Wat, wat, wat - exploring Angkor with Fat Sock.

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May 5th 2011
Published: May 9th 2011
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He's not really called Fat Sock. That's just how I remember his name. The second memorable thing about Phat (pronounced Pat) is his laugh; it makes me think of a mischievous schoolboy - bubbling up out of him, someplace deep, it threatens to engulf him and totally rearranges the features of his face. He laughs often. Two years ago Phat showed us around the temples of Angkor for six glorious days - more than a guide, he became our friend, so when our Mekong trip took us back to Cambodia we couldn't miss the chance of seeing him again. Angkor is not a place to be rushed, it needs to be savoured like a fine wine - each temple has it's own character, and even after a week, far from being 'templed out' we felt we could spend more time. This time we also planned to spend a week touring the temples and just like the first time, Phat was our driver.

There were some things we couldn't miss seeing for a second time. Bayon with it's faces was our first stop - they surrounded us, fixing us in their mindful glare, through half closed lids; that sarcastic half smile checking us out from every angle. First you see one, then another, and then another, but only long after they've 'seen' you. Two hundred sixteen of them - all seeing, all powerful, looking down on you from their gothic towers. There is nothing benign here, Bayon is about power and control - spooky in a fascinating kind of way. Ta Prohm is also eerie - still, silent, forboding. Those trees... like marching giants I imagined them walking the earth stepping over walls and temples, frozen in mid-stride. In frustration their wooden spindly fingers forced walls apart and split buildings open. Greens and reds, and pale sandstone colours splashed against dark grey stone. Wonderful. And of course - Angkor Wat itself - believed to be the largest religious structure in the world - with it's apsaras (heavenly nymphs). I could gaze forever at their jewellry, hairstyles and outfits.

Phat is a great companion. He knows the best time to visit each temple, the best photo spot, the quiet place to walk. At his suggestion we visited Ta Prohm in the morning, and apart from one group of Russian tourists, who whizzed through at breakneak speed - slaves to their itinery- we were completely alone. He suggested we meet him at the north gate - 'very nice, less people'. We had trouble finding it, and he was scouting the path anxiously when we arrived - but he was right - it was a lovely spot. Sometimes Phat walked with us - when we went to view sunrise at Angkor Wat he was lighting the way with a torch - and told us a bit of history about the temple - mostly he waited for us outside. We recognised his tuk-tuk by the little green cool box that sat on the front seat; but more often than not he saw us first and was zooming towards us with his hooded carriage before we had to fend off the postcard sellers, the hat sellers, the cold-drink sellers. The little green cool box was a godsend - always liberally stocked with cold water - Phat made sure we took a bottle with us every time we went exploring - but best of all were the ice cold, disposable tissues which we smoothed over our neck and faces on our return - oohing and aaahing with delight - a delicious sensation. Phat was so considerate, and paid such attention to detail. He told me that he knew tourists paid a lot of money to visit Angkor and he wanted everything to be right for them - he literally wanted to take away the stress for a while. And he's really proud of Angkor, his country and his heritage; his enthusiasm is infectious. Before 6 a.m. he was taking photos of Angkor Wat - although he must have seen it thousands of times - 'I like to put photos on my Facebook page, so everyone can see what it's like here' he said with his usual big grin. At the end of the day we often sat with him 'to watch the sky change colour'. He bought us little snacks of sticky rice in bamboo tubes and lots of gorgeous local fruits: palm fruit oozing liquid - cool and refreshing; jackfruit - tasting like custard; and something called 'gooey' - definitely an acquired taste - both sweet and sour, with a tiny hard stone in the middle and the texture of chewing gum - sticky on the fingers and the lips. At these times Phat told us about his dream of owning a homestay, and upgrading
Renovations At Ta Phrom. Renovations At Ta Phrom. Renovations At Ta Phrom.

The world's biggest jigsaw puzzle.
his tuk-tuk to a minivan. He's about to become a father for the first time, but mused that it would be a while before his little girl gets a brother or sister - 'I still have a lot to learn, a lot to do'.

My favourite times with Phat were when he was showing us village life - stopping the tuk-tuk while driving through green leafy shaded lanes to explain about the lady boiling a vast wok of palm sugar or the young girl weaving long slender palm leaves into boxes. And our visit to the local market in Siem Reap was the highlight of the week - with Phat at our side to explain all the local delicacies we had a feast - desserts that are never sold in restaurants, fresh soy milk, and oily balls of rice and green beans. We marvelled at the fruit, the fish, huge purple banana flowers, lotus flowers, ant eggs - 'we make a soup with them' he told us.

Once again our week flew by. Phat saw us off, giving us both a great big bear hug. The temples at Angkor are stupendous, but the chance to renew and deepen our friendship with Phat meant more. We're looking forward to our third visit and next time plan to stay even longer!

For more information on Phat's services see his website:
Costs are very reasonable - $12 a day for Angkor temples - max. $25 a day for temples farther afield.

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