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Siem Reap/Angkor Wat
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Follow my travels through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and China..........
Day 43, Angkor Wat - Here We Come!
Anna and I got up at the crack of dawn to leave for the airport. Pakse is a small city, and its aiport was no different - I prefer small airports, for the check-in process moves at a much quicker pace! As we walked up the stairway to the new looking Lao Aviatian plane, I took my last picture of Laos. It definitely was hard to leave.
The plane ride only lasted an hour, and I couldn't help but feel that I was cheating a bit. It seemed much to easy to arrive in Siem Reap so hassle-free. Not that I'm complaining tho. Going through immigration was quick since we both had gotten our visas in Laos (you can get a visa on arrival at any of Cambodia's two airports). Laos was hot, but now stepping onto Cambodian territory, the sun seemed to be shining five times hotter. There was no way we were going to get on a motorbike with our big backpacks strapped on, so I asked two Japanese guys to share a cab with us into Siem Reap for $5.
Driving past the luxury hotels on the dirt road, it was tempting to throw our money towards a nice room. However, true to our backpacker roots Anna and I were dropped off at Sun's guesthouse and checked into our humble rooms with squat toilet for $3. As we took our first stroll around Siem Reap, it was hard not to notice that the small town was developing at a quick pace - hotels small and large seemed to be springing up daily. Yet, still missing was the massive crowds of tourists I expected. I've been told however, that with the Khmer Rouge extinguished, it will only be a couple of years before Angkor Wat is on everyone's wish list. I was sure glad that we beat the oncoming rush, thus avoiding a Disneyland-ish atmosphere.
For lunch we settled on a touristy cafe across the central market. Surprisingly, the middle-eastern platter we ordered was delicious! It was great to indulge in hummus, pita, olive tapenade and baba ganoush. Mmmm mmmm. We were in price shock tho. Used to eating well for around $1 in Laos, the food prices in Siem Reap were now tripled. Oh well, C'est La Vie.
In the market, I finally bought an alarm clock and Anna helped herself to a photocopy of Lonely Planet's Burma edition - which was her next destination. Yes, in Asia, the land of piracy, even the Lonely Planet could not hold onto its copyright privileges. Afterwards, I hid for awhile inside an air-conditioned Internet cafe. It really was soooo so hot outside.
Well, Anna and I decided not to waste our day in Siem Reap(we both only alloted about two weeks for Cambodia), and went to find a tuk-tuk driver to chauffer us to the legendary Angkor Wat temple. For four dollars, we rode in a comfy carriage with a much needed roof to first, the ticket office. Admiring antiquity comes with a price, it was $40 dollars for a three day pass for the temples.
The road to Angkor Wat was pleasant, wide with trees lining both sides. Getting out at the parking lot across Angkor, Anna and I were soon accousted by a group of kids selling us an assortment of postcards,scarves, drinks, bracelets, etc.
"Where you from?"
"I know the capital, Sacramento."
These kids who had an excellent command of English, memorize the capitals of countries hoping to impress the tourists into buying their souvenirs. I held off buying anything since I was eager to see the temple.
"You buy from me later."
"No, maybe. You buy from me later okay?"
These kids sure were persistent, but harmless. Anyway, onto Angkor.
The legendary Angkor Wat.
We spent the next two hours at Angkor Wat admiring the skills of the ancient Khmer civilization. Angkor was big. Angkor was beautiful. But, I honestly have to say that I wasn't knocked off my socks. Maybe it was too built up in my mind. Don't get me wrong tho, I did appreciate why it's one of the world's seven wonders.
Around 5 pm, our nice tuk-tuk driver, with his smiley moon eyes, took us to watch the sunset with all the other tourists at PHNOM BAKHENG, a small temple ruin. The sunset was okay. With my bad direction sense I had thought we would see the sunset over Angkor Wat itself, but that was not possibe. Nevermind.
Musicians raising funds for the disabled at the bottom of Phnom Bakheng.
Back in town, Anna and I decided what better way to end our day then with surprise, surprise, a massage. Lucky for me, Anna lovess massages as much as I do. We decided to patronize the Seeing Hands Massage Center ($3/hr) since doing so assures the blind masseuses a steady income. And my my my- after my shiatsu style massage was completed, I felt like I was light enough to fly. This was definitely the best massage I have gotten in my life by far! While tipping is not customary in Cambodia, I had to give a generous tip for the job well done. Anna was completely happy with her massage as well, and we both vowed to come back for another session the next day.
To top off our, "I'm feeling so daym good right now" feeling, we ordered a glass of red wine at dinner to go with our yummy curry meals. That night I fell asleep feeling thoroughly satisfied with the day's events.
Day 44, Temple Hopping
I don't remember the last time I had to get up so early. 4 freaking 30 was the time me and Anna agreed on to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. It was pitch dark outside when we hopped onto our tuk tuk with the same smiley eyed driver. Yet, some Cambodians were already setting up their various stalls, selling breakfast to early risers on their way to work.
When we got to Angkor Wat there were only a handful of other tourists hoping to capture a perfect shot of the sun rising above the ancient temple. Unfortunately, the guard wouldn't let us pass the gates until 6am so we had to settle for an outside view. As the sky started to change colors, Angkor Wat looked much more magical to me than it did the previous day. Anna and I could only imagine what life was like when Angkor Wat was functioning at its full splendor.
Sunrise over Angkor Wat.
After munching down an overpriced omellete stuffed into a baguette, we departed for our next temple, Bayon. This temple featured huge towers carved with faces, one on each of the four sides. Since the crowds had not yet arrived, we were able to soak in the mysterious ambience that this temple offered. Next up were other temples in the Angkor Thom complex. One huge temple on the hill was being restored as were many others nearby. Sadly, many of the temples that had survived centuries of natural degradation were pillaged by the hands of the Khmer Rouge. And today our admission fees line the pockets of a local oil company (Sokimex), which undoubtedly limits the amount of restoration that should be done. Sigh.
By noon, the two of us managed to tour four other sites including the famous Ta Prohm temple where trees have overtaken parts of the temple walls.
A mystical temple with many carved deity faces.
Anna and I standing in the famous Taprohm "tree" Temple.
Temple touring was more exhausting than I thought. When we got up from our cat nap, we went to the Land Mine Museum located on the outskirts of town. The museum was small, but loaded with information on landmines still littered all over Cambodia. The museum proprietor is a man named Aki Ra, who has bravely cleared hundreds of landmines. This selfless soul also runs a home adjacent to the museum for teenage boys that have been injured in land mine accidents.
Going to the landmine museum was definitely an emotional experience. Being in Cambodia, you can't go a day without seeing people who have lost a limb to these atrocious devices. I was ashamed to learn that America, along with Russia and China are the world's leading producers of landmines. The only thing I could do at the time was to make a small donation.
After eating a not-so-good dinner at the Green Bamboo, Anna and I went to bed early again. Tomorrow we would head to Battambang Cambodia's second largest city.