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Published: February 20th 2006
Well, here it is, as promised, my account of pretending to be an intrepid explorer at the amazing Angkor temples!
16 DEC 2005 - 20 DEC 2005
Our arrival into Siem Reap (SR) is chaotic and intense, to say the least. When you get off the bus you are mobbed and surrounded by tuk-tuk drivers and GH touts. Our bus driver pointed us in the direction of Bun Long- a little, smiley tuk-tuk driver who takes us to various GH's before we settle at European GH. Again, they are all very friendly and really just want to chat to you and find out about you. As it is not possible to walk around the temples yourself (well, not in 3 days anyway- there are more than 100 Angkorian monuments spread over some 300 sq km), we arrange for Bun Long to be our driver for the three days we'll be exploring. We decide to go that night to Phnom Bakheng, a hilltop temple, to watch the sunset while overlooking Angkor Wat in the distance. When we get there it's more chaos. It's packed with tourists. The only way to describe the walk up the hill is that it looked like swarms of ants scrabbling to get up the hill before anyone else. It's certainly not quite what we expected, and I think we leave feeling a bit disappointed. Even more surprising to me is how people are allowed to clamber all over the temple, not showing it any respect. At the rate it's going, these temples will be worn away and future generations will only get to hear of the legend that was Angkor. Bun Long is a fountain of knowledge, is a great (and safe!) driver, and just has the most wonderful spirit! Over the next few days, Luke, Johnny, Bun Long and I share lots of fun and laughter! Our 3 day entry pass is $40, but unfortunately, the entry ticket is under the control of a local petroleum company called Sokimex, who administrate the site for a large cut of the money from ticket sales. Only a small amount actually goes to those preserving the temples (which is much needed). It's terrible that a petrol company should reap the profits of Cambodia's national heritage.
On our way back to the GH, we suddenly hear a shout- "Amy!!" from the motorbike taxi behind us. Guess who it is! It's Sanj! Turns out he's staying in the GH opposite ours! So we meet up and go for some dinner and Angkor beer, and catch up!
DAY ONE (17 DEC)
Bun Long picks us up at 7.30am to head to the Angkor temples. I won't go into detail on every temple we see, as we'll be here forever! But when I feel I've seen something worth mentioning, or something I think was exceptionally special (tricky- I mean they are the Angkor temples!) I will. First up, is Angkor Wat- a Hindu temple built in the 12th Century and really the biggest and most imposing of them all. The complex is incredible. All the walls are detailed with artistic carvings. Angkor Wat itself is incredibly symmetrical, which only adds to its exceptional beauty. Staircases are really steep and climbing to the top is a bit trecherous- but we all do it, and just sit and try to take it all in. Next is the walled city of Angkor Thom, built at the end of the 12th Century and beginning of the 13th Century. It's an immense city, and as it was built in wood, only the impressive stone religious monuments remain. Here, we also saw the Bayon- one of it's most endearing temples. The temple and its towers are covered in sculptured faces- watching over you as you discover the temple. Then we head to the Baphuon, which is being restored. In its heyday it would, apparently, have been more magnificent than the Bayon- which is difficult to comprehend!. We then see the Terrace of Elephants, where sculpted scenes of hunting and fighting elephants adorn the facade.
Next stop is Bateay Kdei, a huge crumbling 12th Century Buddhist temple, where opposite the entrance is Srah Srang, the 'Royal Bath'. It's a huge lake most probably used for ritual ablutons. Luke is not feeling very well, so just Johnny and I look around this temple, and as we do so we are accompanied by music played by landmine victims. It's beautiful. We then stop at the jungle-ravaged Ta Phrom, a stunning 12th Century temple-monastery. It has not been restored, so its magical appeal is that it's been left to the jungle. Roots and trunks intermingle with the stones, and in places seem to be holding up the walls and temple. This really did look like I'd jumped into a scene from the Jungle Book! Last up for the day was Prasat Kravan, a smaller temple. As Luke was not feeling well (he'd been ill earlier) and Johnny couldn't be bothered, I went in on my own. As I was the only person there for most of the time, I really did feel like an explorer. Useful insights by another couple's guide help me understand things about the temple I wouldn't have known, or noticed, by myself.
By now it's 3.30pm (and really hot), and we're all 'templed-out' for the day, so we head back. Luke has a snooze, which perks him up, and we all go for a bite to eat, before falling into bed, ready for sleep.
DAY 2 (18 DEC)
Day 2 is a very early start- we're up at 4.50am as Bun Long is taking us to Angkor Wat for sunrise. It's a bit busy when we arrive, but not nearly as bad as we had thought it would be. We enter the outer walls and sit by the lake on the right-hand side, facing the main temple, with no-one in front of us. I think we all felt we were witnessing something very special. The sunrise was beautiful, even more so as it was all reflected in the waters of the lake. Something really magical.
Then off we all went for some brekkie at a small stall in a quiet area, when along came an Amaerican man we all thought was going to be obnoxious and awful and disturb our tranquil peace. How wrong we were! George Kioffes (a New Yorker) was actually a really nice guy. He's in real estate in NY, and sells properties for up to $5million!!! Imagine! He gives us his email address for if ever we're in the area, so that's one email address I'll definitely be keeping hold of!
We then head off to do some more temples. Preah Khan is up first- another jungle-ravaged temple surrounded by dense forest. Normal routes throught the tempel are blocked by fallen stones and tree routes, so you have to pick your way through- and all this was built as a temporary residence for a King while Angkor Thom was being built! We then go to Bantay Pree, Ta Som, The East Mebon and Pre Rup- and we're done by midday!
As we're all pretty knackered, we decide to treat ourselves to a massage back in Siem Reap. We go to Seeing hands Massage, where the blind masseurs/masseuses literally 'see' their way throught the massage with their hands. It was amazing; think I might even have fallen asleep! On the way back to our GH, we drop in on Psar Chas, the Central Market. It seems to be more for the locals, and many stall holders are fast asleep in their hammocks. A combination of the heat and early moring has me feeling a bit dizzy, so we head back and chill out a bit. Luke watches TV while I snooze, and after that I feel much better. The three of us head out for dinner at a Thai place, and by the time we're finished we're all well and truly ready for bed!
For our last day in Siem Reap we have decided to go to the Akira Landmine Museum (as suggested by Bethan!) Unfortunately, we don't have Bun Long driving us today, and the guy who is has no idea where we're going, and is driving at 1mph! But we make it eventually, after countless stops to ask the locals, and a few turn-arounds! The museum is very basic- but the message it gives is so important. Akira, the man who runs the musem, was a child Khmer Rouge soldier (and used to place landmines all over the countryside), but now dedicates his life to finding and denming mines and UXO (unexploded ordinance). The museum also has child amputees living there- Akira and his family take them in as they have a better chance in life here than at home. They go to school, learn English and many other skills. A young man, Hak (who lost his left leg to a mine), talks us through the display of various anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines, bombs, UXO, grenades and traps that Akira has found and removed. All these things still litter the Cambodian countryside. The museum also informs you that many countries still make and stockpile these indiscriminate monstrosities- most notably the USA, China and Russia. I just can't believe it. Yet again. I feel so sad in my heart that humans inflict these things on each other. And it's far from over for many mined countries, especially Cambodia, as it is the most heavily mined country in the world.
We head back (at least our driver knows this route!), chill out for a couple of hours. For our special Cambodia meal, Luke and I have decided to go the Grand Hotel D'Angkor, where there'll also be traditional dancing. After mcuh deliberation and umming-and-ahhhing, Johnny decided to treat himself too and decides to come along. It seemed only right to be spending our last night in Cambodia together. So we get on our gladrags and off we go. It's not until we get there taht we realsie the hotel is a 'Raffles'- so a very plush 5* hotel! It's very beautiful, a colonial feel to it. They also have the Christmas decorations and tree up, so the whole place looks very magical. We finally get to see how the other half do Cambodia and the Angkor temples!
First up is the dancing- a wondeful display of beautiful costumes, colours, music and dancing. Dinner is a buffet affair- but I've never seen a buffet quite like it! It's an amazing gourmet spread of starters, mains and desserts, and you can choose to have them cook you whatever type of meat you'd like (steak, yes please, ooh and lamb!!??? ok then!!), and also a salad bar where they custom-make the salad of your choice. I think we all feel a bit uncomfortable at this level of service, as let's face it, I can make my own salad!!! But we soon learn all their names and are having a bit of a giggle with them! I think they are really pleased for that, and that we seemed to be so very much enjoying ourselves made them have a good fun night too!! Well, needless to say, we ate LOADS! The brownies for dessert are sooooo good- I have a few!!! (They were only small!) They have so much food left at the end, we wonder what they do with it all afterwards. I would be so disappointed if they just threw it in the bin. We are SO full, that we all opt for some peppermint tea out on the balcony overlooking the pool area, which is surrounded by frangipani trees and twinkling lights. The gorgeous frangipani scent drifts in the breeze. It was an absolutely lovely evening- just a perfect night to end our time in Cambodia, and also our time with Johnny, our Cambodia travelling buddy!
After walking back to the GH, we say our goodbyes to Johnny, as we are flying to Bangkok tomorrow, and he is heading back to Phnom Penh for a couple of days. It's sad to say goodbye- we've had some great times altogether. Johnny is also heading to Australia so we are hoping to all meet up there. I'm also absolutely overwhelmed with sadness that we have finished ths part of our journey- our Indochina loop. But we have seen and experienced so much, and yet there's so much I want to come back for!
Our flight the next day is at 13.10, and we get there in plenty of time. So much so, that we are able to get on the 11am flight instead! So there we are, rushing now through passport and security- and in all the rush Luke has forgotten to put his penknife and our First Aid Kit in his checked-in luggage. So they confiscate the scissors (from the Firs Aid Kit) and knife, and will return them at Bangkok Airport. We have a great flight, only an hour, on a little 70-seater prop plane. We even get a delIcious breakfast!
So goodbye,for now, Kampuchea! See you next time!
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