Temples and Wat Not

Trip Start Nov 14, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Friday, March 2, 2007

Our first experience of Cambodia is one of the things the country is famous for, corruption. When paying for our visa on the border to enter, the sign stated the cost was $20. A Swedish girl was arguing with the man behind the counter because he wouldn't take the $20 she was trying to give him. After a couple more minutes of non-compliance from the border official it became apparent that he wanted extra money. So we had to give an extra 100 Baht on top of the $20. So the corruption that holds this country back from developing starts at the very front level of bureaucracy. I wonder to what degree corruption goes on in the higher echelons of government. There is a major contrast between Thailand and Cambodia. The roads are very much underdeveloped, everywhere is dusty and the people look like they have had a harder innings. The road between Poipet (at the border) and Siem Reap is an absolute joke. The bumpiest ride you can imagine, resulting in bad backs for the next two days and Amy and I getting closely acquainted to two Germans on the back seat from landing on top of them after each bump. Apparently the road is in such a bad state for a reason. An airline company that runs flights from Bangkok to Siem Reap pays the people in charge of looking after the road, not to look after the road to encourage tourists to fly the journey.
Amy still wet behind the ears to this traveling malarkey got thrown in at the deep end. We went to look for somewhere cheap to eat and without thinking anything about it we ended up in a real spit and sawdust eatery. Amy was freaked out by the state of the place and the ten or so locals staring at us. We forgot it took us a few weeks in India before we were used to that sort of thing.
The countryside is beautiful. Flat rice paddy fields stretch to the horizon and wooden huts on stilts sit at the edge of each field while women wash clothes and the kids splash about in the water. The men look like they just fix their bikes or laze in hammocks.
Siem Reap is a major tourist attraction because of the magnificent Angkor Wat temples. It was used in Tomb Raider. The town itself was a vibrant city and full of contrasts. On some streets there are brand spanking 5 star hotels that sit next to people sleeping under a plastic sheet on the pavement. The town centre looks modern, the bars are lively and has a continental feel to it. However, just a block away from these french-like streets are dusty, unpaved streets populated with food stalls, tuk-tuk men waiting for their next fare and land-mine victims selling copy novels and travel guides.
Some of the hotels are unbelievable. They look like they wouldn't be out of place on the Strip in Las Vegas. We wondered who could be staying in them? Does Angkor Wat attract so many people? We found out that it does.
We arrived at the famous temples very early for sunrise and it was beautiful. There are three main temples to visit. The first, Angkor Wat, the second, Bayon, where all the faces are carved into the rock and the third, Ta Prohm which is the temple that is being devoured by the jungle with roots and trees entwined around the stone walls. This was our favourite however the number of tourists inside the maze like complex was ridiculous. We got tired of having to wait for everyone to take their photos. The compact halls added to the frustration and pushing people became a necessity. Japanese and Koreans love their photos and we were sick of being told "excuse me" as they tried to take a photos of absolutely everything. I think the temples would be a lot better if photography was banned.
On the nights we ended up pretty drunk either from foul cheap rum or drinking in Bar Street. One night we ended up in a random place where a pool party was going on.  Amy befriended a Cambodian waiter called Darling, who now lives in hope that she will ring him one day with a job offer as her assistant journalist.
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