Templed out

Trip Start Feb 06, 2005
Trip End Jul 2005

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Boats are cool. Therefore fast boats must be uber-cool. This was our reasoning as we paid triple the bus fare to catch the fast boat to Siem Reap, home of the most beautiful and complex temple region in the world.
The boat was uber-cool, and being able to ride on the roof was even cooler. That's like super-duper cool. Or something. The sun-rise was spectacular, the kids waving from the banks of the river were awesome and it was fantastic to be able to watch peasants working and living in a very dirty river whilst enjoying a cold beer for 75 US cents. It's a hard life.
It was striking to realise the absurd contrast we made to the locals. A boatload of wealthy tourists cutting a swathe through the scenery, our combined wealth probably able to purchase several small villages. Little wonder that they stared at us, even though there were two boats a day going either way. Or maybe they were just staring at us for paying so much money to sit next to a very loud engine (i'm still a bit deaf in one ear) and get sunburnt.
Our boat roared through the river and up into the lake, which was so wide that for hours we couldn't even see the shoreline. We were discharged in the middle of a floating village (it even had a floating police station, complete with a policeman paddling the official dugout canoe), and continued in smaller boats until we reached land. And what an awful shithole our landing spot was. Umm... I mean... what a great place to be exposed to local living standards! Flies were in plague proportions, the water smelt of urine and the ground of faeces.
Fifteen minutes from there however, is Siem Reap. Siem Reap is like Phnom Penh, a French Riviera wannabe. Beautiful parks, old colonial buildings and... and.. well, not much else really, apart from the temples. That's not such a bad thing though. The temples are in a league of their own. We explored them for only a day and a half, and for that day and a half were blown away by every aspect of them.
Angkor Wat is the bomb. It's immense. It's on the Cambodian flag, so it must be good.
The Bayon is a king's monument to himself. Everywhere you look, there is a tower with his face watching the four compass points. It's big too. Come to think of it, apparently they didn't know what small was.
There are many, many others, but Ta Prohm is the coolest because they haven't started ruining it with "restorations". Jungle trees still overrun the walls, and there's heaps of atmosphere. Even better, Angelina Jolie was here for the first Lara Croft.
Whilst running around the Bayon I ran into Nigel Lewin, a guy I went to school with. Small world after all. He was spending an entire week exploring the temples, which is very intense to say the least. After one day I was ready to never see another temple again. Or ruined building. Unless it was my old school, in which case I would love to see it as a ruined building.
We walked the circumfrence of the Bayon and made up our own interpretations of the ornate carvings covering the outer walls. This seemed to be what the guides were doing, but our stories were a little less mundane. We also managed to befriend a monk, and get invited back to his pagoda the next day. Yeah, we rock!
The next day was a day of broken English, exploring the picturesque countryside and ceremonial lunching with Buddhist monks and nuns. Even better than the temples! Except for moments during the last hour or so, when we were looking at the monks, and they were looking at us, our bilingual abilities stretched past breaking point. There are only so many words you can learn in five hours, and sometimes awkward silence just seemed easier. It was great and everybody enjoyed it immensely, but we were glad to leave.
We headed back to Phnom Penh the next day (by bus), and decided that we needed a holiday from holidaying. So all we did was drink, sleep and watch DVDs for a few days. Are we culturally acclimatised or what?
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