Siem Reap and Angkor Temples

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Asia » Cambodia » North » Siem Reap
September 19th 2011
Published: September 29th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

The night bus to Siem Reap was surprisingly comfortable, that is, if you ignore the broken air con vents which blasted down on me for the whole journey. I had my soft shell on, a scarf and a blanket and I was freezing. Other than that though, it was a comfy sleeper bus, the first in Cambodia apparently and it only cost me 14 dollars. When you get local bus’s the rest stops are all local places and there’s only so long that you can hold your bladder! I hate having to use the toilets, which are on the floor with a bucket of water next to you, no where to put your bag and the floor is always a couple of cm deep in water. I hate it. My biggest recommendation to female travelers, is to buy a shewee – look into it, they are amazing when backpacking, oh and always have tissues with you!

I was headed for Garden Village, a recommended backpacker’s hostel. It was perfect. It had acc’n ranging from a plank with a mattress in an outdoor dorm for just 1 dollar to aircon with ensuite rooms (I went for the fan with an ensuite and it only cost 7 dollars a night). There’s a great social living area on the 2nd floor, with a pool table, free internet terminals and wifi, a big tv and comfy chairs, I met some amazing people there. It was great to see their improvisation when delivering meals from the kitchen to the 2nd floor, they had a pulley system, I will add a photo to show you.

My first night started with the “Angkor What?” bar with another 10 backpackers from Garden Village. Wow, what a fun night, but my god I have never sweated so much…the bar has no windows, the odd fan and is just decorated with graffiti and it’s jam packed, but it’s amazing. Our clothes were almost dripping-literally, if you’ve been you know what I mean! One of the many things that I’m learning about traveling is that most of us (backpackers) are likeminded and have a similar outlook on life; therefore, you make friends really quickly and just hit it off with people.

Siem Reap itself has a nice balance of tourism and retention of local custom. There is a main strip of bars, a museum, temples, a night market, the old market and central market which sells all sorts of amazing gifts and crafts. Generally speaking the people are just lovely but some of the little children in the centre can be quite unpleasant. I was really saddened at about 0200 outside the Temple Bar to see a tiny tiny boy (looked like he just started walking) stood outside the bar asking for money with his mum nearby. Next to him was a little girl, maybe about 9, who was dirty dancing outside the bar to the music, asking for money. Regardless of how different life is here it isn’t right to have children out at this time of night begging from drunken foreigners. If needs must and all that, but still I felt from the children.

Our tuk tuk was booked for 0730 (why oh why do I end up having late nights when I have to be up in the morning? I guess, you can’t plan a good night out) to take us to the Angkor Temples. Wow. Sometimes, when you visit somewhere which has a good reputation you build an unrealistic image in your mind and therefore end up feeling disappointed. Well, they didn’t disappoint. The temples are amazing and they are really spread out, surrounded by lush forest, which also provides some shade from the sun. They’re peaceful locations and beautiful pieces of architecture. Three of us went together and bought a 3 day pass. I think that a 1 day pass is ok if you just want to see the temples briefly and be able to say you’ve been. But, if you genuinely want to visit them and absorb the atmosphere a 3 day pass is a must. (1 day pass = 20 dollars and a 3 day pass = 40 dollars). I won’t describe the temples; some of my photos will give you a better description. One thing that you aren’t prepared for is the swarm of women and children every time you get out of the tuk tuk and sometimes before you get out, one lady actually ran alongside our tuk tuk trying to sell us something. They don’t give in and it gets a little tiring maintaining a polite and bubbly demeanor when saying no thanks for the millionth time. I gave in sometimes but you can’t say yes to everyone. One cause that I was happy to give to were the musicians who sat at the side of the paths leading to some of the temples, they played music on local instruments and didn’t beg. They just had a sign to explain that they were all victims of mines and chose not to beg to retain their dignity. Their injuries were obvious and I respected the way in which they earned their money. And actually, their music really enhanced the experience. The cost of drinks and food at the temples can be costly (in comparison to the local average that is). We sat for lunch and when we saw the menu we said it was too expensive and we left. We forgot that even listed prices are flexible. She instantly knocked anything we ordered down by 50% and we stayed. It turns out that you really can haggle for anything. Good on them for trying their luck though.

I know I’ve already mentioned this, but I cannot express just how much you sweat, even before you leave the hostel. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so unattractive. There’s no keeping up appearances here. It’s actually a bit of a personal challenge to get over some deep routed insecurities, which are put to the test here and have been since I arrived in Asia. There’s no hiding behind makeup to cover bad skin days, I have no hair dryer or GHDs to help control the big mass of fluffy hair I am stuck with and I bet no one else admits it (I said I would blog openly) but body hair grows so much quicker here and when you wear shorts most days (and get a massage most days) it takes effort to have smooth legs all the time.
Back to the temples. Our first day was amazing, followed by another unplanned night out. The following day one of the guys who came with us on day 1 was poorly (it turns out that he had dengue fever!), we felt so bad because we assumed he was hung-over and had no idea he was actually really ill until he was recovered enough to tell us.

Three of us decided to hire bikes, which were only 1 dollar for the day. They are what I would describe as little Miss Daisy bikes, the really old fashioned ones, no gears, curved handle bars, a basket and a bell, they are very proper. On the way we stopped at a shop to grab some water and snacks for the ride to the temples. I learned here that you should be very careful where you choose to be generous. Some little kids were begging outside the shop, giving the normal sad sob story, I am not mocking this by the way, but sometimes when you hear the same thing it’s hard to know when it’s genuine or not. I agreed to treat them and bought them sweets (I figured that they eat enough rice and noodles, maybe sweets were a treat if they’re poor). I bought them each a bag of sweets, and anticipated that they would share them with their friends (very naive) – since this occasion I now buy a bag of sweets and dish them out myself – another lesson learnt and applied.

As soon as I bought them they ran off and then on exiting the shop, I was surrounded by kids, pulling at my clothes. One lady had a baby slung at her chest and she was with a little boy, they begged so much that I asked if they were together, they said yes, so I gave the lady my change. She then smirked and said ha, we’re not really together and she left! Leaving the little boy firmly attached to my bike starting to get annoyed with me that I wouldn’t give him money – I ran out of change and am not going to be bullied into being generous. My oh my, what a pickle I had created. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at the time I was just trying to be nice. The kids with the sweets appeared and I asked them to share, they just said no and were amused at the harassment the other kids gave me. I tried to move with my bike but this kid just held my bike firmly, I’d have hurt him if I forced my bike forwards so I just prayed he would loosen his grip or let go. The 2 people I was with were also pleading with them to let me go and asked the kids to share their sweets. It created a scene really quickly and in the end a local came over and physically removed the child, at which point I ran with my bike, literally. It was horrible. Then, Sean and I crossed the busy road (remember I said the roads are lethal) and Emma was still to cross. We waited for her and watched when she started to cross….but the road wasn’t clear and she was wobbling into the road. Cars crossed behind her, swerving slightly and she was smack bang in the path of a minibus which was traveling in flow with the rest of the traffic. She wobbled a lot and it turns out that her brakes didn’t work properly, the minibus swerved to avoid her and I honestly thought we’d lost her, it felt like ages until the minibus passed and we saw her, alive and well. It gave all of us a fright but she dealt with it very well. What a start to the day!

Whilst I’m on the topic of less than friendly children, one of the girls who stayed at the Garden Village had been walking back from a night out with, might I add, 2 guys and she was still mugged. It happened so quickly and the guys had been drinking and didn’t react quickly enough to stop it apparently. It was children and it was outside that shop I just told you about! The bigger kids restrained her and the little nippers searched her and stole her purse. I’m telling you so that you can see both side of life here. I would suggest that 90% of the time you are safe and the children are just lovely and have kind hearts. They only try and sell you stuff because that’s what their parents force them to do, but they are lovely and really appreciate your attention and time.

The following day we had a tuk tuk booked to pick us up at 0500 to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. The only reason I dragged my ass out of bed at this silly hour, and believe me I debated it, after another late night (I’m seriously too old for this) is so that I didn’t stand Emma up, it was just the 2 of us today. As much as I hate waking up early, I love being up early, everything is so peaceful and it seems like a special time of day. We found a good spot inside the outer walls of Angkor Wat and watched as the sky turned from black to grey. Cloud. Damn cloud, typical!

None the less we enjoyed visiting some more temples, despite the onslaught of rain which attacked us by mid morning. We were mid transit when the rain hit and you haven’t seen rain until you’ve been to Asia in rainy season! Our tuk tuk driver detoured off road to a shelter, which was next to a water mill. It was just a tin roof with mats on the floor and some hammocks, next to a river. It turns out that we were all tired and I know this because without intention we all fell asleep, Emma in the hammock, myself and the tuk tuk driver on the floor (no, not together). The rain is so noisy when it hits a tin roof, it’s a sound I’ve become very familiar with.
My favourite temples were, the Bayon Temple, the one where they filmed Tomb Raider (where the trees grow from buildings and the roots are above the ground) and another temple which was not on the main tourist trail, therefore it wasn’t rebuilt or maintained, it was natural and beautiful. I’m sorry there are so many temples, I forgot their names. Some of the temples have really jaggard steep steps, if you want to go to the top that is. They vary drastically in steepness, depth and angle. We climbed the steps of one temple and I was at the front, when I reached the top, I remember thinking phew that was hard work (it was also the end of one of our days and in that heat it doesn’t take much to get exhausted when you climb your 20th set of steps). I thought I was there but I must have misjudged the last step, my legs were tired. I had my camera in one hand and my foot slipped, forcing me to land on my right elbow in an attempt to save my camera and I slid hitting my knees on the step below. Thank god I didn’t keep falling – which was very possible. My camera is a bit scratched and I have a pretty deep scrape/cut on my elbow, which I don’t doubt will scar. Note to self, continue to lug around a first aid kit, my antiseptic wipes came in very handy. And, what are a few more bruises and scars; at least they have a story behind them.
Now and then our tuk tuk driver took us off the main roads, which gave us the opportunity to see the real Cambodia, we saw many children bathing and playing in the murky waters, watched the men craft things at the front of their make shift houses, the ladies cooking at their stalls or hanging the washing out. It is stereotypical but you can see that people just work to their strengths, which is where the stereotypes come from in the first place. We saw cows along the road, people sleeping on trees, monkeys playing, oh and you can’t help but notice that despite many homes having no walls, they still had tvs and satellite dishes! Most people also have mobile phones. The irony.

Before I forget to tell you, I think that Cambodians are beautiful people, all of them.

After a brilliant few days, I spent my last night doing some shopping at the night market and bought the most amazing ring! I think it’s a real sapphire stone…the guy used a blow torch on it in front of me, the stone was held in a brick and it turned black, then he put paper against it to prove it was hot and it caught fire. When it cooled down it returned to the deep blue colour, I then watched him refit it to the ring. It’s stunning and I am so happy with it; I only paid 10 dollars! It also made me realise that one day, if I ever manage to get there, I want my engagement ring to be like it. It’s so different and just makes me smile. When I’m grubby and feel a bit yukky it also makes me feel glamorous (even when I don’t look it).

One of the frustrations about backpacking is that there are so many special things you want to buy, which are locally crafted, but you can’t carry them around. I often see presents for friends and family but just have to restrain myself from being silly, especially as I’m not even halfway through my trip yet. To finish off my time in Siem Reap I had a massage (ha ha, I know that by now, this doesn’t surprise you), 20 mins for 1 dollar! They also reapplied my nail varnish for 1 dollar, bargain. There’s no harm in a little glamour right? Even if it is just my new ring and red nails! Overall, I loved Siem Reap and there is so much more to do there apart from the temples, but I wanted to go somewhere new and avoid getting too settled in one place. Next stop, Battembong (still in Cambodia).

Additional photos below
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29th September 2011

Hello mandy Great to read your adventures. What a great trip and fantastic expierences. Enjoy. I realize that Thailand is up til now your favourite country. Are you going to other countries as well?. I will keep follwing you on your logbook. Stay safe and enjoy kind regards Robbert
25th October 2011

What happened in Battambang
Please keep blogging. People do read your adventures.
3rd November 2011

Better late than never
The Battembong Blog has just been posted, it's a long one but I hope you enjoy it! Thanks for reading and supporting.

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