Cambodia 10th April 2004
Flying over Cambodia we caught glimpses of the countryside below through the clouds. We flew over Tonle Sap, and could see large arrow shaped structures extending into the water, and at some places on to dry land. They looked like Aztec carvings. We later found out that they were fish traps, the ones on dry land left marooned by the receding lake during summer.
We arrived at Siem Reap Airport at approx. 7:45. The airport was small, but quite new and clean, a contrast to Saigon. We walked past the Visa desk in error, but the man at the immigration desk went back and got all the Visa forms for us to fill out. 15 minutes and US$60 later and we had our Visas and were looking for our ride. Kong was our driver, and he was a lovely friendly guy. He took us back to the guest house where we unloaded all of our gear.
Kong arrived back an hour or so later, and after a quick stop off to change our Traveller's Cheques we were off to see the temples!
We picked up our 7 day Temple passes on the way, following all of the advice to have passport photos ready, and the process was quick and simple. Then within minutes we were in the car park opposite Angkor Wat. What an amazing feeling being in its presence! Walking across the stone causeway with the Angkor towers looming ahead was awe inspiring and humbling. The other palpable feeling was the intense heat and humidity. Little did we know that it was only going to get hotter!
Angkor Wat was quite busy with tourists, but most interesting was that there were a lot of Cambodian tourists. This was due to us visiting in Khmer New Year. It was great to see so many lovely smiling Cambodian families exploring the temples with us. The children were very friendly, and of course it goes without saying that Liam was again the guest of honour, seing given an incredible amount of attention.
There was a Cambodian family visiting that we came across in the central tower who were quite enamoured with Liam and wanted their photo taken with him.
There was one little girl that played an adept game at avoiding having her photo taken, while her sister was quite happy to pose for the camera.
We explored the temple for more than 2 hours and still hadn't seen half of it!
As we walked back to the car park, a number of young Cambodian girls walked with us. One of them told us how cute she thought Liam was, but when we joked if she would like to marry him, she said he was much too young. "Maybe we could bring him back in a few more years!"
We battled the children selling in the car park and made our way over to one of the restaurants across from the temple for lunch. I tried the Beef Luk Lak, which was really nice; beef in sauce with egg and rice. Michelle and Liam had a soup. With drinks, the meal came to $11.50. The drinks were the expensive bit. Meals generally were around $2 to $3 and drinks $1 per can.
We battled again through the kids selling various souvenirs, though we did buy a couple of wooden snakes and a flute, and were soon in the car heading towards Angkor Tom. The South Gate of Angkor Tom is most impressive, even though most of the heads of the statues were in backyard gardens somewhere in Thailand. The scene of the Sea of Churning Milk from the bas reliefs in Angkor Wat is replicated in 3D at the gates to Angkor Tom, and Liam took time out to try his new flute amongst the statues.
We'd seen Tombraider, and some photos of Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom, but being here was something indescribable. The more we saw, the more surreal the experience became. We explored the Bayon next, which is a most remarkable temple. From the road, the 54 faces on the many towers seemed small as they cast watchful eyes over the 54 Angkorian provinces of old, but as we walked through the temple, their size was overpowering. Each face held a different expression, and wherever we stood, any number of them were visible at the one time.
Here as well a number of Cambodian families were visiting, and one of the Temple Police took a very affectionate liking to Liam, pinning him down on the steps and fanning him profusely in the 40 plus degree heat. A monk played a beautiful tune on Liam's flute whilst we watched the crowds gathering around Liam.
We explored many of the dark corridors of the Bayon as well as the open terraces, eventually coming to a large Buddha Statue sitting on a naga.
We spent just over an hour exploring the Bayon before escaping the heat at the market across the road, enjoying cold coconut milk and softdrinks. We bought some T-Shirts, and Michelle picked up a good hat for $2 to help ward off the searing heat.
We then travelled through the Victory Gate to the Thommanon. This was a smaller temple, but no less impressive. The delicately carved apsara with their pink lips were enchanting.
We explored around here for over 30 minutes, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the relative solitude before looking over some silks at the market stalls and heading back to the Guest House. Liam is shown at right showing off his wooden snake to one of the local children.
On the way back, we passed a number of monkeys at the roadside, which Liam (and myself) found fascinating to watch. The little baby was quite cute.
We relaxed back at the Guest House for an hour, and then I headed off again with Kong to Phnom Bakheng to catch the sunset over Angkor Wat.
I prided myself in being able to get most of my temple photos without tourists, or at least without Western tourists but this was simply in the realms of impossibility with the Temple Mountain.
It was swarming with people, from the foot of the mountain to the temple peak there was more people than temple! To make matters worse, the sunset was pretty well a non event.
I waited until most people had departed, looked at the views as the sun finally disappeared then started to make my way back. I succumbed to one of the many 'tricks' for tourists, and got talking to two boys. They originally started out with friendly chatter, interspersed with do you want to see the Buddha, etc. They suggested I walk down the path the elephants use, rather then the steep direct descent, and continued talking along the way. We passed many blind beggars on the winding path back down as they told me of their schooling. When we reached the bottom, the expected happened and I was asked to contribute to their schooling fund. I managed to get away for a couple of dollars.
Back at the guest house Pumpkin cooked a beautiful fish curry in a Thai style coconut sauce which we ate in the company of the geckos. The rest of the evening was spent downloading photos.