Siem Reap

Trip Start Nov 24, 2009
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Trip End Dec 14, 2009


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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Monday, November 30, 2009

We flew to Siem Reap from Bangkok in less than an hour...this relatively close proximity was one of the reasons why we decided to add a stop in Cambodia to our Thailand vacation...last time we were in Thailand our extra stop was Hong Kong, this time - Cambodia...since we've already traveled so far from home we might as well "expand our horizon" even further...








Unfortunately time is always a limiting factor, and we only had three days to spend in Cambodia...trying to see a country (even a small country) in three days is nearly impossible, so we limited our visit to Siem Reap and vicinity...Siem Reap wouldn't probably be our preferred stop in Cambodia if it were not for Angkor ruins around the city - Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and others...










 









Because of these ancient (dating back to the early 12th century) but relatively well preserved ruins Siem Reap has become quite a popular destination in recent years, especially among younger crowd...more and more people I know have already seen Angkor Wat "in person"...








Besides, I hear that in the near future many temples in the area would be at least partially closed or have restricted access since their condition rapidly deteriorates due to ever growing number of visitors...we thought it would be good to go there before that happens...

and so we arrived to the Kingdom of Cambodia...

I knew that the entry visa would cost $20 and that each of us had to bring 1 passport photo...but the whole visa obtaining process was pretty funny and amused us a lot:














All the passengers from our plane had to line up (maybe except those few who obtained their visas online; but I was told that their online service is unreliable, so I didn't use it) in front of a booth with a clerk in it...when your turn comes, you hand your passport, photo, the forms and $20 to this clerk...and there are about 10 such clerks sitting next to each other in a long row...you would expect that with all these people the application process should go faster...but no! - because only the first one can take your passport, photo and money...then he passes your passport to the next one in the row...that one opens your passport, does something with it for a minute or two (hard to tell what exactly - everything goes on behind a glass partition) and passes to the next one...and the process repeats itself until your passport makes its way to the clerk # 10...somewhere on the long way between clerk # 1 and clerk # 10 your entry visa should be stamped into your passport...



 




 



There is a big crowd near this last clerk - all waiting for their passports...the passports unfortunately are not distributed in the order they were received - don't ask me why...so the crowd doesn't know whose will be next and waits until the last clerk opens a passport he just received and reads the name out loud...people come from all over the world, so some names are difficult for the Cambodian clerk to pronounce...and his voice doesn't reach all the way to the back of the crowd...the crowd tries to be helpful and repeats (= further mispronounces!) the name in multiple accents...no wonder some people don't recognize the sound of their own name!...



  




But luckily our names aren't mispronounced (or at least we happen to recognize the sound of them) and we both are now happy recipients of big cambodian visas that are manually glued into our passports...that visa takes a full page in my passport (and I am running out of blank pages!), but at least we are officially in Cambodia now!...









we were met by our driver and in about 20 minutes were checking in at the hotel...it was still early afternoon, but we decided not to go to the temples until the next day...instead we took a car to the silk farm...







well, it's not just a "silk farm" but rather an enterprise called Artisans d'Angkor...this organization was created to promote Khmer art and culture...they train young people in traditional Khmer crafts and give them jobs in one of the workshops...they also provide free guides for the visitors like ourselves, and at the end of your visit you can purchase whatever was hand-made on premises - be it a silk scarf or stone carving...










I love silk (is there a woman who doesn't?!), and even though I knew in theory the main steps that separate a silk worm from an Hermès scarf, it was still very interesting to see all these steps in reality...







in the evening we walked along their main Pub street, tried traditional Khmer amok dish in one of the restaurants - it's vegetables and herbs with fish (or meat) in green curry and thick coconut sauce...it was not bad, but I am not a huge fan of curries, so - I could take it or leave it ...






the next day we got up very-very early - our guide and driver picked us up from the hotel at 5 in the morning to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat...

first we had to buy passes for the temples...they take your picture for the pass right there, and it's a quick and efficient process...a 3-day pass costs $40 per person (a one-day pass is $20, and there are no 2-day passes)...







oh, yes - have I mentioned that in Cambodia American dollars are widely accepted along with their local currency? so widely in fact that we haven't even had a chance to see what the Cambodian riel looks like...

it was still dark when we made it to the temple...




if you think that watching the sun rising over majestic Angkor Wat is even remotely romantic - you are very much mistaken!...anything but!...first of all, a lot of tourists are already there and more are coming every minute...people are chatting in different tongues, checking their cameras, sipping their morning coffee... professional photographers are busy positioning their cumbersome equipment...the ground is muddy, the sunrise is still an hour away, and you need a place to sit and wait...










so you rent a plastic chair for $1  from a local entrepreneur, and your chair comes with free coffee or tea...then you try to place your chair so that the omnipresent professional photo equipment doesn't block your line of sight...meanwhile your coffee gets knocked off by someone who is also trying to squeeze his chair to the front line...not a big deal - that coffee is awful anyway...







finally you are seated, and you managed not to lose your camera in this chaos and darkness...

and only then you turn your attention to the graceful silhouette of Angkor in the night sky...for the sake of this sight you endured all the commotion...and it's truly spectacular in person...but the crowds of people there somehow diminish its majesty...











 
 


we didn't stay long past the sunrise - our guide suggested that we should return later in the afternoon because the crowds would thin out significantly by then (and he was right: when we returned it was almost deserted)...












so we went to Angkor Thom which is a whole complex of temples and structures including Bayon, The Terrace of the Elephants, the Terrace of the Leper King, the Prasat Suor Prat...it took us quite a while, the day was hot and humid...we were getting tired but still decided to go to Ta Prohm before lunch....




 




    



 














 





Ta Prohm became my favorite of all the temples we visited...it was left untouched, in its natural state by the archaeologists that rediscovered it in the 19th century...

the ruins of the temple are not just surrounded by the jungle but merged with it...the trees grow right on the walls and spread their roots down and between the ruins...the roots intertwine below, the branches interwine above the structures, and it felt like you were in the middle of some fairytale enchanted forrest...








 




our guide took us to the spot where apparently the movie "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" was filmed (they didn't allow to close the whole temple for filming but rather designated this particular place for it)...I barely remember the movie; besides, I am not a big fan of Angelina Jolie - so to me this really meant nothing, just another beautiful corner in the beautiful temple...









   




 beautiful they might be, but by the end of the day we got tired of temples..."templed out", so to speak...

















The next day, however,  we stopped by yet another temple outside Siem Reap...and that temple - Banteay Srei (very often called "pink temple" or "citadel of pink ladies") happened to be my angel's favorite and my second favorite after Ta Prohm (although I do not want to diminish the impression of Angkor Wat!)...











and it was very charming indeed...it is rather small and intimate...the temple is surrounded by the moat with pink and white lotus flowers, and everything there is intricately carved from hard pink sandstone...even dust on the paths is pink!...we happened to be there early in the morning when it was almost deserted, and this only added to its charm...











afterwards the driver took us to Kbal Spean - "a river of 1000 lingas" as it is often called...the main attraction of this site located in the jungle of Kulen mountains are stone carvings in the riverbed of Stung Kbal Spean river...












many people recommened visiting this beautiful place (about an hour drive from Siem Reap), but it involves a 1.5 km (= about a mile) hike to the top of the mountain where the carvings are...it seems like a short hike, but in some places it's pretty steep and somewhat challenging because the path goes through the rocks up, up, up...














maybe in my previous life I was a mountain goat, but my dear angel definitely wasn't - because as much as I enjoyed the hike, he was less than thrilled by it...the heat and humidity didn't help of course...










 




but we made it to the top - to the waterfalls and the stone carvings in the riverbed...it was all beautiful, but to me - if you are not enjoying this kind of hiking, the carvings alone are probably not worth it...







I personally loved the hike...the beauty of the surrounding jungle was thrilling...your way to the top was clearly marked with the signs that warned you not to wander off the path because the area was not completely cleared of land mines...you are safe on the path - no worries! - but the very thought that a few steps off the path can lead you to danger added a little bit of adrenaline to the pleasure of hiking...the carvings at the top were just a reward for getting there...















despite our relatively short stay in Siem Reap we did find time for a little tour to the Tonle Sap Lake - the largest freshwater lake in South-East Asia...we had a guide with us who was telling some interesting things about the lake and floating fishing villages around the lake...to me it was an interesting but rather depressing tour - you see people living on the boats in extreme poverty, children that are taught to beg for money...you feel so sorry for them and so very fortunate ...







 



Cambodia borders Thailand, but there is such a huge gap between these two countries...they are sooooo different...you could still see the consequences of the Khmer Rouge regime - many people you talk to had someone in the family killed during that time...you see people injured by land mines...you see signs warning you that there might be land mines in the area...you see extreme poverty...






 


contrary to my expectations - the majority of people do not speak French...despite French names of some hotels and streets - only older people have good command of this language...the rest try to speak English...







do I wish to return? - probably not any time soon...if we return to Cambodia, we would want to see other parts of country, too...





but the temples are amazing...
some people go to Cambodia also to try a supposedly powerful folk medicine - fresh cobra blood...our guide all but offered to take us to a place where they would kill cobra before your eyes and give you its blood to drink...my angel was horrified to even imagine that...as for me - I was very curious, and I would've probably taken the guide on his offer (you got to try everything once!), but upon learning that it's illegal in Cambodia I declined...I don't do illegal things...




 it was a good trip, we saw and learned a lot, the people were nice, we had a good time...and we are grateful for the hospitality that this country showed us...

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