Siem Reap and Angkor Wat...
20.02.2011 - 22.02.2011 34 °C
20th February 2011
We were outside in brilliant sunshine by 9am this morning tucking into a nice breakfast of, guess what? Eggs!! Coffee was the order of the day and we were soon reviving ourselves. A mother and daughter were on an adjacent table and asked where we were from and we got chatting. It turned out that they arrived the night before also, and had, unfortunately, fallen for the visa scam at the border with both of them paying $40 each for their visas instead of the actual $20 it should have been. Then they were subjected to the same bus scam as we were and the whole thing was too much for the daughter who, apparently, spent the evening in tears over the whole episode and they said it had already soured their trip to Cambodia. We told them our story and concluded that we were much luckier than they were!
We had emailed our next guest house a couple of days ago to ask if they could arrange to pick us up from the Golden Mango and, sure enough, they sent a Tuk Tuk to get us at midday. It was roasting hot by now and the breeze was welcome as we tore along at 20 mph on the back of a moped with a cage! About a mile down the road we pulled up outside Rosie’s Guest House, just by the river. Although not as pretty as the Golden Mango it made up for it with a bar, pool table, free internet, free DVD library for guests, a Wii and they served food at the bar! Our room was quite nice with a big double bed, TV, aircon and a huge fan (that turned out to be very handy when it came to drying our clothes!). our venture outside in Cambodia ended in ignominy! One of our hosts, who answered to the monika of Smiley, gave us a map and showed us the route to an area called the Old Market. Wanting to spend an entire day at Angkor Wat, we decided to leave the temples for another day and walk to the market area. After getting some cash from the ATM in the nearby fuel station, we came out .... and immediately took a wrong turn! The heat was almost unbearable as we trudged up the road, the sweat was literally dripping down our backs and legs and in no time we looked as though we’d fallen in the river. It became apparent after around 20 minutes of this hell that we’d taken a wrong turn, so started the long walk back to Rosie’s. A cooling ice cream later (and after, ironically, giving someone else directions to the Golden Mango!!) we got back to Rosie’s, Jen needing to change shoes as, like the day itself, her feet were blistering! Taking the opportunity to change clothes we headed back out and this time we went in the right direction, walking along the river. Noticing an interesting looking Temple on the way, we went in for a quick look around Wat Prom Rath. The first thing we saw was two women towards the back of the Wat walking towards the east side of the temple pulling a rope which was attached to a bucket. As the bucket went up it was pulled off by another woman working on a building site and she in turn dumped the contents and reconnected the bucket to the rope. The two bucket pullers also had to contend with three squabbling children at the same time! The women here seem to do everything – including building! Our brief look around became even briefer as we noticed the gates were being shut so we hurried round the back and exited through a side gate and found ourselves at the rear of a small shopping mall. After a very quick look around the very boring shops in there we headed for the market proper. The market was fascinating and had hundreds upon hundreds of stalls in a labyrinthine arrangement and you could never work out if you had been down the lane before or not! It was easy to get lost in there as there were so many lanes to explore and the products ranged from the tacky to the exquisite. It was difficult escaping from the clutches of the vendors because as soon as you showed the slightest interest in any of their wares they were on you like a moth to a flame! We just smiled politely, shook our heads and said no thanks, ignoring their pleas for us to “buy sarnthin nice”! Hunger pangs appeared and we decided to be bold and found a street restaurant that had other tourists eating in so sat down and flipped through their menu. Opted for a safe bet and went with a plate of fried rice with chicken and pineapple, with a beer and an orange juice. It wasn’t a terrific meal to be honest but was incredibly cheap – the whole bill coming to under £4! Jen’s orange juice was as expensive as the meal itself! Walking out of there we headed for the night market which was a great place to shop. They had some wonderful things in there and we found ourselves picking up Buddha heads and comparing them from stall to stall. This was what we were going to have as our memento from Cambodia. The problem was they were too heavy and we kept having to put them back which was a shame. Walking round the market we found an unusual bar called the Island Bar, made out in tropical island theme. It was very loud and very busy – as well as being very pricey! We had a drink or two here and watched people come and go and then headed back out into the lanes of the market for a final look around before hitting the by now very busy streets and strolled back along the river to Rosy’s. After a quick look at our emails downstairs on the computers we were off to bed, exhausted but quite contented!
22nd February 2011
Yesterday it was Stew’s turn to feel unwell and we did very little. In fact all we actually managed was a short walk to some local temples and a short stroll along the river where we were shocked at the riverside slums being so close to the Royal residence.
But this morning we were quite determined to go and see the famous Angkor Wat - despite Stew still feeling lousy - and so were up reasonably early, grabbed a greasy (but delicious!) bacon roll for breakfast at Rosy’s and commandeered a waiting Tuk Tuk driver to take us to the most famous sight in Siem Reap. We had decided we’d purchase a three day pass to see everything the World Heritage Site had to offer as we knew we wouldn’t get round it in a single day and our driver duly took us to the proper ticket booths (which are quite some way from the temples themselves) where we had our photos taken and put on our passes! We were then driven to the colossal and overwhelming site of Angkor Wat. Built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century as his capital city and state temple, it is a huge and impressive sight from across the wide moat that surrounds it and upon entering the main gate and walking through to the inner courtyard, the sheer scale of the place becomes apparent. It is a behemoth of a temple (in fact the largest religious building in the world) and is split into sections with small buildings leading off the main causeway on both sides. Unfortunately our sight of the main part of the temple, where the five towers are, was spoilt by the front section of the main gateway being covered in green tarpaulins and scaffolding as restoration work was being carried out at the time! It was an unbelievably hot day again as we walked the very long walk along the causeway to the main part of the temple and entered through the gate, an orange sashed, golden Buddha welcoming us as we walked through into the inner courtyard. To our left and right were long corridors of pillars with huge sections of wall in relief depicting battles from the Hindu Ramayama and Mahabharata and almost everywhere we looked there was at least one carving of an apsara (celestial nymph) or a devata (female guardian) all perfectly rendered from stone. When the temple was first built, it was to honour the Hindu God Vishnu, the temple being designed by the Khmer to represent Mount Meru, the home of the Gods; the five towers symbolising the five peaks of Meru, the walls representing the surrounding mountains and the moat symbolising the oceans. From the 13th century it changed over time and became a Buddhist place of worship and is still used today.
It took ages to walk round and the heat began to take its toll on us. Also, in truth, everywhere we looked was almost the same and we began to, believe it or not, get a little bored! We checked our little map that came with our tickets and noticed that another part of the complex, Angkor Thom, looked as though it was fairly near so we decided to take a walk to that one to check it out. Walking down a long, tree lined dirt road toward Angkor Thom we happened upon another derelict building that was surely part of the same complex but we couldn’t find it on our map. It was quite small but so beautiful in its completely dilapidated state and we spent a while looking over it and its surrounding area which included a lake and a small, pretty wooded patch with trees and shrubs.
From here we carried on our ever lengthening walk and reached a small gate, the other side of which lurked many young girls and women all carrying things for our delectation! Stepping across the boundary of the gate was like firing a starting pistol as they all came towards us at once, postcards, bracelets, water, fruit, books and other goods being proffered and stuck under our noses with each one of the women speaking at the same time! It was as though a murder of crows had learned to speak pidgin English....!! After repeating the same “No thanks” for the thousandth time we made it past them and continued our walk to Angkor Thom which should have been, by now, in our sights but all we had in front of us was the same dirt track we’d been walking. A little way up lay a Tuk Tuk, complete with slumbering driver so we woke him up and asked him how much further it was to Angkor Thom. He looked at our map and told us we were going in the totally wrong direction and we needed to walk back through Angkor Wat and onto the road to get to it! Expecting him to volunteer his services to take us he simply rolled back over on his seat and closed his eyes once more. We said our thanks and grinned at one another and then realised we had to walk back past the vultures once again. Steeling ourselves for the onslaught once more we walked back towards the gate but the rush never came! Instead they just left us alone to walk back through towards the temple again. The trudge back along the dirt road seemed even longer than before as we wilted in the stifling heat, searching for shade at every opportunity. On reaching Angkor Wat we walked through its cooling corridors and back along the causeway (taking more photos on the way!) and stopped for a rest when we reached the main gate. Some saffron-robed monks were looking around this part of the temple and we snapped away at them as they walked around.
After slaking our thirsts with the last of our water we hauled ourselves through the gate and along the causeway across the moat and into the road where we hailed a Tuk Tuk to take us to Angkor Thom. It turned out to be quite a journey and we were glad we hadn’t attempted the walk! Crossing a bridge lined with figures holding the stone balustrade we trundled through an archway decorated with an amazing stone face and on through to the Bayon, the main building of Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom (which literally means “Great City”) was the last capital of the Khmer empire to be built and the whole site is spread over nine square kilometres with the Bayon at the heart of the city. It was just fantastic! Again there was lots of renovation work being carried out with cranes and diggers in attendance but no tarpaulins or scaffolding to spoil the view of the many stone-carved faces that adorned most of the vast building. After paying our driver and clambering out of the tiny vehicle we followed two more monks into the wonderful ruins, following them for a short time trying to capture a great photograph but left them alone after a little while! We wandered around the corridors, up and down small, stone staircases, and in and out of every nook and cranny we could find! It was fascinating and we were completely captivated by the wonderful carved rock faces of, apparently, a quadruple-faced Hindu Bodhisattva. Now and again we would find a decorated idol or a statue hidden away in a darkened alcove – some of them tended by a man or a woman who tried to offer an incense stick for you to burn in return for a donation! We couldn’t get enough of the place – it really is that wonderful and, for us anyway, outshone its more famous neighbour, Angkor Wat. Another few hours disappeared in the oppressive heat and our visit (as well as our energy) was at an end!
We looked around the surrounding area before waving down a passing tuk tuk and setting off to watch the sun set over Angkor Wat, our driver telling us he’d wait to take us back to our guest house! They don’t miss a trick these guys... Unfortunately for us, the sunset wasn’t as spectacular as we’d hoped so we trudged back to our chariot and our driver duly took us home, stopping right outside Rosy’s. Not wanting to miss another opportunity, he asked where we would be going tomorrow!! After telling him we would find him if we needed him, we disappeared inside and went to our room where we changed out of our soaking wet clothes and flicked through our photos of the day before hunger overtook us and drove us back outside into the now cooling evening air and toward the market area where all the bars and restaurants reside. We walked alongside the Siem Reap river and noticed it was a haven for young courting couples as there were plenty of stone benches along the stretch and it was very dark.... It was also a haven for mozzies unfortunately. We were both famished and exhausted and wasted little time in our choice of both eatery and eatables – pizza for Jen, sweet and sour chicken with rice for Stew – which we devoured with gusto before hauling our weary selves back to Rosy’s. Our room come equipped with not just an air conditioning unit, but also a huge fan on the wall which comes in very handy to dry wet clothes! After checking our drying stuff and switching the fan off we just fell onto our bed and drifted off into the land of nod. Another traveller’s day done and dusted...