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Published: October 26th 2016
Up at 4.40a.m. for a 5.00a.m. pickup to go to Angkor Wat and watch the sunrise over the temple. Half awake we arrived at the site amongst scores of others with the same intent and with the surrounding Angkor Wat village showing signs of life. Illegal squatters offering food, drink, hats, fans, souvenirs, postcards....children pestering to sell us postcards, some as young as 5 or 6 by the look of them and very persistent. We walked onto the Angkor Wat complex site and stood in the dark awaiting a sunrise which never happened - the clouds won. There was a definite sense of occasion as the crowd waited silently and the towers of the temple stood black against the sky.
So then we walked into the ancient temple, across the causeway, over the man-made lake and through the high gates, with our guide Bunli, who explained some of the detail and history of the site. We wandered through the ruins along with others but Bunli told us that it wasn't crowded at this time of the year. The feat of construction those centuries ago is quite awesome as is the thought of the civilisation that once surrounded the temple. In
Angkor Wat reflections
Reflections in the moat
the far and wide area around the temple there are dozens of other temples in various stages of repair, falling to the relentless onslaught of the encroaching jungle.
It hadn't taken long for the heat to rise and after a few hours it was enough for us and so back to the hotel by 8.00a.m. for breakfast. That was it for Bunli and us. We tipped him handsomely along with Di the driver and said our goodbyes and thanks. Di was going to pick us up the next day to take us to the airport but for the rest of the day and evening we were free to explore. That meant walking into the city to have a look at the real, alive Cambodia at street level. The heat was oppressive along with the humidity so we made a few detours into air conditioned places as we went. We walked through dirty, rubbishy backstreets and saw how people scrabble to make a living; we saw huge luxury hotels and flash apartment stores owned by foreigners; we saw every second car was a Lexus and every other one was a Merc, BMW, Maserati, Jaguar....incongruous in such a poor country but
evidence of the accumulation of wealth in the hands of government officials and wealthy tycoons. As I read more about the country later I came to appreciate just how corrupt the place was/is. Graft extends its greedy fingers from the very top of government on down but not enough extends to those who really need a lift.
It was too hot! We finally ended up in Pub Street (its actual name) and had a cold beer and some lunch. It's a fascinating place. A bit more wandering before we grabbed a Tuk Tuk and headed back for a swim. Delicious! Lyn's silk trousers buying didn't work out - no silk pants anywhere.
Following rest and catching up with news we got a Tuk Tuk to a bar, The Palate, that had been recommended as it had a rooftop area - scenic and cooler. Our driver couldn't find it and had to ring someone while he was driving along and finally handed the phone to me to speak to whoever it was on the other end. I told him the name and he relayed that to the driver who made sounds of understanding and so on we went on
our circuitous trip around Siem Reap. We got there eventually and he was not happy when we paid him what he'd quoted (it was only 2kms from our hotel and in a tourist area!).
No sooner had we climbed up to the rooftop bar than the rain started. And the thunder. And the lightning. "Rain" doesn't describe it - digger loads of water thrashing the roads and buildings turning streets into rivers and shop verandahs into waterfalls. But warm :-) After some tapas and a drink we thought the rain had eased a bit so out into it we emerged to look for a place to eat closer to Pub Street. But it hadn't eased, it kept on coming. We took refuge in various buildings and shops and finally, wet through, we decided to return to the hotel and eat there. A Tuk Tuk puttered us back in the downpour.
Today was much more enjoyable than being in the air conditioned car. At street level among the people gives a much sharper focus to the experience.
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