Angkor Wat and Siem Reap


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April 11th 2014
Published: April 13th 2014
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Mike and Noah 2005Mike and Noah 2005Mike and Noah 2005

Ta Prohm when it was fun.
My stomach lurched as soon as the curry hit my tongue. Bad chicken. I spit the mealy mouthful back onto my plate and headed for the bathroom, hacking like a fur-balled cat. We were halfway to Siem Reap and stopping for 'lunch' at a restaurant located in a dusty hamlet. We should have stayed on our Giant Ibis bus. Giant Ibis is a relatively new company offering shiny vehicles at slightly higher fares. We paid $16 each to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Giant Ibis advertises that it has free WIFI on its vehicles. I guess it would be free if you were able to connect to it. They also talk of a toilet on the bus but I never found it unless it was that half-full jug of hazy amber-colored fluid under the driver's seat. Karlie's seat-mate was a paunchy Cambodian fellow who slept the entire trip. Occasionally he would fall over onto Karlie's shoulder and she would have to push him back against the window. He could not have cared less. The ride to Siem Reap took 7 hours to cover the 140 miles as the crow flies. The travel blogs say that the road from PP
KJ KJ KJ

There has been extensive reconstruction done since we were last here. There's a lot of work yet to be done. Most of it is being financed by foreign NGO's,
to Siem is paved and it is. In some parts. We passed hundreds if not thousands of shack homes along the road. Rattan-walled cubes with thatch roofs. A bamboo outhouse. A short clothes line outside the front opening. Most of these places do not have doors or windows. Wood cooking fires in the hard scrabble red-earth yards fill the air with blue smoke. The people are small, dark and care worn. Some tend small rice paddies behind their homes. A few have a Water Buffalo. This is the hardest poverty we have seen in SE Asia, outside of Laos. By the time we pulled into Siem we were all beat to Hell and back.

I had our hotel (Tropical Breeze Guest House, $21 per night, no breakfast) send a Tuk out to meet us. The hotel has basic accommodations but more importantly, excellent WIFI bandwidth. You could have the dirtiest bathrooms in the world but if you have good WIFI the backpackers will beat a path to your hotel. It was 6 PM by the time we got settled in. It was Karen's and my first time back in 8 years. We were here with Noah when he was
Too Cute For WordsToo Cute For WordsToo Cute For Words

Siem Reap is re-making itself as a sort of Hoi An - Khao San Road deal. Both Hoi An in Vietnam and Khao San Rd in Bangkok, Thailand are must-make stops for backpackers. Siem Reap has turned into a low-end tourist destination with the requisite bars, cheap hotels and constant hustles. At night it looks like an amusement park gone bad.
15 years old and I was still spry enough to clamber over the ruins with him. Lord knows I can't keep up with him now. Fortunately I took lots of photographs back then. Preserve your memories. They're all that's left you.

For our first meal in town we chose Mexican. After 3 months on the road we needed a taco fix. Found a restaurant called Viva's near our hotel. Not perfect but good enough for people in our sometimes dire gastronomic position. In the end this was the best restaurant we found in Siem Reap. The French restaurants that we had previously enjoyed with Noah are completely gone. Siem Reap has changed since 2005. A lot of foreign money rolled into town and crushed the locals. The intimate parochial surroundings have given way to hotel after hotel, neon-lit bars, 'Night' markets, Dr. Fish foot cleaning services and massage parlors of dubious reputation. Backpacker guest houses sprang up like weeds after the monetary downpour. We are staying in such a place. Young, shirtless, western men crowd around the 50-year old pool table in the lobby. The pool balls so pockmarked by use that their original colors are fading fast. The
Excited to Finally Be HereExcited to Finally Be HereExcited to Finally Be Here

The first place we visited was Ta Prohm because it's my favorite and I can persuade some people to do what I want them to. Karen and Karlie are smiling because the dehydration hasn't hit their renal systems yet.
keg of Angkor beer sitting next to the reception desk serves up mugs of brew for fifty-cents. While the boys shoot pool I note their tattooed torsos. Skulls and snakes seem to be very popular this year. Our room sits at the front of the hotel where we can enjoy the shade on a big balcony and listen to the goings on downstairs. I like these kids. They get wasted early and stay pretty quiet unlike Saigon where I occasionally have to have a chat with some French-speaking miscreant in the hotel hallway at 3 AM.

The next morning I hired a Tuk for the day for $15. Had him take us out to the ticket station. A 3-visit ticket to Angkor costs $40. A one week pass is $60. Your 3 visits have to take place within the next week. The ticket kiosk looks like its sister at Disney's Magic Kingdom. Very efficient exchange of cash for little paper passes with your picture on them. It's all cash here. I watched the lines of people sliding US dollars through the windows and I wondered what the take was like at the end of the day. It must be
The Iconic 'Tomb Raider' ShotThe Iconic 'Tomb Raider' ShotThe Iconic 'Tomb Raider' Shot

This is the way that you'll enter the Ta Prohm temple complex but as the Wat was designed originally this would have been the back door.
substantial. Last time we were here you just rolled through a toll booth kind of thing and swapped cash for a laminated card. Now you have to stop, join the line, get a picture taken and then wait a few minutes for your prize. Progress baby! People live in the park. Lots of people. Some of them are employed by the park's private operator. You can see their homes as you tuk from temple to temple. Wherever you park, a bunch of postcard dealing kids will descend down to cluster around you in a mobile huddle as you strive to reach the temple gate. On the temple approaches are Cambodian amputees playing in Khmer folk music bands and selling CD's of their performances for $10 US. The security guards moonlight on the side as tour guides. Women dressed as Buddhist nuns will ask if they can teach you a 'Blessing' and hand you some incense to burn. For the incense they will expect a $10 US contribution. It gets tiring watching your six all of the time but once you know what to look for you can set it aside and concentrate on Angkor's grandeur.

Angkor Wat means 'City
Karen in Ta ProhmKaren in Ta ProhmKaren in Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm is the most fun of all the temples. Lots of mysterious rooms and galleries. Still fairly accessible even with the new rules.
of Temples". Besides the 3-domed behemoth that decorates the Cambodian flag there are a myriad of other temples scattered around. You will need a driver to get through it all. The park is over 400 square kilometers in area. You could take an organized bus tour but then you'd be trapped and you'd have some paunchy Cambodian dude constantly tipping over onto your lap. A driver is the way to go. Standard daily rate for a tuk is $13. I pay a little more so the driver doesn't constantly try to steer us towards stores and restaurants where he gets a commission. All I want is a tuk that takes us where we want to go. You can rent an air conditioned car with driver for $40 but a tuk offers excellent ventilation and it will cool you quickly.

We visited Ta Prohm first. This was our favorite the last time around. Also known as the 'Tomb Raider' temple. It has that, about to fall down, Disney 'Jungle Book' look with huge Ficus tree roots snaking through the stonework. Many of the trees have been cut down over the past 5 years to preserve the buildings. A lot of
Karlie Needs A Liter Of Ringer's Lactate Stat!Karlie Needs A Liter Of Ringer's Lactate Stat!Karlie Needs A Liter Of Ringer's Lactate Stat!

The end of a draining first morning. By this time we were pretty gooey. After lunch everybody caught some Air Conditioned Zzz's.
people didn't like it but the restorers said it had to be done. They've only trimmed trees where they could but overall I'd have to say that the temple looks a bit starker than it used to. Large areas of the temple have been roped off whereas Noah and I crawled all over the place unhindered before. It was interesting to watch Karlie's reactions as this was her first visit to Angkor. The place can be overwhelming at first. Unfortunately we got a late start so by the time we had arrived the place was full of tourists and the sun felt like you had wrapped yourself in a warm, damp, wool blanket. When we finished our visit to Prohm we were half-baked. We went to Angkor Wat (the biggest one) next. Our driver dropped us at the back door so we could go through it and that way we'd only have to walk the long main causeway once. A small troop of hopped up monkeys eyed us from the path's side. Their little monkey fingers were twitching like mad. Built in the 12th century, some archaeologists call Angkor Wat the world's largest mausoleum as the central shrine housed a
Siem Reap Night MarketSiem Reap Night MarketSiem Reap Night Market

Plenty of people selling the same stuff. Lots of inventory like T-Shirts and fake Pashminas and T-Shirts and paper Chinese lanterns and T-Shirts. This is the first night of Khmer New Year. Note the lack of customers.
huge jar where the body of King Suryavarman II was pickled to rest. It's surrounded by a wide, long moat and consists of stone squares within squares. In its heyday the interior walls were all painted in various hues and the deep indoor pools filled to brimming. It must have been quite the scene. Today it's a flat-gray color. The walls are covered in delicate carvings. The pools are empty and the side galleries offer breezy places to sit and speculate. Occasionally an orange-robed monk will walk up and ask if he can practice his English language skills. We always do and we always learn something new. As a rule the monks are pretty down to earth. They want to know where you're from, how you live and what kind of work you do. They are kind, considerate and unassuming. Unlike your fellow tourists who are loud, demanding and a royal pain in the butt. When we finished here we were officially fried. Caught some lunch, drank a bucket of water, went back to the room, turned on the A/C and crashed.

Karen and Karlie went out at 4 PM to see something new at Angkor. I wasn't going
Angkor PoolAngkor PoolAngkor Pool

Big on water, the builders of Angkor incorporated pools in every temple. While the one shown here is larger and deeper than most every temple sports long dormant fountains and ponds. These four pools in Angkor Wat were used for cleansing and purification of pilgrims before they went to the 2nd floor to meditate. The pilgrims had to know what their element sign was first, so they could use specific pools for washing away their sins. Each pool represented a different element. Earth, water, air and fire.
anywhere. While the girls visited Bayon temple I caught up on e-mail, writing and watching the Masters golf tournament. I cannot believe that Mickelson didn't make the cut! I met the girls up at Pub Street around 7 PM. Pub street is Siem Reap's answer to Bangkok's much touted backpacker hangout called Khao San Road. Lots of neon-lit bar/ restaurants selling the same over-priced food and drinks. They all have their menus resting on a pedestal in front of the place. As soon as you stop to look at it a tout will hang over your shoulder and tell you to come into the restaurant over and over again. All you can do is to either ignore them, give up and sit down or move on down the line to the next menu and another tout. Pub Street is 2 blocks long and has about thirty eateries on it. The restaurants are dominated by big screen TV's tuned to Premiere League soccer games. At any given moment there are a minimum of five Cambodian TV channels carrying soccer games here. Yeah, I said soccer. Anybody who calls this football hasn't seen an NFL game. Get over it already.

Got
'The' Temple'The' Temple'The' Temple

It's a long, long walk to the main temple. What the picture cannot show is the sweltering jungle heat. Get your walking in early because by Noon it is stifling.
our tuk driver to pick us up at 5:30 the next morning so we could beat the heat and the crowds. Went back to Ta Prohm to see what it was like to pay a visit with normal blood electrolyte levels. It was wonderful. Much better than the day before. While the girls watched a trail of giant Cambodian ants I shot over 50 pictures in the early morning light and took some videos. The sound of songbirds and cicadas made the air vibrate around us. To sit there amongst the ruins alone is to feel like a time traveler. Here, over 12,000 people lived, supported by a nearby population of nearly 80,000 who worked to serve the temple's needs. Here the future has come and gone. The stones are all that remain of all those stories.

It was great but by the time we departed someone had cranked the thermostat up again and it was only 8 AM. Another two temples and it was game over for me. We rode back and watched as the Cambodians decorated for New Year's which runs from April 13th to 15th here. April 13th is also Songkron in Thailand. Known as the water festival it turns Thailand into the world's largest water pistol fight as everybody in the country is fair game for a dousing. You have to be there. The primary item to decorate with in Cambodia is a star-shaped box kite looking thing made of bamboo splines and colored cellophane. They are everywhere here. They can be small or large just like a Christmas tree. Yesterday at lunch we watched a woman cram three 4-footers into a Land Cruiser already full of kids. This will be a new one for me as I don't know if half the country shuts down like Nam does during Tet. While it narrows your range of dining options you can still always get something to eat. I have no idea what the Cambodians do with the holiday. I'll let you know.

We leave Monday for Sihanoukville and mischief. It's our last stop in Cambodia before pushing on to Thailand. Our Indian visas came through so Calcutta; Here we come. So far so good. Time slows down on the road. While the weeks flew by back home the days here are long and leisurely. Hard to believe that we've only been gone 3 months.
Bayon FriezeBayon FriezeBayon Frieze

Being buried under vegetation for centuries has its positive aspects as these sandstone carvings were protected from the elements.
We'll be moving quickly over the next 4-weeks with stops in the Thai islands, Northern Thailand and Myanmar. We had a Pow-Wow and decided that Laos wasn't a sound investment of time. Too much hassle for what would essentially be a one-stop trip. I regret not going back to Vang Vingh but them's the breaks. Myanmar will be new for us and hopefully rewarding. So far, for me, Morocco has been the real standout. A big surprise as I hadn't expected much.

Shouts to Dina who just got back home from Sira Lanka. You live in England Dina. Why did you go back? Marie Petro wants to know, as usual, what it costs to travel like this: Cambodia with everything is $70 per day. Germany: Don't ask. Vietnam $45/ day. Morocco $80/ day. To John and Kelly; Is Gaahl still alive and if so, why? To my brother David: I've tried to call you repeatedly. E-mail me with either your new number or a proper time to call. To Giang and Truc and Houng; We miss you guys already. Lisa: Traveling with two women beats traveling with two guys any day. Of course I say this now. Later; Who
Karlie at BayonKarlie at BayonKarlie at Bayon

A profusion of stone face towers on what is a relatively small piece of land. Popular with tourists as it is near the main structures of Angkor Wat.
knows? Hey Greg; You'd really like this place. The construction here; Not so much. Noah; Enjoy those field exercises. They're good for you.

For more stuff on where we stay, what we eat and what we see with photos attached go to:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/members-reviews/N0ahsdad

There are lots more pictures at the bottom of this page so keep scrolling down past all the advertising. And make sure you go to page 2 also if you want to see all of the pictures.


Sorry but it's a free site and I guess they too have to pay bills.


Additional photos below
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Karlie and BirdKarlie and Bird
Karlie and Bird

Bird was our Tuk driver in Phnom Penh. Karen and I hire drivers for a set daily rate. We basically rent the Tuk and the driver to ourselves. We get where we want to go when we want to go, morning to night and the driver is happy to have the steady income. $23 per day total. 8 AM to 10 PM. But we go to bed early which made Bird a happy fellow.
Bayon PlazaBayon Plaza
Bayon Plaza

Amazing, the distances people will travel to walk amongst lichen-covered stones and be accosted by children pitching postcards at 10 for a buck..
Bayon TowersBayon Towers
Bayon Towers

The problem with photographing Bayon is that unless you visit during noon time when it is hottest, the shadows give the stones a two dimensional, flat gray look. In actuality the stones are covered in a myriad of detailed carvings.
BayonBayon
Bayon

Lots of dark little rooms and passageways to scamper around in. Bring a flashlight. That's a 'Torch' if you're a Brit.
Face TowerFace Tower
Face Tower

The Khmers believed that the King could watch them via these face towers. The world's first security camera.
Keeping It All TogetherKeeping It All Together
Keeping It All Together

Metal bracing replacing cables and plastic ties.
Mike ExhaustedMike Exhausted
Mike Exhausted

I'm old. After dialysis I felt much better.
Naga Demon DogsNaga Demon Dogs
Naga Demon Dogs

Naga's are the protectors of Angkor Wat as I am the protector of Bradenton.


13th April 2014

Angkor Wat
Mike, Love the narrative, pictures, and great inside info. If I would ever venture in that direction it would sure help. As is I just enjoy your wit, the happy pants girls, and the dimples in Karlie's smiling face-thank you for that. Looking forward to more- Lisa

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