Hey mister, you want book, postcard, pineapple, cold water, flute, bracelet for your wife, beer?
22.11.2008 - 28.11.2008
Seven hours later I arrived at Siem Reap. It was a beautiful and relaxing boat trip down the river, through mangroves and floating villages and over the Tonle Sap lake, all lush with vegetation and birdlife.
I got picked up by Cam on his moped and was taken to King of Angkor Guesthouse, ran by a couple of guys called Mr Tom and Mr Jerry (you could never see them though as the larger grey feline was always chasing the smaller brown rodent while the latter played pranks and got out of scrapes). It was clean and ok, close to the busy bits but my room was on the 5th floor and as I was later to find, after climbing temples (and should have remembered Battambang's temple's steps), five floors is a killer. And more often than not when going out, I always forgot something I had to traipse back up for.
First up was to look for a Koh Ker trip as it far away and expensive unless there are others going too. I'd read about it and wanted to see it but wasn't sure how to get there. I spoke to an english guy called Dave who ran the Peace of Angkor Guesthouse and he said they do tours but will get back to me when the next one is.
I had a message from Dee that she was in town so I called her and we arranged to meet for a quickie (oh behave) as she was getting up at 0400 to end her visit with a sunrise over Angkor Wat. As it was Saturday, I thought I may have Sunday off and start temple hunting Monday so I could have a few drinks tonight. A couple later I went for some nosh via a recommendation at Viva as that night they do $1 tacos. Don't bother. They were limper and softer than a 90 year old's... handshake.
I had a few more drinks in the bar "Angkor What?" (clever eh?) and watched a bit of footie before checking my mail and saw that the Koh Ker trip was scheduled for Wednesday and there were others on it so the price would come down. Brilliant. But it meant no day off and the that the next three days* were now Angkor temple hopping. I thought I'd set the alarm for 0430 and check to see if the weather was good enough for a sunrise start.
*I'd been recommended to get a three day pass over a one day pass so you can take your time a they are far apart, and I also had time on my side. I concur with this tip.
Bleary eyed and regretting those extra drinks as the alarm shrilled, I was rather hoping it wouldn't be but the sky was crystal clear and full of stars. Cam never got back to me after I left a message about my change of plans, so I found a tuktuk driver outside called Pan Ne which proved to be a far better option. His English was extremely limited, but it's heaps better than my Cambodian: hello, please, thank you.
A lot of people speak English very well here and with the dollar being used as currency, and seeing Siem Reap full of western influence, from the bars and restaurants surrounding the central and old markets to the grand hotels reaching further out of town, Pol Pot and his cronies must be spinning in his grave.
But what Pan Ne lacks in English he makes up for in laughing and smiling which helped throughout the days ahead. The tuktuk was cheaper than a moped and the advantage of a tuktuk is that you can sit back and kick up your feet between wats. And stay dry during the odd brief shower. I'm paying more for a tuktuk as I'm on my own but at least I have autonomy and can spend any amount of time I want in the temples without wanting others to hurry up or slowing them down.
I arrived at Angkor wat in darkness and followed the crowds over the moat, through a building and out into a huge courtyard. Peter had told me to go behind a pond so you can see the reflection when it gets light so I found the pond (it wasn't difficult, most people were heading for same spot) and nestled through the people and squatted near the water's edge. A second later I heard a familiar voice and saw Dee on a bench next to me. Sweeeet! She budged up and I got a prime spot with her and Danny.
The following hour was a mass of tourists from a mass of countries taking pictures of a silhouetted Angkor Wat against various shades of morning sky. Why do people still use their flash when the temple is about 100 metres away and the sky considerably further? It wasn't a particularly exciting or colourful sunrise but it has to be done.
After this, most visitors with money got back in their tour buses and back to their hotels for breakfast, to leave us to wander round a relatively empty Angkor Wat. Although I was there a while, once I was leaving and going onto the next wat (it took a while to find Pan Ne as it was dark when I met him) I thought that I could easily complete a full temple tour in a day.
How wrong I was. I was around the Terrace of Elephants at 3 o'clock, which was only my eighth of the possible hundred or so suggested sites (or sights, both work). To be fair I had been up very early, I was taking my time and waiting for decent photos opportunites, but I could feel my energy draining rapidly and after taking over 250 photos and my camera clinging onto life, I had to go back to the hotel to recharge my batteries, both figuratively and literally.
A Brief History of Wattage?
Angkor wat and the surrounding temples were constructed over a several hundred years around the 10th century, mostly for Hinduism religious beliefs but later Buddhism. It was the capital of the Khmer empire but after this crumbled (or rather the Siamese empire grew), the capital moved down to Phnom Penh. The temples were left to the jungle and the local people and only discovered by the western world mid-19th century with the help of Henri Mouhot. Since then there has been numerous surveys and restorations by various nations. In 1992 it become a World Heritage Site.
Over the four days I so much amazing architecture, carvings and ruins all over the area. I climbed up, around, down, across, jumped and shuffled along ledges, almost like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.
I bought a book from a street vendor called Ancient Angkor and it is very well written and informative and some of the above has to be credited to it, but can anyone explain this extract? "Pass between these buildings and you enter a small but massive pavillion that precedes the first flight of steps"
Street Vendors are everywhere (mostly kids) outside the temples asking if you want a cold drink or pineapple or mango or postcard or bracelet for your wife or girlfriend or flute or book. Although amusing at first, they soon become a pain. They speak lots of languages so it was a challenge to come with a country where I was from that stumped them. But it never shut them up. You just have to learn to say no or ignore them and don't stop walking.
The weather wasn't a compact camera's friend. It hardly rained but the light was quite flat. Of course I still took hundreds.
During my travels I saw a guy washing his oxen. "Strange", I thought, I wonder if there's an oxen show in town? Even stranger, I thought it sounded like a euphemism.
washing ones oxen verb.
A popular term meaning to play with oneself.
"Sorry love, I'll be downstairs for dinner in a few minutes. Tell the other guests I won't be long. I'm just washing my oxen" (Philip before the state opening banquet)
After day three, Pan Ne dropped me off and he set off on his 30 minute drive home. After I had got up to level five (typical) I realised I'd left my bag on the tuktuk. I ran downstairs and asked them to ring him but his phone was switched off so I scaled the stairs once more and when I was going out later, there he was, waiting for me outside with my bag and asking me to check the contents. His number is 012 287129 if you want to use him.
Wat Was the Best?
My top 6 favourites were:
-Ta Phrom (they have purposely left it in the state they found it with trees strangling the walls),
-East Mebon (because not only was it in decent nick but I was the only one there so that was where my Tomb Raider climbing came out)
-Prasat Thom (in Koh Ker region, seven tiered overgrown pyramid)
-Bayon (initially wasn't too impressed - was wat tired - but got better and better the higher and higher I got)
-Beng Melea (like a giant's lego set. Just go and see it, climb it & snap it)
-Kbal Spean (carvings in rocks under a stream and a great way to break up temple fatigue)
My Wat Itinerary
Day 1 04:30-15:00
Angkor Wat - Prasat Kravan - Sras Srang - Banteay Kdei - Ta Phrom - Ta Keo - Chau Say Thevoda - Thommanom - Leper King Terrace - Elephant Terrace - Phimeanakas
Tuktuk Cost: $12
Day 2 11:00-18:00
Kbal Spean - Banteay Srey - East mebon - Phnom Bakheng for sunset
Tuktuk Cost: $19
Day 3 05:30-09:00 & 11:30-17:30
Bakong - Preah Ko - Lolei - (back to bed) - Gave Blood - Ta Som - Neak Pean - Preah Khan - Bayon - Angkor Thom South Gate
Tuktuk Cost: $15
Day 4 07:00-18:00
Prasat Bram - Prasat Chen - Prasat Thom (Koh Ker) - Prasat Leung - Prasat Grochap - Beng Melea
Minibus Cost: $50
Wat Else is there to do in Siem Reap?
I did another sunrise start but went back to bed for a few hours before exploring further. As we were tuktuking past the children's hospital I saw a sign saying there was a severe Denge fever epidemic and they're after blood donations to help children who have gone into shock, especially those with B or AB.
I know AB is pretty rare, as I have it, so I called Pan Ne to stop and went in and gave them a pint of my finest, although after last night I think the lucky recipient kid who gets my claret will wake up slightly tiddly. I haven't given blood for seven years due to New Zealand's stance on UK people and mad cow disease, and wondered if getting tea and biscuits was universal. This hospital, who relies on 80% public donations to fund it, gave me a can of coke, some vitamin and iron tablets for the following seven days, and a bag with a car sticker, a t-shirt and a big box of salted crackers in. Wonderful.
Tip: If you do this, do it on your day off as climbing temples minus a pint of blood in you makes you unsteady.
I had a few nights out round town, firstly with Dee & Danny, then with Lisa and Sam (tubing) who I met by chance (and it turns out our next 10 days are following a similar route so we'll be drinking together a few more times) and then with Ross and whoever else we bumped into.
Dr Beat Richner (doc doc doc doc doctor beat) heads the Kantha Bopha children's hospitals around Cambodia. He's a Swiss guy who is a source of inspiration. He was over before the Khmer Rouge took over and came back when it was safe to start these hospitals. He used to play the cello before becoming a paediatric doctor but now, after doing all his duties for Kantha Bopha, which include helping design and build the hospitals, he picks up and plays his huge fiddle in his spare time twice a week in the hospital conference room free of charge with donations expected afterwards (this is where 80% come from).
Lisa, Sam and I went along but I'd read the poster wrong and it wasn't him there, it was a movie about him. It was engaging to watch though and he comes across as an amazing guy with a few idiosyncrasies and grumbles about a few organisations.
He did play on Thursday and, with Ross, we popped along to that and he is an accomplished player and I would definately recommend popping along if you're here. If you do, wear something warm as the air con is freezing. It was apt that the maternity wing took exactly nine months to build.
On the last day there, three of us popped along to a nearby posh hotel and paid $15 for the use of the swimming pool all day (whilst listening to the easy and cheesey songs such as Kylie and Jason's Especially For You), lunch, drink and one hour massage. Niiiiiiiice.
Now I am in Sihunoukville on the south coast where there is plenty of beach to rest and relax. I went via Phnom Penh. This time the movie on the bus was great. It seemed to be about a rural village trying to protect themselves from an army and as it was set many years ago, they were using rudimentary methods to repel them. I think it was a Chinese film, with Japanese subtitles and dubbed in Cambodian! It was so funny. I couldn't understand a word of it. Everyone was laughing though as it was done in a slapstic Home Alone fashion.
Like the 5th member of Star Trek who always beamed down and got killed, all the non-speaking roles for soldiers always had them being shot in an accidental way, such as a chicken pecking an insect on the trigger. The main army characters kept getting various body parts set on fire, slipping on bananas or peas or more usually getting their knackers cracked with planks, bulls, or posts. I can't wait for the sequel.
Talking of movies, is the answer: "Zed's dead baby, Zed's dead?"