Angkor What?

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

At Sihoukaville, the NFO crew split and went their separate directions. Annalouc went to Bangkok to start her study term there after much anxiety over the troublesome redshirts, Anna went North to Laos after hearing about all the banter I and others had, and Mike and Ali backtracked to Phnom Pehn. I continued on to Siem Reap. Literally, Defeated Siamese. Slightly hostile naming a city after a vanquished Thai enemy but each to their own.

After an overnight bus journey I was again bombarded with Tuk Tuk'ers who actually topped their Phnom Pehn brothers in terms of annoyance. Hard to believe it was possible but cause Siem Reap is so much smaller they all stalk the same areas which makes actually having a fluent conversation really difficult as your train of though is constantly being interupted by some jackass clapping at you or shouting. . They did however successfully managed to get me into to their sponsors guesthouse as it actually was a bit better than the ones that the Lonely Planet advised. Nicer building perhaps, but turns out they were pretty fricken sneaky in terms of trying to wildly over inflate the price of tours etc. Tis where they get you.

For those of you who don't know, Siem Reap is home to the mighty Temples of Angkor Wat, the city of what was once a massive empire spanning the whole of Thailand, Laos and lower Vietnam. Most of it was built inbetween the 9th-13th century but after the empire came crumbling down, so did the temples. The rights to the main temples have been acquired by a Chinese company in return for improving infrastructure around the city which I suppose is fair enough but, the company also owns the Bokor Hill station that I visited in Kampot where they're building a 5 star luxury resort, clearing out a huge area of jungle in the process and not doing in an an overly eco friendly way. Also, the rights to the floating village, another of the main attractions in Siem Reap have been auctioned off to a South Korean company for the same deal. Pros and Cons to it all but it feels wrong being charged extortionate prices knowing that your tourist dollars isn't going to the Cambodians, but some unscrupulous foreign company. Cambodia is currently for sale. Get in while the goings good.

The temples themselves are incredible. I got up bright and early to get there for the sun to rise at just before 6am but unfortunately it was slightly overcast so a bit of an anti-climax. But, i'd been out the night before for a few beers so was a bit sluggish around the main temple of Angkor Wat which worked out to my advantage as all the eager souls fired around as fast as the could they left me in a trail of their dust.  So after about an hour I practically had the place to myself. At one point, it was literally just me sitting in amongst the Angkor Wat courtyard just having a think. It was sublimely peaceful.

After that I got chatting to an Aussie guy who'd done his homework and had his sights set on a few of the more obscure temples so I tagged along and we ended up straying from the trail a bit and finding two temples that were completely devoid of any other tourists! So we we're climbing all over these ruins completely by ourselves having a grand old time. And obviously completely ignoring the 'Danger: Climb at own risk' signs.  A bit precarious at times in flip flops but awesome fun none-the-less. Managed to get some superb pics too. It took two days to do the main tourist loop at Angkor Wat, including Bayon, Ta Prom (The temple that Tomb Raider was filmed at) and Preah Neak Pean. After a chill out day myself and Bryan ventured 55kms away to the Beng Malea temple which isn't gleaned for the masses as much as Angkor Wat and was most definitely worth the effort. It was deserted and fairly untouched/uncleaned which gave it a much more authentic feel to it. There was a film shot there in 2004 so there was a wooden walkway that was left over from shooting but we opted to take the clambering route, over the rubble, which was much more of a challenge. Again, the temples were so photogenic it was difficult to take a bad picture.

Aside from that I visited the floating village. Self explanatory. A village, that floats. They live on a river. They go to school on a river. They socialise on a river. They sleep in houses on the river. Bizarre. I've heard that it was purely because they were a community of fisherman but also head it's cause of avoiding taxes. Not entirely sure which is true.

A few decent bars in Siem Reap too. We chilled out a few nights in Angkor What? (clever) and even stumbled upon/into a Cambodian nightclub were I was one of three white boys there. And the place wasn't crawling with working girls so it was acutally pretty decent as we knew the locals offering us drinks were just doing it as dancing with the rythmless white boys must've been quite amusing for them.

I spent a bit more time than i'd anticipated in Siem Reap as I was bed bound for a day being sick which was only a matter of time before it happened but it was only a day so not too bad. So much for my super human immune system. But it didn't hold me back and I battled on through the heat to make the most of the place. Quite happy to leave after 5 days as the place was full on catered for tourists, to the point that Bangkok would be proud of it. But then, getting a Tuk Tuk driver to take us to play some football with the locals just as a heavy rainstorm came in kept it a bit authentic. Playing around with 20 local Cambodian kids in a lightening storm where the rain was coming down so thick it actually hurt.....was a good laugh. The Cambodians, so long as they don't drive a Tuk Tuk or are trying to flog you something are extremely friendly and hospitable people.

Next stop, Saigon and into Vietnam.
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Hannah Biggs on

Loving your Cambodia travels - I didn't get a chance to spend much time there so I am feeling totally inspired to go back.

So excited that you are going to Vietnam, yeay! I don't want to be annoying and tell you what to do but if you want any recommendations, let me know. My friends Paul and Paula (lovely Irish couple) have just returned there if you want put in touch. One favour, if you are in De Tham (Tourist area), take some photos and tell me if Cappachinos is still there (my Italian place when I got fed up with rice), Table d'saigon and Chi's (parallel street).

Have a blast and drink as much Vietnamese beer as you can as it is awesome! Bai Hoi is the shizz and cost about 10p - some of it is rubbish but some is great.

Okay, that is enough from me (so tempted just to quite my job and come and join you).

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