Siem Reap, Cambodia

14 Aug

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

When planning our journey from Battambang to Siem Reap we found out that we could take a 7-hour local boat ride there instead of a 5-hour bus trip. We opted for the boat ride and I’m glad we did. We travelled along the murky brown Sangkar River, slowly putting along, passing many poor riverside villages. Some of the homes were built on stilts a number of feet above the water level while others were supported by large floating plastic jugs.

It was not a direct journey as people would flag down the boat and have a family member or neighbour row them out to us and climb aboard, often carrying large bags or boxes of produce and rice, and from there we would continue on our way. The same went for when someone on board the boat wanted to get off. They would let the driver know where to put the boat into neutral and someone from the mainland would row out to pick them up and bring them ashore.

As we grew near to Siem Reap the river opened up wide and changed from brown to green in colour and when we finally docked at our destination it was like a ship invasion scene from Pirates of the Caribbean with the local tuk tuk drivers and hotel promoters swarming onto the boat trying to make a sale. J.J. and I refused to commission anyone to take us to a hotel until we ourselves had 2 feet on the mainland.

We agreed to the price of $2 USD offered by a tuk tuk driver, Noi, who was willing to drive us into town and take us around to various hotels until we found one that was clean and on budget. We must have visited 4 hotels before settling on Prohm Roth Guesthouse which was down a small side street, quiet enough to sleep but a stone’s throw from the action of Pub Street.

Before Noi left us he offered us his phone number in case we wanted a driver to take us around to the temples the following morning and we promised to call once we decided what we would do the next day which was code for we wanted to shop around prices for tuk tuk drivers before committing.

Once we were settled we headed out to visit the nearby market which was jam-packed with anything you could need or want, or not want for that matter. I saw several large rats dart out from underneath one fruit crates in the food section before hiding under the next one. Needless to say I lost any appetite I had for fruit for the time being.

On our way to dinner we managed to find a tuk tuk driver who offered us the price of $10 to pick us up at 5am to visit Angkor Wat for sunrise the next day, followed by visiting as many of the other surrounding temples as we wanted. A promise is a promise though and so we phoned Noi first to ask him if he would do the same for $10 and he agreed.

With the following day planned we set off in search of a restaurant J.J. had read about called Le Tigre du Papier in the Pub Street area. The food was good and the atmosphere was foreigners casually pinting on patios all along the street. It reminded me of the restaurant section of Thailand’s Khao San Road only less hectic.

We worked off our dinner with a walk to the night art market. Many local artists have booths set up underneath a covered market where their work is displayed, everything from painting to leather to jewelry. After marvelling over the art on our way back to our hotel we spotted a Blue Pumpkin, the same café we’d discovered in Phnom Penh, and stopped in for a scoop of strawberry gelato before heading to bed. By this time, 5am would be coming all too soon for this non-early bird.

Right on time, at 5am sharp, we met Noi at his tuk tuk in the dark back street in front of our hotel. Off we went through the early morning streets of Siem Reap, passing the joggers fitting in a pre-work run in their jeans and flip flops, before pulling in to the Angkor ticketing gate. There we had to get out of the tuk tuk and to purchase our tickets and have our photo taken to be able to enter into Angkor. The ticket was expensive by Cambodian standards, selling for $20 USD, but this one-day entry fee allowed us access to all of the temples in Angkor, including Angkor Wat.

As we entered in to Angkor we drove around the moat that surrounds this massive temple before pulling up in front. We joined the many tourists in walking along the sandstone causeway leading up to the main entrance where we waited for the sun to rise. I wish I could say I have amazing photos of a perfect sunrise sky behind this impressive moat-surrounded wonder but unfortunately weather was not on our side.

Nevertheless, we spent a solid 3 hours exploring every inch of Angkor Wat. We closely examined the asparas (heavenly nymphs) that were damaged in the 1980s when the Indians attempted to clean the temples using harsh chemicals. I guess no one told the cleaners about spot testing before cleaning the whole sha-bang. We ran our fingers along the smooth details of the carvings in the walls. We climbed and descended the many staircases leading up and down the buildings. I don’t believe anything less than an aerial photo would do this amazing Wat any kind of justice but I’ve tried my best in the photos I’ve included above.

We left Angkor Wat on our way to Tat Prohn wondering how any of the other temples could possibly compare. To say that we were pleasantly surprised by the second temple of the day would be a vast understatement as we were blown away by its uniqueness. What I’m sure was once upon a time a beautiful place of worship in its pristine form was perhaps now more interesting in its ruined form, completely overtaken by the jungle. The stones have crumbled, lush emerald green moss has grown, enormous winding tree roots protrude and wrap themselves around throughout. It’s like something out of the movie Jumanji. We couldn’t believe how amazingly beautiful and unique this temple was.

Our final stop of the day was to Bayon. We walked up the entrance to see a large stone building with many peaks. Upon a closer look, we noticed that each of the peaks had faces carves into them as though they’re looking right at you. We spent quite a while walking up the stairs, around the temple and in and out of every little alcove. We even entered one high-ceilinged part on the main level which had bat swooping down. Needless to say I left J.J. to his own devices and quickly made my way back outside into the late afternoon sunlight.

We walked by a neighbouring temple with a stone wall surrounding it into which many elephants were carved. It too looked beautiful and unique to the previous 3 temples we’d seen but it was 4pm already and 11 hours of temples had worn us out. We asked Noi to take us somewhere near our hotel so that we could hopefully get some delicious and cheap late lunch/early dinner street food. We found a street-facing Mum & Pop restaurant neighbouring the market we’d visited the previous day and had an amazing traditional Cambodian meal.

Shortly after we finished eating we headed back to the hotel. There’s something about waking up at 4am that allows you to sleep like a baby, both early and deeply until the following morning and that’s exactly what we did.

The next day began with our favourite Cambodian Café, the Blue Pumpkin, where I had coffee and J.J. had breakfast, and where the wifi was reliable enough to catch up with home. After a marathon correspondence session we were on the move, popping in and out of the local shops, focussing on bookstores as J.J. was in search of the first book from the Dexter series, before heading to Pub Street to have lunch at Khmer Idea.

We ordered pizza to share and realized we needed cash. I offered to visit an ATM while J.J. waited for our food to come. 7 ATMs rejected my debit card and on my way to lucky number 8 a motorbike hit me as I was crossing the street. The driver had turned a blind corner and thankfully my only injuries were a few bruises. The local tuk tuk drivers waiting on the corner to pick up a fare asked me if I was OK, but the driver of the motorbike kept right on going.

I brushed myself off and headed to ATM #8. I guess the universe decided I could use a break because this machine actually worked. I made my way back to Khmer Idea where our pizza was sitting out on the table. J.J. had been wondering where I’d been and could hardly believe it when I told him.

For the rest of the afternoon and evening as we walked around town he was very careful to guide me across all streets, always putting himself between me and oncoming traffic.

We did the late-night pack before bed as we planned to be up early the following morning to catch the bus from Siem Reap down to the southern Cambodian beach town of Sihanoukville.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: