Siem Reap, Cambodia

Wednesday 1 April 2015

After leaving the gorgeous city of Seoul in South Korea, I arrived into Siem Reap in Cambodia at 10:30pm after a 5 hour flight with Korean Air.  Immigration was funny at this airport.  After having completed 4 different forms on the plane before I entered the country (healthy, arrivals card, customs and visa application), it was a sharp right as soon as I walked into the building to purchase my Visa on arrival.  Top tip here is to bring a passport photo with you otherwise it’s a “fine” of a couple of US dollars at the counter.  A tourist visa set me back $30.  That wasn’t the funny thing.  What was funny was seeing 10 Cambodia officials all sat in a line.  I handed my passport over to the first one on the left with my money.  This was then handed to the next official who took the money and gave change.  My passport carried on being passed along the line until it reached the end where a man stood up and read out my name with the visa stuck in it.

Siem Reap welcomed me with a very humid 30C.  I began to sweat before I even left arrivals.  The hotel I booked to stay in was the Diamond D’Angkor Boutique who came and picked me up in a 4×4.  Welcome flowers handed to me in the car, air con on, we duly arrived at the hotel 20 minutes later.

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Unpacking made me hotter still but I spotted the air con unit in the corner glowing out like gold.  It was way past midnight before I hit the pillow.  Tomorrow brings more exciting adventures…..

Thursday 2 April 2015

With only 4 and a half hours sleep it was yet another early start as I had to fit in breakfast before meeting our tour guide Siya Pouv for the next couple of days.  Breakfast was a buffet which is just the way I like it sometimes and it didn’t disappoint, here at the Diamond D’Angkor.  Today, I mostly ate salad, crispy fish tofu, sausages, bacon, vegetable tempura and chicken stir fry.  None on your full on western breakfast thank you.

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Belly full, I met Siya and his driver at 8am who then whisked us off to our first of many temples today.  The itinerary was going to be slightly “off the beaten track” and less touristy entrances to the main temples with a pinch of perfect photo spots to get that all important picture.  I’d later find out that he knew all the best places to get a great shot taking into account time of day for less crowds and where the sun was shining.  He himself was also keen to take a few snaps on his phone.  If anyone is a keen photographer and you worship temples, Siya is your “freelance tour guide” man.

Anyway, first temple we stopped at was Baksei Chamkrong.  This was going to be a good day as there was no-one there.  First photo opportunity and it’s glorious.

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Next stop was then Phimeanakas followed by Preah Palilay.  This was the first temple where I’d get to see trees starting to grow on top of them.

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I was then shown one of the gates to Angkor Thom which I found to be quite spectacular.  I don’t get to use that word enough and this seemed quite fitting.

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Onto Preah Khan temple before stopping off for lunch at the Khymer Wooden House Restaurant at 11am!  As part of the tour, Siya kindly offered to include this in his price.  I just had to pay for my drink.  In the heat of 35C, I was put off the beer (I know!!) so I opted for Watermelon Juice which was very refreshing and at only $2.50.  For lunch I was served up spring rolls, tom yung soup or other, chicken curry and for dessert, more watermelon, pineapple and banana.  Fruit heaven.

What now felt like a 40C heat, I headed off with Siya at noon to Ta Prohm Temple and where they filmed Tomb Raider all those years ago.  Saw another impressive tree growing up the side of another temple here.

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Final stop of the day was Angkor Wat itself.  Taken down an alternative route, as I rounded the corner, I was presented with another crowd-free image of the famous temple.  Not one to miss a starfish opportunity in the scorching heat, I went for it.  After this temple visit, it was getting on for 3pm and the heat was getting too much so I headed back to the hotel for a cold shower and lie down.

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After all day in the scorching sun, a fairly strong wind decided to move in at around 6pm.  Not perturbed, it was beer o’clock.  I decided that I had to have a few beers at a crazy price of 50 cents.  So I headed out of the hotel and ventured over to “Pub Street”.  Very promising start.

First watering hole was The Red Piano.  A large bottle of Angkor Beer set me back $3.25 (£2.25).  This was no good.  I was a bit peckish, so I went over to the Cambodian BBQ restaurant about 50 metres away and tucked into a 5 meats special of beef, croc, frog’s legs, shrimps and snake.  The croc was like pork, frog’s legs were like chicken and the snake was chewy as hell.  Well, you have to try everything once before you knock it.  I did wash all this down with my 50 cent Anchor beer.  It somehow tasted sweeter at that price.  After dinner, I decided it was time to retire as I have to be up before 5am to meet Siya at 5:20am for a sunrise view over the temples as part of my 2 day tour.

I seriously can’t wait.  You can’t beat a good sunrise and what better place than over a Cambodian temple….

Friday 3 April 2015

Let’s start off with a gorgeous sunrise picture over Angkor Wat temple…

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It was an early start today with Siya meeting me at 5:20am which meant hauling myself out of bed at 4:45am!!  The anticipation of seeing a beautiful sunrise carried me in through the wee hours.  Perched on a wall outside the Angkor Wat complex, I was surprised at the number of other people who had the same determination.  After taking hundreds of pictures over the next hour, we went over to Bayon Temple ahead of the tourist crowd.  There must have been half a dozen people there at 7am which was lovely as the glowing sun shone onto the faces of the temples.  This was known as the “Temple of Smiling Faces”.  With 54 temple towers, each one had 4 smiling faces on it.  That’s 216 faces by my last count.  Obviously, I wasn’t that mental to take all 216 face pictures but I did get some stunners.

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Next stop was back to the hotel for breakfast at 8am before setting off on the next temple adventure at 9am.  First stop was Wat Preah Pom Rath where the residences of Cambodia had donated millions to build this modern temple.  Draped in gold and looking very much in the same style as Thai Pagoda’s, it was nice to see people coming together to build this.  I saw my first reclining Buddha of my adventure here.

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Next stop was the temple of Prasat Kravan, a 5 tower brick shrine.  Most of the temples I have seen so far are made of sandstone.  This was the first brick one.  This still didn’t stop the Cambodians carving into it and producing some lovely sculptures.

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15 minutes later, I was on my way to the Landmine Museum to learn all about Aki Ra and his dedication to making Cambodia a safer place to live for the many farmers and locals who are still suffering from the landmines laid down during the war and how many still remain undetonated.  As a young child, he was orphaned and then joined the Khmer Rouge laying mines.  Ironic that he is now removing these devastating weapons.  After spending about an hour here, I went over to another temple.  This time Banteay Srey, where I saw a few Water Buffaloes grazing in the mud, loads of dragonflies and an orange lizard of some sort.  By noon, the heat was increasing to a cool 36C with a “feel like” temperature of 44C.  It was a good opportunity to get some shade and have lunch at the Srey Koulen Restaurant located at Banteay Srey Village.  Diet coke, fried noodles, beef lok lak and fresh spring rolls done it was time to move on.

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Ta Som temple was next.  Constructed between the end of the 12th Century and beginning of the 13th Century.  The highlight here was seeing a tree grow over the archway of a stone gate.  I’m sounding all arty which can’t be good!

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Next was East Mebon Temple to see some elephant carvings made out of 1 block of stone.  Impressive!  Imagine making a mistake carving that one out.  No room for error here!

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The last temple of the day was to Banteay Kdei.  All I can add to this is that it’s very picturesque and any keen photographers would love this 2 day tour with Siya.

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I think I’d hit temple fatigue by this point so it was back to the hotel for an hour and then picked up again at 5pm for a view of the sunset at 6pm over the east gate of Angkor Wat.

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Back to the hotel, said my goodbyes to Siya and his friend “the driver”, I quickly freshened up and hit the town enjoying Long Island Ice Teas for $2 – $4 (£1.38 – £2.76) and Anchor beer by the pitcher.  The beer was ridiculously cheap at 50 cents (35p) for a glass to $4 for a pitcher.  I hit a few watering holes ending up at the popular Angkor What? bar and Temple Club which saw most of the action with it’s fair share of street dancing and dance offs between tourists and Cambodian street sellers.  Very entertaining.  It was nearing 2am before I noticed and being up for 21 hours, it was time for bed….

Saturday 4 April 2015 

The penultimate day before I leave Siem Reap.  No tours booked so after breakfast it was off for a walk to see some central sites.  First on the list was the Les Chantiers Écoles.  A project setup to provide young people with a craft skill to help them in life and work.  Looked very much like my Design and Technology workshop when I was at school.  In the 35C heat, they had an Artisan shop.  The best bit about this was it was of a decent size and fully air conditioned.  What a relief!  Selling anything you can make silk out of and jewelry, I wasn’t that bothered.  I was just glad to get out of the searing heat and sun.

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After outstaying my welcome in the shop, I wandered over to the Psaar Chaa markets where I decide to purchase myself a hat for a bit of respite from the sun.  The thing is, being in the city centre, there’s little tree cover.  The only grace you get is perhaps the canopy over a shop window or stall, but that doesn’t last long as you have to move on.  Trust me to pick the hottest month to visit Cambodia.  My hat set me back $3 (£2.07) after I haggled it down from $4.  I could have perhaps got it down further but for the sake of a couple of bucks and the heat, I was happy with this price.

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With the brim of my hat providing constant shade from the blazing sun, I was a happy bunny as I wandered around further market stalls taking in the sites.  There was a food market selling everything to meat, vegetables and fruit.  The colours were a feast for the eyes.

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It was fast approaching noon and the day was only going to get hotter, so it was time to head back to the hotel and spend the afternoon by the pool and dipping in and out of it.  What an amazing way to spend a lazy Saturday.

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Feeling refreshed and a lot cooler, (tongue twister alert!) I took a tuk tuk over to a place recommended in the Lonely Planet guide book called Samut Siem Reap.  Waste of time that was.  But the fun part was getting a tuk tuk ride both ways lasting about 20 minutes for $2 each way.  All part of the fun and experience.

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Tuk tuk back to pub street, I had a brief walk around the night markets which really didn’t provide any additional retail products from the day time except for the odd creepy crawly delicacies.  I admit I didn’t feel like trying fried tarantula or what looked like cockroach.  It wasn’t going to improve my healthy or well being so I opted out of trying one.  Maybe if I was inebriated, I would have been more inclined to try a few.

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Anyway, after wandering, I decide to have a beer at the Soup Dragon Restaurant, watch a little bit of Premier League football on the big screen before settling down for dinner at the Khmer Kitchen Restaurant.  Pork Khmer Curry done and another beer done, I decided to retire for the night….

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Sunday 5 April 2015

Bit of a lie in today as it’s the last day in Siem Reap.  After a noodle breakfast, it was a lazy Easter Sunday by the pool for a few hours before packing my rucksack and saying goodbye to this city.  Got a lovely scarf as a parting gift from the Diamond D’Angkor Boutique.  It my not be my colour but the thought was nice!

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Had a car transfer already booked at 3pm to take me to my next destination of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  I figured that given it was 340km away and that it was going to take about 7 hours by road at a price of $45 each (£31) compared to perhaps 5 hours in total by plane if I was to check in 3 hours before the flight and then spend another 1 hour getting out of arrivals and at the same price, if not more, I would go by car.  The deciding factor was that I would be getting from door to door without hauling my rucksack around and in the comfort of air conditioning all the way.  I definitely needed it today in the blazing 37C sun.  Plus, you get to see so much more on the road and have a little adventure too.  My driver arrived in a Camry with a Che Guevara sticker on the side.  This made me smile.

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After introductions were out the way, I settled back into my seat to take in the view.  The roads were hellish, bumpy and rough.  However, seeing all the palm trees, houses on stilts by the road side, people on mopeds, random fruit stalls, all added to the charm and scenery.

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When the sun eventually went down at around 6:30pm did the real experience begin.  With no road markings or proper tarmac to drive on, we were doing on average about 40mph along bumpy and dusty roads.  Cars swerving left and right, full beams on in all directions, you could occasionally spot a child’s silhouette in the dusty distance crossing a four lane highway.  After about 5 and a half hours on the road, we stop off at a roadside restaurant for some dinner.  My driver got his meal and an energy drink for free.  I opted for the beef fried noodle and a can of Grape Fanta.  A novelty, I just had to try it.  My meal came to $2.50 (£1.72).  This made it even tastier!

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After about 20 minutes, we were back in the Camry and on the road.  What I know as a dual carriageway in the UK, we were heading into Phnom Penh along a highway when, maybe, at least a dozen times would you get another car heading directly for us on the wrong side of the carriage.  At that point, I decided to take a power nap.

At around 10pm we drove into the city of Phnom Penh….

 

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