After leaving Koh Samui, we popped through Bangkok airport and arrived at Siem Reap in Cambodia. This brought us to the doorstep of the Angkor Wat, my most anticipated landmark of the trip.
We again put our trust in the taxi driver to take us to a decent pad and again, we came out alright and are now enjoying the situation where our budgets can stretch to a nice double room each in Asia, for when we arrive in towns or cities without hostels - circa $10 US a night, or a fiver UK. Funny isnt it? - That for the price of a 'Happy Meal' in the UK, you can stay the night in a decent hotel in Cambodia. Another strange thing here is that the local currency is Cambodian 'Reel', yet the dominant currency changing hands in circulation is the US Dollar - go figure...
On the taxi ride from the airport I could see we were now really in another part of Asia altogether and this made me really excited at the prospect of the next 5 weeks ahead through Cambodia, Vietnam and maybe...just maybe... Laos. On that drive in, the differences in lifestlye and
Off Limits Poster In Our Hotel
No Needles, Guns or Grenades in this establishment.
living against even what we saw in Thailand were stark. The main roads are not always surfaced, cattle roam freely on the verges, people wash themselves in front of their corrugated iron homes and theres not a Westerner in sight. There are padi fields growing rice everywhere and the colour of this stuff in harvest is the most amazingly live green - these endless fields of rice are absolutely gorgeous.
In the evenings, we ate at The Red Piano restaurant, where Angelina Jolie et al filled their pits while filming Tomb Raider at the Angkor temples nearby. We're not dining lavish all the time; some of the most enjoyable scran we've had in Asia has been from the street cafes, which are set up on pavements using basic wooden tables and plastic chairs at about 6pm in the evening and are used predominantly by locals. The price for a tasty, authentic local dish? - $1. Cooked just over your shoulder and in front of you in a couple of shakes.
The real ace of spades in the town's hand is the Angkor Archaeological Park, a vast complex of ancient temples from between the 9th and 15th centuries that
are arranged across 400km2 of countryside as a religious shrine and place of worship, originally for Hinduism (dedicated to Vishnu) and then later for Buddhism. I can't speak for Trung's boxer's, but I don't mind sharing with you that I've been practically wetting myself to reach this place. For two days, we'd go for breakfast in The Red Piano restaurant, then hire a tuk tuk. The driver would take us out of Siem Reap and up towards the temples. When we'd seen one complex, we'd come out and our tuk tuk driver would pull up to take us on to the next. We are very privileged here indeed - two very lucky chaps being able to see this stuff in this way.
Exploring the elaborate and intricate temples was truely amazing and I was in awe of their magnitude and splendour (perhaps I should have followed you into archaeology Ali-sis...) One of the most memorable temples was Ta Keo, where we had to scale very narrow (not for size 11's!) and sheer stone staircases to reach the top of the structure. On the last flight, I was feeling worrying symptoms of vertigo and the legs were getting a bit
wobbly. As I was aware of a couple of Malaysian tourists watching from the bottom before they followed, my ego and bravado kept me climbing and as I scrambled over the top step, I didnt dare look back at the drop behind me as the thought of now getting back down weighed on my mind. As I huffed and puffed in the heat and humitidy, doubled up with my hands on my knees, Trung swaggered over from the other side of the top cheerily asking: "You come up the East side mate? That's the difficult side - you should've come up the West - it's easy..."
My favourite temple was called Ta Prohm, a practical ruin, where ancient trees entwine through the crumbling brickwork of the temple - check the pics (when I get them up here). At some of the less popular (though hardly less impressive) sites, we were spared the hordes of tourists. When the ruins and surrounding forests were quite, they were both mesmerising and enchanting and we were able to look around and puzzle at what life must have looked like while these majestic temples - and their founding civilization (the Khmers) - were thriving
in their heyday.
As it was, I was left contemplating just how long these temples would remain standing at all. On the first day, we left early as the rain came thrashing down and these elderly buildings looked so fragile against the rain, which is slowly but surely stripping the grain of the stone and eventually collapsing walls and roofs. I found it very hard to accept the low level of conservation that is going on at Angkor Wat and to ensure this statement is not taken lightly, I'm talking about a jewel in the history of human accomplishment and a site that frequently gatecrashes most new contempory compilations of "The Seven Wonder's of the World". It was sad that apart from the rare deck of scaffolding around the odd tower, the only active restoration on show was being undertaken by a team of archaeologists from a university in Japan. So how can Cambodia protect and revive Angkor? I suppose the size of the task is apparent when you consider it was built over a period of some 6 centuries, at a price measured in religious faith rather than any hard currency and by an unknown number of motivated
and creative sculptors, carpenters, builders and engineers. Whatever must be done will - to quote George Harrison - cost a whole lotta spending money and a whole lot of precious time... neither of which are abundant to Cambodia in respect of Angkor.
On the bright side, we are seeing a marked improvement in the weather compared to Thailand. This nice sunshine brought the children out that beg, sell, harass and hustle at practically each temple and oh my word, do they know what they're doing at an early age... On telling them our names and origins, we'd instantly receive a demographic status report from these 8 year-old's informing us of Britain's prime minister, geographical neighbours, home nations, capitals and populations. By now, I'm a bit fed up of giving money away in Asia as theres so many folk looking for it that I wouldnt be able to make it back to Edinburgh at Christmas and also, i'm not that keen on encouraging children to beg or sell postcards whem maybe they should be at school. As children do when they dont get what they want, the polite and charming persistance was gradually replaced by near tantrum frustration and a
bit of lip. I got: "Your a bad man." (tell me something I don't know, kid) while Trung was harried with: "if you dont buy my book, you make me cry."
I'm not sure if Buddha himself was shaking his peacefull, smiling head at me from above in disappointment but for some bizarre reason, my faithfull camera gave up on me in the temples and I wondered if I should have bought a book of postcards from those pesky kids after all. As Murphy's Law states: "Whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible moment." What I didn't want to happen at the Angkor Wat, arguably the most photogenic place we've been, was for my camera to break but c'est la vie...
From witnessing the pinnacle of Khmer achievement, we checked out of our hotel and headed to Phnom Penh, the capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia, to find out about the other extreme - the genocidal history of the regime once led by one Pol Pot, and his horde of fanatical followers, infamously known as The Khmer Rouge...
(... will get some piccies on here shortly as soon as i find a
dvd reader in vietnam...!)
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