Published: September 3rd 2011June 7th 2011
With James being mischeivous (again, if you ask me nicely you could find out) we had to rebook our buses to Cambodia. This meant we needed an extra days worth of clothing, which James did not. Being preoccupied, or just plain lazy, James bought a t-shirt rather than wash one he already had. If only it was that cheap at uni. Thankfully the last night went off without a hitch, apart from my Khao San belly. It had never been the same after I guzzled a bucket of Mai Thai cocktail in five minutes. Dangerous times when a several hour journey to Siem Reap beckoned.
The trip started early morning on Khao San Road where the stragglers of the night before could be seen wandering aimlessly. Everything was going swimmingly until we reached the border post. Our minibus pulled up a couple of miles away from the checkpoint where we were greeted by some overly friendly Cambodian men. They told us we were to buy the Visas from them for 1200 baht. This is approximately £24 and is whey more than I anticipated. I, being slighlty ill and James tired, we did not clock on to the fact that we
were being swindled. James and I both paid nearly double what we should have. Furthermore, before we made the crossing, our "guide" spouted some bulls**t about Cambodian culture to make us do things we never intended initially. By this point, James and I were furious. All we wanted to do was get to Siem Reap yet it became alot more complicated than we once thought. Advice if you do the same border: cross it yourself without "helpful" Cambodian strangers!
The border post was such a strange place. There were adults and children wandering into the no-mans' land without any involvment from the local police. They seemed to be free to go wherever and even allowed to sell things. It just did not make sense to me. People must be able to sneak across the Aranya Prathet border all the time. Anyhow, eventually we made some progress and were buggy driven to the bus terminal, on the Cambodian side. The anger on our faces gradually drifted since the driver whacked on "We no speak Americano" during our twenty minutes on the glorified golf buggy. Finally, we got on a bus destined for Siem Reap. Another concern was they drove on
the right-hand side but had right-hand drive also. I guess the Cambodian government and police have priorities other than road safety.
For what felt an eternity, we arrived at Prom Roth Guesthouse, suggested by my ex-travel buddy, Caroline. After the day we had, this guesthouse was a lite bit of paradise. Free internet and wifi, free bottled water, TV, nice warm showers, A/C and the most welcoming owner one could hope for. The owner even organised our three days, at the Angkor temples, for us. His cousin was to be our personal Tuk-Tuk driver too. Could we ask for much more?!
Raring to go, James and I hopped in our chartered tuk-tuk wishing it would be better than the previous. We started big. In fact starting with the biggest religious building in the world, Angkor Wat. The scale of the place was epic. The area it covered was of a small town. Sadly, for both James and I, a feeling of being underawed ran through us. Ugly green scaffolding covered the front of the main temple. The ponds just outside were half empty because it was hot season too. The grandeour of the place was not there. In
its defence, the hand carvings were stunning with the main lotus towers just like I had seen in pictures but this did not add up to being blown away. Not a great start and for our sakes we hoped we were not to be underwhelmed all day considering we had spent alot of money for our tickets.
After navigating our way through seemingly hundreds of women shouting "Buy water for one dorrar" we came to the highly recommended Bayon Wat. Now, this was a temple to remember. It had tens of towers, of varying heights, that each displayed four literal faces. The faces were somewhat spooky beacuse they all held an expression of a smug, intimidating smile. These were incredibly photogenic and around every corner I seemed to be taking a photograph. The only thing that stopped us staying longer was the heat. The Sun was beating directly down at us in a relentless fashion. Our drinking water was disappearing so fast we soon ran out a while before we were to reach our tuk-tuk driver. I found myself stopping every thirty metres or so before having to have a sit down. At a temple called Phimeakas, a giant
jigsaw puzzle was being constructed. Better the locals than me since it probably would take half a century to get even close to completion.
James had made a big mistake. He wore a grey t-shirt. This was soaked through and he looked like he had been put through the washing machine. We needed to cool off and our prayers were answered. The torrential tropical downpour commenced. We were in our tuk-tuk at the time but others were not so lucky. Local students with book bags were caught by the rain, while riding their bikes. They did not seem to be to bothered, it was just another storm to them. The heavens stayed open for a good forty-five minutes or so an the whole place was flooded. Ironically the ladies selling umbrellas were wet through. Apparently umbrellas were no use for them but essential for the soft tourists.
We wolfed down our staple diet of fried rice, after the rains subsided and we braved our way to the famous Tomb Raider temple, Ta Prohm. The storm left no trace of the path because it was now under ten inches of water. Flip-flops had to be carried and, to be
safe, we bought a lovely girly baby-pink umbrella, so I could take photos. The light was dim due to the storm clouds, creating a hush you only find in horror movies. Virtually no one was here and the temple was within the thick undergrowth of the Cambodian jungle. It truly felt like an adventure. The enormous trees had taken over for sure. The ridiculously large roots were devouring the main structure, collapsing walls in many parts. This temple was at one with nature. The lack of sound, dim light and the ruined, deserted architecture made this place spookily beautiful. "Wow!" around every corner. By far, this was my favourite temple of them all. The cherry on top would have been if Angelina Jolie rocked up and she did! Only kidding but how special would have that been?!
In the evening, we went out to eat more Pad Thai and fried rice at a street stall, where the only shield against the elements were several tarpaulin sheets. While eating, one of the sheets burst and one of the female cooks was drenched in a comedic fashion. It was like what you see on television. All she could do was laugh
out of embarrassment and get on with her job. Poor thing!
We started day two of temple hopping. Before we left we went into town to get some sandwiches. Me: "Can I have a tuna baguette and a chicken sandwich please?", I asked. The owner: "ok!". James: "Can I have a bacon sandwich and a chicken sandwich, please?" The owner: "No problem." The owner came back several times to double check the order. We did everything but write it down. He understood. What came back was three diced chicken fat baguettes and a tuna sandwich. Brilliant. Not one was correct. I would not have had a problem if the chicken was chicken, like in the sandwiches. For some reason the baguettes were a different story. Great start to the day.
Our second tour of the temples was interesting. Not one was the same as the last. At these temples we found it was less touristed so we had much more attention from the local sales people. We were constantly being offered postcards, flutes, magnets and much more. The children were so intelligent and warm I couldn't help but be sucked in. I bought "Two flutes for one dorrar"
and a set of postcards for "one dorrar". One little girl looked so upset I didn't buy anything from her that I just gave her one dollar without buying anything. I've never seen such a happy child. She ran off jumping and prancing. That really made my day.
Before we ended the day, we visited the hilltop temple of Phnom Bakheng It was magnificent with 360 degree panoramic views of the surrounding area. Oddly enough, we came across a chap called Toby, who I had met a whole month ago in Ayuthaya, Thailand. Small world. We waited for the sunset but we got much more. The darkest of all rainclouds enveloped the setting sun. Then we heard the thunder. Then we saw the most magnificent forks of lightning one could hope for. "Oooooh" was a frequent comment by fellow onlookers. Then we realised we were highest point for miles around. Toby was being stubborn trying to take pictures of the lightning, which was virtually impossible. Sense prevailed and we hastily made our way back to the tuk-tuk, as the storm slowly approached. Our driver was waiting for us with umbrellas. That's true service. Toby, on the other hand, rode
there on a bike. He gave us his valuables and made for Siem Reap, a good 5miles bike ride away. This storm was a true wonder. The streets were completely flooded within minutes, with the peddles of bikes sinking beneath the water. Children were swimming in the moats and some playing naked. This was possibly the most intense storm I had ever witnessed. Breathtaking. Somehow we made it back unscathed and dry.
Before heading out that evening, James and I were playing music on the speakers. James said he would show me the truest song of all time. I said, "no you won't because that's Mardy Bum." What does James put on, out of 3000 songs on his iPod? Well it was only Mardy Bum of course. Just one of those weird coincidences that occur in life. High fives followed this freakish moment, of course.
That same evening, we ventured to the nightmarket. One hour full body massages were being sold for $2. I couldn't believe my eyes. This place sold everything a tourist would want. What caught our eye was the watch store. Classic Casios of varied colours we being sold for $2 also. I couldn't resist
and bought two but James left his decisions for the next day. We met up with Toby that evening to give back his valuables and for some beverages, when a young boy came to sell us something. We told him where we were from and the he began reciting off many facts about the UK. Facts included prime ministers of the past thirty years; populations of England, N.I., Wales and Scotland; the royal family and much more. It was impressive and it was a technique many of the children used to suck in the tourists. He even knew facts about Malaysia but he told me he just learned them from a malay guy down the road. Before we had a chance to buy anything he scarpered as did many others because there was a policeman on the prowl. To finish the evening James and I played doubles pool against the local champs. Safe to say we lost but the tables were some of the worst I had ever played on. No excuses, but James was just terrible (just messing Jimbo).
A tad hungover, James and I boarded our chauffeur driven carriage for our final day of temples. I'm not
sure how much more we could take. These temples were a healthy distance away and left the city completely. Paddy fields stretched away as far as the eye could see with traditional kampong houses (stilted houses) sporadically dotted around. As we drifted past country children walking along the road, one boy no older than five waved at us with a big smile. Both James and I waved back and he looked so pleased. Moments like that make this trip worthwhile.
At our first temple, Banteay Srei, we encountered a throng of Japanese tourists. These guys travel in huge numbers and make so much noise. The carvings at the temple were magnificent but all sense of majesty was lost with the shear number and volume of the tour group. A local band of men who suffered from land mine injuries were playing traditional music there too. They were top notch and I witnessed one man using a solitary leaf as his instrument. By far he was my favourite and I couldn't help but get lost in the beat.
To conclude our three day voyage through the Cambodian wilderness we trekked our way two kilometres uphill to a sacred site
called Kbal Spean When we got there we were shocked only to find a few carvings into the riverbed. Don't get me wrong, the craftsmanship was awesome but was it worth the thirty-odd kilometre mission? Probably not but what we found put the silver lining on our trip to the Angkor sites. We found a small waterfall of which we could stand under and cool off in the raging heat. We had it all to ourselves too. A magical conclusion on our cultural experience. We left with giant smiles from ear to ear. We couldn't have asked for much more.
To celebrate a fantastic three days, James and I splashed out on more watches. That meant I had four and James had three. Also, we decided to enjoy a night on Pub Street. We decided to hit the "Angkor What? Bar" where we met Vivi, Philip and Aldo. We discovered the bar sold t-shirts but not at a small price. For one, we needed to buy two buckets of cocktail. James and I both bought two each and the other bought four between them. We then found this amount of alcohol was too much for Aldo. He proceeded to
Luckiest photo ever!
attend the toilet on a regular basis in between swaying on the dance-floor. To have a dance, James and I put our shirts aside and partied away. Bad decision, backpackers are thieves! Both were gone after five minutes unattended. Vivi, a Chinese German girl spotted one between a guys legs while he was raving. She then stole one back. It just so happened to be that that guy had not taken our t-shirts at all. We had pinched a different style. Oh well, it was a nice one so we kept it. I think karma struck fast because Vivi's friend from home, Phillip, had his hat stolen. Furious he roamed the streets hunting for it. Not a happy bunny. Anyhow, it all ended with chicken and chips whilst witnessed the spotting of the biggest rats in history. Just another top night in the Cambodge!
There are more photos below