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Published: October 10th 2016
Siem Reap - Angkor Thom
Bunli in full guide mode.
Our departure from Hoi An didn't go smoothly. We were at the airport on time, plenty of time, but our flight to Ho Chi Minh kept being delayed to the point that if we didn't get on it soon we were going to miss the connection to Siem Reap. By the time we did take off we'd almost flagged the connection and were starting to think about where we could stay the night in HCM. We landed at HCM 15 minutes before our next flight was due to take off - oh well, ce la vie - but no! We were met at the door of the arrivals area by a Vietnam Airlines person, told to get our luggage quickly (it had been prioritised), follow her and were then raced through back areas of the airport, through immigration and customs, to a waiting Airbus 300. Great service after all our dire thoughts of being left stranded.
So, Siem Reap, one hour later. met at the airport by Bunli, our guide for the next two days and our driver, Di. Taken to the Tara Angkor hotel and checked in at 10.00pm. Siem Reap smelt earthy; tropical jungle-like. We couldn't see much
Decrepit buildings, not yet decrepit couple.
as it was pitch black. An immediate difference was the attitude/demeanour of the hotel staff - maybe we'd been spoiled in Vietnam but they weren't as immediately warm and open, not so many smiles and they kept hovering as if for tips and we weren't sure as to local gratuity-giving custom. We tipped the bellboy anyway but it seemed very unnecessary for a 60 second effort on his part. What makes it ok is knowing how little they earn in this impoverished country where corruption is rife and and the trickle down theory is alive and well; you know, the one that says "I can piss on you because I have more money". Straight away to bed.
Next morning Bunli and Di were waiting in the lobby at 8.15 to take us to the Angkor Thom Temple. He took us there first rather than to Angkor Wat because he thought this was more impressive. Ruins for kilometres in amongst the jungle. High towers, steep stone steps, broken down walls, moats, gates, statues......impressive stuff even in its current state and to imagine the effort and wealth required to build this 1200 years ago. The crowds were big but not too
bad at this time of the season. From there we moved to the Ta Prohm Temple which seems to be more famous for the "Tomb Raider" movie starring Angelina Jolie, quite a few years back, than for itself. I haven't seen the movie but Bunli kept referencing it. Apparently it's helped build tourist numbers since it was released in 2001. the temples are massive constructions with some being repaired/restored with the financial and expert help of other counties including Japan, France and India. Otherwise the temples continue to fall into ruin as time, the weather and the jungle do their work.
All around the edges of the temple areas live poor Cambodians who eke out a living selling food, drinks, souvenirs, books, hats, postcards etc. Walking through the throngs, tourist are approached by young kids pushing cheap items in their faces, not taking no for an answer and walking beside them until a definite "no" finally registers. Bunli told us that most of the kids should be in school but are made by their parents to stay at the temple sites and make some money for the family. Tourists are told not to buy from them or give them
From the top.
money as it only encourages them to continue to stay away from school.
Later we visited the Angkor National Museum. It's full of carved Buddhas, bas reliefs and ancient Khmer paintings. Even for a museum lover like me it was all a bit much to take in and understand. One Buddha looks like the next and I'm afraid the intricacies of why one is important and another not so important don't ring my bell. For a Buddhist a totally different experience I'm sure.
Then it was to the night market, a fetid cacophony of sardine-like stalls selling the same cheap items of clothing, jewelry, watches; bags etc. All very junky when you looked closely at the quality of the stitching or the automatic watches that kept stopping. Mostly staffed by young people working for sweet nothing and possibly on commission. Who knows? It felt like all the stalls must belong to the same big boss because all the clothing, jewelry etc was the same.
And so to Por Cuisine, a restaurant and show that was part of the tour package. We were the first to arrive and were placed at the front table with an up-close view
Siem Reap - Ta Prohm Temple
AKA the Tomb Raider temple. It's being left to the jungle to do it's work. Trees are taking over.
of the Apsaras, traditional Khmer dancing; very stylised and repetitive to our eyes but interesting in that it is a modern version of hundreds of years of culture going right back to the temple's time. Bunli had organised for a Tuk tuk to be waiting for us after the show. Turned out to be his brother Torc. We puttered back to the hotel through the crowded streets in amongst the hundreds of other puttering Tuk tuks. We didn't see a lot of Siem Reap outside of the tour activities today - sitting in an airconditioned Lexus going from place to place insulates one a little from real life. The Lexus cars are a story in themselves. In a country so poor, every second car seems to be a Lexus. Not owned by the drivers we were told but by those who are in on the Cambodian national pastime of corruption and graft.
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