Angkor What?

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Asia » Cambodia » North » Siem Reap
May 3rd 2011
Published: May 4th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

My ears drums are sore from the constant honking of the minibus horn when we bounce into Siem Riep and are deposited in the bus station, which is more akin with to a school bike shed. Once off the bus we are left at the mercy of a horde of tuk tuk drivers harking for business.

Siem Reip is the ideal base for visiting the temples of Angkor, a series of massive stone temples of the Angkorian empire that were built between 600 and 800 AD, located in the jungle a stone throw from the town. The best way to go about doing that is hiring a tuk tuk, something we are reluctant to do since Thailand where the greedy gits think of nothing of overcharging you or bringing you everywhere you don't want to go, where the commissions are earned, the suits are shite quality and where the plastic table tennis balls fly from unusual places.

However, the tuk tuks in Cambodia try to sign you up for daily tours of the local sights, they know that if they play ball and bring you where you want to go you will either recommend the driver to your friends or contact them in subsequent days for repeat business. In the case of Angkor or Siem Reip, where you need a good few days to do the sights finding a decent tuk tuk driver who will give you a good deal for a 3 day rate is the way to go.

The game here is that the minibus drops off and leaves you at the mercy of his tuk tuk driving mates, who then try to spirit you off to various associated guesthouses who pay them commissions, which can often be covertly added to the tourists bill.

In order to stave off being brought on a guesthouse tour of the city, we lie and say we already have a guest house prebooked in advance and then go about haggling for a tuk tuk tour for the next three days.

Siem Reip a huge improvement over Poipet and Aryana, theres plently of restaurants on the aptly named "Pub Street" have an upmarket look about them but main courses are still fairly cheap by home standards. Theres also lots and lots of bonkers looking stuff on the menu like crocodile, snake and duck fetus if any of that is you thing and i'm certainly going to give the first two of the aforementioned dishes a go.

While the touristic rester aunts are cheap by home standards there are also an awful lot of locals food stalls arranged down the road with lots of seating available. You can have a cracking slapup of noodles straight from the wok for 70 cent and the locals who run the staff are bang on.

If eating scaly things doesn't do your thing for the princely sum of 1 us droller you can relax in a fish spa for half and hour while enjoying a complementary beer. You sit beside a tank of water, dip in your toes and let the shoals of fish therein nibble your the dead skin. If your feet look anything like mine there's plenty of good eating for the little guys. Once my hobbit feet submerged they were like a mother dog nursing a liter of of 14 pups with only one teat and a feeding frenzy began Bear in mind that some of the fish grow faster then others and got so excited munching on my mangy feet they would occasionally bite a smaller fish by accident and swallow him as well. I can't recommend this enough as a great way to enjoy and after dinner beer while at the same time keep your sandle abused feet nice and healthy, assuming you get used to the tickles!

Cambodia, in events I will elaborate on in future entries when I get to the capital has had a horrific time of from the time in the not to distant past. To give a brief summary,Cambodia become independent in 1953, their current king Silanouk had traveled around the world drumming up support for his countries independence.Silanouk, then decided to abdicate from royalty and promptly decided to go into politics with the peoples socialist community party. Silanouk now in power immediately turned down the significant US aid his army was receiving and allowed the communist who were busy waging a guerilla war against American supported South Vietnam over the border. naturally generals in the Cambodia who held a lot of influence in the army and receiving lots of deadly toys from the US military were non too impressed, once Silanouk was away on state business they deposed him and seized power. the country became divided with many pheasants fleeing into the hills to wage guerilla warfare and eventually became known as the Kymer Rouge. guerilla warfare kicked off, the US began to "help" the anti communist government curtail the rebel advance in rural, carpet bomb large swaths of the countryside and killing thousands of innocents in the process a move...kind of like helping you mate from being bitten by a mosquito by swatting it with a lump hammer. To make a long story short, the bombing campaign didn't work, the Kymer rouge took over some unimaginably horrific events unfolded. Lets just say if the Kymer Rouge were so nasty they could hypothetically play a "Never have I ever"game concerning human atrocities with Nazi's and Mongol hordes and more then hold their own.

Despite their hard lot in life, the people are one of the friendliest we have meet so far and their friends across the border in Thailand could learn a lot from them. They love a good chat, love the beer and surprisingly enough are mad keen on the football, the gunners and spurs being the most represented from what I can see.
They also feel very strongly about Irelands absence from the world cup and at least 3 times I day I have one of them, upon learning of my nationality, come up and shake my hand to in condolences for Thierry Henres handball incident.

Funnily enough the other long past Irish soccer controversy, the Roy Keane Saipan incident, is also still fresh in there memory, Cambodia very much on the Mick McCarty side of the fence insisting(and I have to keep a straight face as when they said this that Roy should have stayed with the team especially to help his little brother Robbie play...all of Cambodian soccer heads seem to think that Robbie Keane is Roy's younger sibling.
First thing in the morning and its off to Angkor, Cameron, our tuk tuk driver much to naimhs delight drives at a fairly slow pace and the plan is to hit Angkor Wat, the biggest temples and then head along the short circuit to check out a few others. We skid in the dirt down the Road from Angkor Wat, Cameron leaves us to our own devises and tells us to take as long as we like.

The Cambodians are fiercly proud of Angkor wat and when you begin to walk toward feeling decidly humbled and small you can see why. The main entrance is a huge stone bridge across a massive moat that makes those installed outside European castles looking like sand castle trenches in comparison, this water barrier is nearly 200 metres wide, on each side. Despite being hundreds of years old it looks solid and strong, considering the outer wall is 1025 metres by 800 in size. The stone is piping hot in the sun and the numerous geckos trickle over its surface. Walking around the maze of stone characters and you think of playing tomb raider when I should have been revising for my Junior cert. Statues of all sorts of Deities including the Hindi god Visnue and various other animals and faces are everywhere you look.

Later statues are even more impressive, Ta Prohm in particular the roots of trees have taken route above and on either side of the walls in something you seldom see outside the realms of fantasy. The trees trunks and roots appear to strangulate this particular temples structure like massive pythons, the trunks themselves rising dozens of feet into the sky where they block the sun.

Its 2 pm by the time we finish, the day is so festering hot, as I walk raindrop sized drops of sweat are flowing off my brow. The fact that we have drank 3 big bottles of water and I haven't needed a bathroom break shows just how much moisture has been shed from my skin, later then I get home I have to get niamh to haul one end of my T-shirt off and for once I was absolutely delighted I couldn't figure out how to get the hot water working in the shower.

As we had a bit of time to spare, we decided to go see the floating village of Chong Khneas . The temples, amazing as they are, can be overwhelming so there is no harm in doing a few non temple related activities to mix things up a little.

Cameron takes off in the tuk tuk and before long we are blazing along a number of villages that straddle the main road to the village. The standard of living is shocking. Most of the children walk around in rags, one of them waves at the tuk tuk while drinking water from a muddy trench out of a plastic bottle, the dirty liquid flows down over his mouth as he greedily laps it up leaving mud stains on either side of his mouth.

His father is washing himself in the same pool just a few feet away, without a stitch of clothing on. Another tout is following two males tourists trying to talk them into coming into village brothel where presumably members of his extended family or at least close friends are in residence. Honestly in a few more months when I'm back home in Ireland and complaining about how I can't go out once a month or hear someone moan about how fucked up the country is becuase they can no longer afford an anuual holiday I'm going to have to remember what I saw from the back of this tuk tuk and give myself a bit of prospective.

We get to the boat dock and we get a horrific shock, 20 dollars per person to visit the village, a shocking price considering you can get a boat up the Mekong for an entire day for about a third of that However a couple we meet on the temple trip insisted it was the best thing they had done so we stupidly handed over the dough.

We get lumped onto the back of the ferry and one of the guides began chatting away telling us about the village and pointing out various things on the shore, the water is even more filthy and dozens of mostly naked villagers are either washing, defecating or fishing in it within feet of each other. Niamh is furious at this point with the horrific price of the tickets and isn't saying much to Mr guide. I decided that we paid so much for the trip I might as well get my moneys worth and begin asking lots of questions regarding the village and the livelihood of those who inhabit it. Most of the people here are not Kymers but Vietnamese, there are over 3000 of them living in the village and the village itself changes location depending on the season and the risings of the tide. All of our hefty entrance fee is devoted to increasing their standard of living...I learned that in a few minutes that this was a despicable lie.

The river gives way to the central lake and the first boats full of beggers begin to approach, most of them children holding snakes. You hold the snake and then they demand a dollar for the privilege, others just grasp your arm and make moaning noises. As they approach the guide insists that I should not give them anything, its promoting dependence on handouts and worse for them in the long run. He insists that I would be much better off buying supplies for the village school that my entrance fee, that he reiterates,is helping to construct and supply. As I result awkwardly stand my ground and feel like a monumental pr*ck.

"Now we go to the school" we are told and the boat putters over to a floating stationary shop. Due to the madness of the entrance fee I have only about 4 dollars left on my person and about 700 Cambodian reil, which is about 20 cent. Still it should get me some copy books surely.

The procedure was, we but some copy books and then buzz across the way to the school. We dock and I leap onto the wooden pontoon which burns my feet with the afternoon heat and we come across a very angry middle aged English couple berating the shop owner, a handful of copy books is 15 dollars, 5 biros goes for 10 dollars.

The "aid" is brought over to the school and given to the headmistress, all of it sealed in plastic, the few 1000% uplift of price is kept with the tour company. There was no way of knowing that any of this was going to where it was needed and from looking around the lake there were plenty of people in need, the beggers, paddling in bathtubs and makeshift rafts were paddling after our boat in a procession of moans and outstretched fingers. All around us similar tourist boats full to the brim with visitors churned the water and causing the floating dwellings to pitch and roll. people leaned out the gunwales to take invading photographs of families bathing and relieving themselves into the lake.

Bear in mind that the combined total of all of these tourist boats couldn't fit in dun laoghaire marina, most them were full and all the people onboard were paying the 20 dollars entrance fee which was supposedly going to aid the villagers of which numbered a few thousand. If the hefty entrance fee, let alone a 6th of it was going to the people of the village based on the cambodian standard of living it would not only produce their school and other facilites but put the kids through 3rd level education and get them a deposit for a first apartment.

As I later learned with a big of googleing that the village dock itself has been, like many other tourist attraction in Cambodia, being privatized and run by the same company that allegedly operates the 'Tourist bus terminal"in poipet that charges the overinflated boat prices.

I hope the people involved with the group in question can sleep at night.


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