Holiday in Cambodia

Trip Start Oct 27, 2004
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23
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Trip End Aug 17, 2005


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Friday, March 25, 2005

Having taken it easy, maybe too easy, in Thailand, it was time to pick up our bags and do some real travelling time again. It was a difficult decision to make, staying in a perfect place with lovely people. I think the 'soon-to-expire' visa helped make our minds up, that and the fact that our minds were becoming slack without the daily challenges that travelling brings. Itchy travllers feet had also made an appearence so off we went.

It seemed from all accounts that the easiest way to cross the border into Cambodia would be with one of those air-con bus packages that seemed to be advertised everywhere in the small fishing port of Trat, Thailand. Any other method would have been near impossible, as the whole community prospers from the selling of these tickets. When this happens you will soon find that local taxi and bus drivers become markedly unhelpful when you ask them to take you to the border. Sometimes its just best to go with the flow.

We were supposed to be taken to a crossing at Poi-Pet on the Cambodian border. Unfortunately we were taken to some absolute nowhere's-ville and fleeced by the local tourist-office/border-guard syndicate. They had it fixed so that the border guards would not take our money for the visa and instructed us to pay at the tourist office, who were asking for about double the normal visa cost. Because the tourist office were also the bus company, we were threatened with the bus leaving without us when we refused to pay. This led to a bit of a stand off and a final negotiation. We were still left a little fleeced and a little browned off. This increased when our air-con' bus turned out to have a broken alternator so when the lights went on at night, the fans went off. We trundled on pot-holed dirt roads in a steel oven for 6 hours until she finally packed in. After an hour's wait a few taxis and a motorbike turned up and we spent the last hour of the journey with Lauren in a tuk-tuk and myself on the back of a Honda Dream, the driver was called 'Tiger' and looked about 10 years old. I was scared.

All in all an excellent introduction back into the world of travelling. Let me say that it is an extreme pleasure to be here and that, despite the constant small-time scams, the Khmers are some of the most pleasant people on God's earth. Not only that, but one of God's slightly less friendly people, the French, colonised this place and left behind their cuisine. So you have the nicest people imaginable selling fresh baked baguettes and strong coffee. Perfect!

The main purpose of any visit to Siem Reap is to visit the famous temples of Angkor, an ancient Asian city and culture center. The temples and city structures have been reclaimed by the jungle and are no longer active centers of worship. All that remains is an eerie deserted city where giant carved stone faces leer through the twisted roots of jungle hardwood trees. The effect is magnificent and the whole place has a certain majesty and serenity in its declining years. In all we spent a total of about 16 hours cycling and walking around this incredible historical center and we were both taken aback by the congruence of nature and art that had taken place.

Unfortunately, or, perhaps fortunately depending on your opinion regarding these matters, the whole site is being renovated and access is improving every day. The temples are gradually being restored to their former glory and a network of roads is fast growing throughout the site to connect all of the various temples. The regrettable effect of this is that the temples are slowly being cut off from the jungle and each one is now surrounded with a tarmac 'moat'. Since Cambodia opened their skies to international flights tour groups have been pouring into Siem Reap airport and being ferried from their luxury hotels in big, faceless white coaches into the heart of Angkor. From there it is a quick clamber to the top of the nearest monument or tree-root to have their photograph taken before moving on. This is fantastic news for the impoverished Cambodian government, but it kind of takes the sheen of your adventure when a 'Club Med' bus hurtles past on its way to Angkor Wat for sunset and nearly knocks you off your bicycle!

After a while the inevitable 'monument apathy' set in and we decided to skip town on the bus for the capital: Phnom Pehn
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