonnes of luggage piled up on the roof...
We arrived in Sisophon and, true to the bus guy's words, found we were the only Westerners in sight. The locals seemed happy to see us, particularly the girl in our hotel who looked overjoyed to have us staying with her. The next morning, word had obviously travelled pretty fast along the Sisophon grapevine, as we awoke to find a veritable army of motorbike and taxi drivers camped outside the front gates, waiting to pounce on their new prey. And so the auctioning war began...
Finally, after a prolonged and sometimes heated discussion that lasted almost an hour, it was decided that we could get to Banteay Chhmar by car (despite the motorbike guys telling us the road was too dangerous and only accessible by bike) and Gom, a very smiley man with a funny little giggle was going to take us. The thing is, we took almost no part in this great debate at all and instead just stood back and watched these guys argue amongst themselves until the hotel owner got fed up with a front room full of angry taxi drivers and kicked us all out.
Banteay Chhmar is a huge great area of temple ruins, large areas of which have been destroyed throughout the years by invading armies and more recently the Khmer Rouge.
It has been partially restored in places but is largely untouched and has been left to nature which makes for a great place to explore and you work your way through, round and over the piles of rubble, scattered stones and knee-high grass, discovering beautiful carvings and stonework amongst the snakes, spiders, butterflies, bugs and lizards. It's a very peaceful and desolate place - our friend on the gatehouse had only 8 people signed in on his clipboard in the past 3 and a half weeks - which really gave us a great taster of the Angkor temples in Siem Reap to come.
Banteay Chhmar's slightly less illustrious little brother is Banteay Torp, a very small section of temple ruins that are barely accessible - the only route linking it to the road is a very narrow and deep-rutted dirt path used by a farmer. It proved to be a little disappointing after Chhmar, but we didn't dare tell Gom that after his Camry took one whole of a beating getting there. Never mind, there'll be no shortage of spare parts knocking about round here...