7 September – Siem Reap
Up just before 7.00am to get ready, I suppose, for the main / real reason we’re actually here in Siem Reap.
It’s something Lisa really wants to do, and it’s something I probably have to do, seeing as we’re here.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to go see the temples, it’s just that I’m a little worried that after an hour or so I may become ‘templed’ out. I hope not, but I do have that concern as I’m just not an old relic type of person.
Might explain why I don’t have a lot of time for Lisa’s parents…..
Hmmm, that may not be such a good idea…..
Anyway, moving along.
Slept alright, and certainly needed it. It’s pretty wet outside as we seemed to have had a fair bit of rain during the night. Fortunately it’s not raining at the moment, but gee it’s humid. Things just feel so damp, even though we had the air conditioner on all night.
Quickly dressed, and outside in search of some breakfast. Onto our street, and not far up ahead is a lady with a cart. We get closer, while declining yet another tuk tuk offer, and it looks promising.
And we’re in luck! Now I don’t know what they’re called here in Cambodia, although her cart does say ‘bread sandwich’, but to me it looks like a Vietnamese banh mi. We quickly get her attention, and even though we’re not completely sure of what we’re going to get, we order two. The big smile on her face makes me think that she’s happy to be serving us, and she promptly organises a table.
It soon arrives and it turns out to be pork, with a side serving of pickled cucumber and carrot. While it’s not the greatest banh mi I’ve ever had; and perhaps I shouldn’t be comparing it to a banh mi; it’s still pretty good. And at only $1 each, well it’s a little more like what I was expecting when it came to food prices here.
Banh mi done, we went off in search of a coffee. Still not having learnt from yesterday, we tried again for a caphe sua da type drink.
Finding one of those social enterprise / not for profit type places, we decided to give it a go. Explaining what we were trying to find, and being told yes, they could deliver something along those lines, we duly ordered two.
At $3 each, the assumption was that they would be really good, really big, or, hopefully, both of those things.
Sitting outside waiting for them to make it, the realisation dawned that we were quickly running out of time. We were due to meet our tuk tuk driver, Poly Pey, and our guide for the day, at 8.00am outside the hotel.
Now getting close to 8.00am, Lisa raced back inside and asked if we could have our coffees in take away cups.
No problem was the answer, but it would be an extra 25 cents for each cup.
No problem from our end too, seeing as we didn’t really have a choice.
Our coffees soon arrived, and yep, take away cup as requested, along with a fancy little straw type carry handle.
Presentation? Without fault.
Coffee inside? Yeah, not bad. Not exactly the caphe sua da type drink I was after, however that’s my fault. But lesson finally learned; yep, I ain’t always the quickest; the next caphe sua da ordered will be in Vietnam.
Price? $6.50 for two. That converts to just under $10 Australian dollars. Which is at the high end of the prices we pay in Melbourne.
Seriously, we’re just doing this all wrong….
Back to the hotel, being very careful not to spill a drop, and Poly is already there. While we’ve never met, I feel like I know him well, after the several emails and WhatsApp messages we’ve exchanged. He seems like a lovely guy, and I’m now just that little bit more excited about our days we have planned together.
He introduces us to our guide for the day, Kelf, and he too is very easy to talk to.
*Note – As I’m reading this to Lisa, she interjects with – “Have you forgotten that we sat next to Kelf when we were having our banh mi?”
“Well, no, I’m not forgetting it, because I didn’t know we were sitting next to him. Why didn’t you mention that at the time?”
“I thought I did”, is the reply.
“Well no, you didn’t”, is my exasperated response…..*
We pile into the tuk tuk, and fortunately for everyone’s sake, Lisa isn’t facing backwards. We’re quickly on our way, and just like being on the back of a motorbike in Vietnam, sitting in a tuk tuk in Cambodia is just a great way to see things. And it doesn’t have to be anything of significance; things like people having breakfast beside the road, or just watching the locals go about their day; it all feels so much closer in a tuk tuk, rather than looking at it from behind a car window.
We chatted to Kelf while Poly looked after the driving bit, and before we knew it, we were at the Angkor Ticket Office. While I’d actually seen a few photos of the ticket office on the internet before we left home, I was still surprised at how big and how modern looking it was, when we got there.
Kelf accompanied us in and made sure we queued where we needed to for our three day pass. While there were a few there, it certainly wasn’t busy.
Served almost as soon as we arrived at the window, photo quickly taken, entrance ticket produced, and credit card handed over, it was all very efficient and painless.
Well, except for the payment bit. It wasn’t so much the $62 each, it was more the converting that $62 from USD to AUD.
Yes, I know it’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and what price can you really put on seeing that, but have I mentioned how much of a temple person I am….???
Anyway, at almost $100 each, it is what it is. And I think I’ve paid around that to go to Movie World on the Gold Coast.
Hopefully this is as much fun….
Back in the tuk tuk, and it’s not long before we need to show our passes to enter the actual park. Kelf tells us he and his family not only used to live in the park, along with the rest of his community, but in the actual shadows of Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat used to be his playground. But that all changed when UNESCO removed all the residents from the park, to help maintain it.
Not really knowing where we were, or what we were seeing first; I’d left that up to Poly; we found ourselves at the back entrance to Angkor Wat.
Standing outside the walls, Kelf explained a bit about the water we could see, including that it used to be his swimming pool. He also told us things like why the water was there, the different stone used in the construction of the temple, where the stone came from, and how it was transported here. While what we were looking at wasn’t overly grand in size, it still had me shaking my head at what I was seeing. The size of the blocks, the intricacies of the carvings, it just blows me away at what they were able to do all those years ago.
Finally entering the site, Kelf still explaining so much while I tried, unsuccessfully as it turned out; which was always going to be the way; to remember as much as I could. It was very lucky there wasn’t to be a test on it later….
As we walked, those large blocks with the intricate carvings that we’d seen earlier, began to pale in comparison to what we were now seeing.
The scale became so much harder to comprehend, and once again, I spent most of my time wondering how the hell they managed to build it.
But as the structures became bigger, so too did the crowds of people. While it was relatively easy to deal with that, I wasn’t really expecting to see the ridiculously long line of people waiting to climb some ridiculously long and steep set of stairs to the top of one section.
“Do you want to go up to the top?”, Kelf asked.
“Ummm, no thanks”, I replied, with very little hesitation. Which didn’t really surprise me, seeing as queuing in the heat, just to walk up some steep stairs, with beads of sweat already forming on my body, wasn’t terribly high on my list of priorities.
And anyway, I suspected the photo of the craziness down here was probably going to be more interesting than any photo I was going to be able to take up there.
Well, that’s how I’m going to justify my ‘lazy’ decision….
We continued our walk through Angkor Wat, still shaking and scratching my head over two thoughts. One, again, how did they build all this? And two, just the size and scale of the whole thing. One thing that I had read several times during my rather limited research, had been not to underestimate the size of not just the temples, but also the size of the whole park.
Well, Angkor Wat, and the area it alone sits in, is just massive. And while I thought I was somewhat prepared for what I was going to see, I was still blown away by the scale.
And still am.
We made our way towards the main entrance, trying to get the camera to take photos that would do the place justice, while also trying to dodge the ever increasing numbers of tourists doing exactly what we are doing.
Stopped to try and do the reflection off the water photo, with minimal success, thought about taking a photo of a horse tied to a tree branch, but then decided against it on the chance it was going to cost me money, and then stopped to take photos of people having photos taken of them. I assume it was wedding photos, and if so, I really do feel for the guys in both Cambodia and Vietnam who are getting married.
Not because they are actually getting married, but because of the seemingly prolonged photography sessions, all dressed up in suits, and in the heat.
I guess it makes the whole ‘being married’, feel a whole lot easier….
Finally out the front, and all that remained was the pleasant walk across the bouncy plastic pontoon bridge.
Once again, how did they manage to build that, all those years ago…..
A couple of photos taken with Angkor Wat as the backdrop – not sure that’s been done too many times before – and it was off to find Poly in amongst the throng of other tuk tuk drivers, tourists, and food and souvenir vendors.
Surprisingly it didn’t take long, and we were soon on our way to Angkor Thom.
Not too far down the road and we reach the entrance. It’s lined with statues down to the gate; happy looking ones on the left, and angry looking ones on the right. All in varying degrees of age and restoration. Which actually makes you question some of the restoration, but then again, I suppose it’s better to actually be able to look at something rather than nothing.
Anyway, I think I liked the angry looking ones. They were kind of cute.
Restoration queries and photos done, it was back in the tuk tuk. Kelf explained that Angkor Thom is three kilometres x three kilometres in size. And Bayon is smack bang in the middle.
Comprehending that size and scale thing then started impacting my brain again.
Soon, up ahead, a temple began to come into view.
Pulling up in front of Bayon, I hopped out.
While Angkor Wat had been impressive, for want of a better word, Bayon was a true ‘Wow’ moment.
I just stood there trying to take in and comprehend what I was looking at. While saying not much more than Wow!
So big, so complex, so much going on. It was hard to know where to look, and what to actually focus on.
Yep, to me, it sort of made Angkor Wat pale a little in significance.
It also made me think that I was probably unlikely to see anything else on as grand a scale as this.
But I’d worry about that later….
Knowing it was pointless trying to get the camera to capture what I was seeing, I persisted anyway.
We then headed in for a closer look. And once again, the size of the blocks, the height of the structures, and the intricate carvings, completely and utterly blew me away.
While it was interesting to walk around inside, for me, the real beauty of Bayon is captured from standing outside it. It truly is awe inspiring.
Hmmm, can’t believe a temple could grab me like that….
Finally managing to divert my gaze away from Bayon, but not really wanting to, we meet up with Poly again and head to our next stop, Baphuon.
It doesn’t take long as it’s actually quite close. Off again with Kelf and we walk towards the temple, stopping to watch a couple of monkeys eating their native food of coconut and fruit juice smoothie.
Over to Baphuon and Kelf leaves us to explore on our own, giving us rough directions and telling us he’ll meet us round the back near the laying down Buddha.
We head in, and up the stairs. Walking around and looking down on the outside area, that scale thing comes back to haunt me. The number of blocks on the ground from temple ruins absolutely astounds me. It makes me think it’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle. A jigsaw puzzle that won’t, and can’t, ever be completed.
Yep, it’s just mind boggling.
A bit further around Baphuon and we come across a set of stairs heading up. And when I say up, I mean a long way up. Steeply, too.
I think I now know why Kelf decided to stay down below.
Trying to think of an excuse not to climb them, but failing miserably, we begin our ascent.
It mustn’t have been as difficult as I thought it would be, as even Lisa made it. Standing at the top there was a young boy there. Not knowing whether we should go left or right, he suggested we go left. I didn’t know why he was there, and I didn’t know why he was quite adamant that we head left.
Anyway, we did.
From the top, as we walked around, I worked out where we were supposed to meet Kelf again. It also made me realise that seeing as we had climbed all those stairs, it meant that at some point we would have to do some de-climbing. (Surprisingly, to me anyway, Microsoft Word isn’t questioning the word de-climbing….)
Now on the other side to where we came up, we come across a guy selling some artworks. Ahhh, I reckon that might be why the young guy at the top of the stairs directs everybody left.
It’s probably his son!
We reach the stairs and begin the de-climbing thing. Not really wanting to watch Lisa do it, as well as not wanting to get stuck behind her, I head down first. And yep, a quick glance up confirms my concerns; quick and elegant she wasn’t.
Rather than wasting time waiting for her, I head off in search of the Buddha that Kelf told us about.
A little head tilting with some eye squinting, and it’s not long before I can see it.
Lisa eventually turns up, but she’s obviously tilting her head the wrong way. She just can’t see it, despite my incredibly patient instructions of what she should be looking at.
I give up after several minutes, and as I do, she says she’s finally found it.
We find Kelf at the bottom, and as we do, I hear another tourist ask her friend where the Buddha is. I suggest to Lisa that maybe she can help them, but before she has a chance to respond, the girl yells, “Oh, there it is!”
Like reading a map, I thought it might have been a female thing. But it seems not….
Eventually back to the road and we find Poly. The option of lunch and more temples, or calling it a day, is discussed.
Lisa thinks she would like to go on, and while I’m not actually templed out, I’m happy with what we’ve seen. And seeing as it’s getting rather warm, and will continue to get warmer, we call it a day and head back to town.
Our initial plan when it came to temples was to do one day with a guide, have a day off doing something else, and then have one final day without a guide.
But as with all good plans, things quickly changed. Back at the hotel we discussed the option of a possible visit to a floating village, but that was ultimately scrapped. In the end we decided on doing our second temple day tomorrow. But guide-less.
Having Kelf for that first day was something we were really pleased about. He told us so much and showed us things that we would never have noticed. I think we got far more out of it than if we’d just done it ourselves.
But tomorrow would just be about us, and going at our own pace. It would also help with trying to pay for those coffees we had this morning…..
Said our farewells to Poly and Kelf, dropped off some things in the room, and then headed out to break a $50 note by buying expensive drinks for Lisa for later on. At least now I had usable money to pay Poly what we owed him.
Next thing on the list was finding lunch. Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, we stayed on our side of the river. Walking down the street with the school in it that I walked yesterday, we found a small family run place. Something, it looked like chicken, was being cooked on a barbeque out the front.
We head across, and they look rather surprised to see us. But once they know we want something to eat, a table is quickly arranged. A slight concern from the guy as to what we actually wanted; the answer being whatever it is you do; we soon have our lunch in front of us. Grilled chicken, rice, cucumber and carrot, along with a beautiful perfectly spiced chilli sauce.
Oh, and two Cokes, seeing as we were well and truly watered out from our morning of temples in the heat.
It was lovely to just sit there and reflect on what we had seen and done, and the food, while all very simple, was beautiful. The family, and what seemed like their extended family, were also incredibly friendly.
Just a bit different to Pub Street…..
Food done, massive bill of $6 paid, and we head back to the room for a recovery session.
Batteries recharged, and once the heavy rain that happened while we were asleep had passed, I left Lisa to do her Facebooking stuff, and whatever else she wastes time on, and headed out in search of beer.
Walking, and then walking some more down streets I didn’t know existed, I just couldn’t find a place that interested me. Maybe they just don’t exist.
In desperation, and not wanting to waste any more time not drinking beer, I headed back to my pizza / burger / draught beer place from yesterday.
Couple of beers there, along with a little WhatsApp-ing to let people know we are still alive, and then it was back to get cleaned up for dinner.
Having no idea of where we were going, but knowing very well where we were not going, we ended up at a small restaurant that I’d walked past while on my fruitless beer hunt.
We walked in, and to say that they were surprised, along with the locals that were already eating there, would be an understatement. To me, that’s always a great sign.
Beef and noodles, as well as an egg and noodle dish, plus a couple of beers; $5.25.
And as with lunch, it’s my kind of experience. It’s always nice spending time in the company of other people that don’t look like me.
Over the river and we pass an exchange place. This one is offering 66 cents, so we take the opportunity to change nice plastic notes into rather boring looking paper ones.
Walked a bit further and actually found Trinity and Myrene’s Mexican restaurant. The one I received countless photos of before we’d even left Melbourne.
Well, maybe not photos of the restaurant, but photos of the various cocktails that they sell.
In honour of Trinity and her Mum, we head in to see if it’s all that it seemed to be.
Yep, the cocktails were $1.50, and the beers 50 cents, and yep, the girls that worked there were just lovely. So incredibly friendly and so easy to talk to. And so genuine, too.
Confirmation, I suppose, of how much nicer these places are compared to what you find in a certain street just a block or so away.
We even learnt a little Cambodian / Khmer, which was promptly forgotten as it always is, and generally just enjoyed the drinks, the people watching, and the interactions.
A relaxed and simple night, but also a great night.
Eventually it was time to end it, so we headed back to the hotel via the ‘our’ convenience store. They know us now, and I really love that. We have a relationship.
Back down our tree lined street, and then upstairs for the usual nightcap or two.
Yep, a great night, and a great day.
Life is pretty good at the moment.