Siem Reap: Angkor What?

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July 16th 2012
Published: July 18th 2012
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Wow what a welcome! We were collected as promised by the hotel, on a tuk tuk with a sign for "Mrs Lauren Kenny" and a lovely driver Siv who had great English and told us useful facts about the area along the way. Of course to demonstrate his knowledge in return for us booking him to be our driver for tomorrow's visit to Angkor Wat. When we arrived at the hotel we were warmly greeted with a refreshing blood orange fruit drink and cold towel to wash off the dirt from the journey! He showed us to our room already programmed to BBC world news, which Ben thought was a great touch. We were looking forward to a nice dip in the newly built pool outside but the heavens opened so we instead had a beer and snack in the bamboo terrace area where we would have complimentary breakfast each day. We watched too many films on HBO and also had dinner at the hotel which satisfied us after a day of travelling and tried to go to sleep about 8pm.

The next day was an unbearably early start as the alarm sounded at 4am! We collected our packed breakfast and headed out with Siv with nothing but the moon and stars for company and light. One thing that we welcomed of this sight- the moon and stars! For knowing we could see them meant very little clouds and we would get our reward for this awfully early start- a beautiful clear sunrise. We paid our $20 each entry and followed the other early starters to the best place to watch the sun make its entry upon the day. For those that do not know or want to know, Angkor Wat is a collection of temples (wat's) built over the eleventh century by the then Angkorian kings long before the capital was further south in Phnom Penh and while Bangkok belonged to Cambodia. The translation is literally city of temples and when the kings moved the capital to this area comprising roughly 400 square kilometres. It is basically a huge collection of temples presenting Hindu and Buddhist beliefs on a very vast scale from smaller intricate temples to miraculous wonders of architecture using sandstone.

We got settled in our spot overlooking the lake as the sun started to peek out with the backdrop of the main temple- Angkor Wat on the horizon beautifully silhouetted we got some amazing photos, we hope you agree. The reflection in the water has gained this spot as THE spot to watch the day arrive and it's not hard to see why. It was captivating and mesmerising, you watched hundreds of people from all walks of life sitting or standing appreciating the beauty unfolding in front of their eyes. Some people had professional cameras and tripods just clicking away waiting for the perfect shot whilst others sat on bamboo mats and simply watched. We, well did both tried to act professional getting some great shots but appreciating the serene sight before us, we thought we had seen it all and began to leave but then the sun would come out with burnt oranges and deep reds before the sun fully rose from behind the temples about 5.45am.

At this time we headed to explore the main complex of this fascinating temple. It stretched for hundreds of acres and as we were so early we beat the crowds and Lauren even sat on one high steeple and watched the world wake up. It was surreal. We continued looking and hunting finding deep corners we hoped were untouched (unlikely) and clamouring about to get perfect pictures and appreciate the work that went into a structure like this. Some restoration was taking place and it was noted in the guide books that despite all the troubles throughout this empire the temples have never been deserted and always cared for. This is THE symbol of Cambodia. It is their pride and joy and so it should be, it appears on their nations flag, their beer, restaurants hotels etc, no matter how dark times get the Cambodians are proud they built Angkor the eight wonder of the world so they should be proud.

We moved on and spent the rest of the morning battling the extreme heat going to the main temples within the short circuit we chose to do. We were advised the biggest mistake was trying to cram in too much and having one day was a poor effort. We didn't feel this though, we spent six hours here and did not feel we needed more, we felt completely justified in not spending another day here, more importantly another days expenditure as the tuk tuk driver for the day cost $13 plus the extra $3 for a sunrise start. We saw the amazing sight of Bayon, that still has 31 of its original 51 towers- created at the time to represent the 51 states of Cambodia. Each tower had four faces plus there were carvings depicting every day life throughout, it was incredible.

We went to a few other temples along the way, the terrace of elephants, terrace of the leper king, phimeanakas, baphuon and the south gate of Angkor Thom. All of these were fascinating set in a similar size as Angkor Wat but all very different but completely indescribable, we would not do it justice. All we could do was walk or climb through in awe that these temples were created hundreds of years ago and still remain largely in tact and that monks practise here and it is a thriving community.

We then moved on to a more famous temple - Ta Prohm. Famous as Angelina Jolie graced Cambodia with her appearance and took an orphan when filming Tomb Raider! It was fascinating, and Lauren having not seen the film did not call upon remembering scenes as other visitors did!it was awesome though as nature has truly taken its course here, trees have grown over them in the most astonishing patterns. The photos really do display this better than we can describe!

We saw a few more temples that took us up to the time we wanted to leave. To be honest we had been followed, screamed and accosted at by people selling things from guides - despite the fact that we were walking with one; water - despite the fact we were drinking some; and random clothes and beautiful pictures plus a lot of beggars. To the point where children would come and grab your hand to take you to their stalls, it was painful thinking parents would use their children this way, one little girl even gave Lauren a bracelet which was the biggest guilt trip and we did relent and buy water although the mother was clearly peeved that we wouldn't buy anything else. One girl also called Ben a liar as we didn't buy a drink off her- we had said we would come if we did want one to get her to back off, but we didn't change our mind! They used chilling sentences "I'll remember you and get you" and they would come get you once you left the temple! So we did decide to call it a day although did also get some friendship bands for Lauren from an old lady who prayed and gave her luck as she tied them on.

We headed back to the hotel throughly templed out and needed to get some rest despite the cooling pool calling us! Ben caught up on a few more films, watching some classic Bond and Wayne's World! We got the complimentary tuk tuk into the main town about 3km from where we were staying and treated ourselves to a pizza. Now think pizza hut crazy crusts and you are only just getting the picture. What we had? Cheesy bites filled with sausage! Yummy though! We were well and truly full up and headed to look at the usual Wat's that inhibit most of the towns we have visited since leaving Dubai. There was an usually large one despite the amount at Angkor Wat only 13km away but we couldn't appreciate it too much as the heavens chose to open with the most horrendous tropic storm due to the extreme heat that day, we caught a tuk tuk back and retired to our room. We only ventured out for a light dinner which was of tomato soup and a pot of pepper. No joke it was so peppery the the whole tub must of gone in!

We had a lazy morning Sunday eating pancakes for breakfast and headed back into the town to see the other sights we missed and visit a market. This same place where Ben had bought a Buddha wooden statue five years ago for his dad, Lauren bought a gift for her sister which we cannot say as she won't get this for a few weeks! We went to look around the town in daylight and then headed back to the hotel. It was now time for the main event of the day- the gorgeous pool - finally! We dove in despite it being cold and it was so refreshing! We lazed here for a good few hours reading the LP guide for our next few destinations and hasten to add we did catch a few more rays than intended!

We chilled out before heading back to town around 5pm. We went to a good cause restaurant for dinner. These are quite frequent throughout the region where the chefs are normally people with a violent background etc that have been "saved" by entering a decent life of work or that money from your meal goes to support a local orphanage etc. ours supported the latter cause. We had a great meal though as this was a vegetarian restaurant, Lauren had a vegetarian burger with mashed pumpkin and cooked spinach which was gorgeous and Ben had tofu red curry and we shared amazing pumpkin and sweet potato crisps, the most moreish crisps ever! We then treated ourselves to a few drinks on the aptly named Pub Street. Known as an expat place full of bars and restaurants serving Khmer and Western food and every place has 50 cent beer and 2 for 1 cocktail happy hours! It is the home of the original bar, Angkor What? We also headed to the night market, the best we had seen since Chiang Mai.

We had an earlier start the next day as we were heading back on the same road we travelled just a few days earlier to Phnom Penh but with heavier hearts as it was Monday and those that know us will know what today was. The trip however gave us much time to think and contemplate which we needed. We did get a bit of cabin fever and started playing pointless games of "Who Am I?" and "guess the building we didn't see last time!" we stopped at another out of town "restaurant" but it had a toilet so we can't complain too much although the a/c didn't seem to be working and we were very hot and stuffy on the journey giving us both unfortunate headaches.

Things of note:

There are so many tuk tuk's how do you choose? Simple choose the one that has the best decoration, we saw Batmobile's and a Ferrari and Rolls Royce!

Ben has introduced Lauren and most Cambodians to the "palm of power" he simply puts this up to hawkers and beggars to say "nope not interested don't even bother!", people always still assume you are white, you have money! Although the palm is getting too powerful we feel it will start generating force fields! Maybe not a bad thing though!

When at a market and you want to barter but not very good at it, just walk away they shout lower prices at you, on the same note there is always some, "I'm new you can have discount" or "I just opened you are first customer, come have discount" - Lauren got a dress down from $19 to $10.

They feature the fish spa's here but they are huge! Literally small carp pecking at your feet not the tiny tadpoles in the UK! One was named "Dr Fish No Piranha" that's how big they were!

People aspire to be tuk tuk drivers as the average fare for a journey is $2 and at the temples $13 for the day, in a time when the average daily wage is 50 cents its pretty good going - obviously there are running costs to consider. One man told us it was his dream and a friend from England bought it for him so he loves English people!

With regards running costs, of course you have the big petrol stations as you get in the UK, but also you have side stalls on streets with numerous bottles of water, or Gordon's gin or Johnnie Walker bottles filled with petrol which is what the tuk tuk drivers use- literally getting enough as they take money from their fare as their is no minimum amount needed and it's quick and easy, we just wonder how safe that is for the vendors.

Also if you have a tuk tuk and you are finding business slow do what some people do and create a side cart for your bike selling pancakes or sandwiches to drive around and sell to people or even just drinks, we saw one with coke dispensers and everything!

On a note of coke, coke and sprite cans cost 45 cents in the supermarket, $2 at restaurants etc but diet coke costs 65 cents and $2.60, please someone explain why?!

What would we do differently:

Probably make more use of the pool as it was lovely and refreshing.


Near Misses: 1 sure Lauren was gonna choke on the pepper in that soup!

Fallouts: 1/2 Ben tried to push Lauren in the pool- fine but as he grabbed her so she didn't slip it bloody hurt her arm, he got a stern look and all was forgiven...for now!

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