Terrific temples

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
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69
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Trip End Mar 16, 2009


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Where I stayed
Ankor Thom Hotel

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Sunday, April 20, 2008

From the minute we touched down at Siem Reap's brand spanking new airport after our 2.5 hour flight from Chiang Mai we were impressed. The finishing touches and the décor at the airport were amazing and also so clean, not at all what we would expect from a small airport in SE Asia. We swiftly moved through passport control after effortlessly applying and paying for our visas on-line. By the time we had landed it was already getting dark so there was not too much to see on the short taxi ride into Siem Reap.
 
The first things we noticed that were very different to Thailand and Malaysia where that mostly US Dollars were used where ever tourists are involved and even the ATM's dispense US Dollars and the only time the local Riel is used to buy small things like fruit, water and local goods from the market. We also immediately noticed that they drive on the right hand side of the road and that the Tuk Tuk's are simple carts pulled by motorcycles, a very ingenious way to transport people around.
 
The major attractions around Siem Reap are the ancient Khmer temples that were built between the 9th and 13th century and discovered by French naturalist in 1860. Declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO, the Ankor Archaeological Park houses dozens of temples ruins including the legendary Angkor Wat whose artistic and archaeological significance and visual impact put it in a class with the Pyramids of Giza, Machu Pichu and the Taj Mahal. The temples were built by the Khmer kings of the time as to honour the gods of their religions which were either Buddhist or Hindu depending on the time and ruler.
 
To see the numerous temples in two days we employed the help of an English speaking guide who was highly recommended to us by friends we met in Borneo, the Curl family. To our surprise we were met by our guide when we arrived at our hotel which was a nice touch and also gave us an idea of the program for the next two days.
 
We were met the following morning at 8am sharp by our guide and the Tuk Tuk he had arranged and headed off to see he first of the temples. From the minute we arrived we were in awe of how well these ruins have been preserved even though many of the ruins were slowly being consumed by the surrounding forest. Many famous movies have been filmed on location including Tomb Raider and needless to say the ruins have become a very popular tourist attraction and income earner for the country. The park however is well managed and the USD40 for a 3 day pass seemed reasonable.
 
Our Cambodian guide, Sarith was fantastic and we would never have understood the history and symbology of many of the temples if it were not for him. He was a wealth of knowledge and knew the history and all the important details of every temple we visited. He was also extremely good at pointing out the best photographic shots and angles that I would only have found after many hours of exploring. We would highly recommend using a guide as it enhances the whole experience and often prevents you just looking at a pile of rocks (I've included is contact details at the end of this entry for anyone interested)
As with many of the other world heritage site Ankor present an opportunity for the impoverished local families to try and make a living. We were swamped at every temple by children trying to sell postcards, t-shirts, fruit, drinks and all sorts of curious as well. The other disturbing picture was the number of disabled land mine survivors who instead of begging have turned playing traditional music for donations. After a little research we discovered that the average income is less than US$1 a day and that Cambodia has one the world's largest disabled population.
 
The whole experience left us in awe and often breathless (not just because of the steep climbs) and I'd suggest that every one reading this add this to their 'must visit' list. The people are friendly, the ruins are clean and thanks for foreign funding are being well preserved and so far it's been a safe and easy country to travel in. The city of Siem Reap also has its share of surprises with a distinct French influence in its architecture and loads of great Khmer and European restaurants.
 
Our next stop in Cambodia is the capital Phnom Penh which is where we will get the opportunity to get a better understanding of the bloody history of the Khmer Rouge.

(English Speaking Guide: Doss Sarith Tel: (855) 12 793 247 E-mail sarithdoss@yahoo.com)
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