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Al's epic odyssey "A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving." - Lao Tzu

Siem Reap and the Floating Temples

CAMBODIA | Sunday, 4 October 2009 | Views [1290]

Having learned my lesson on the bus trip up from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh, I paid a little extra for my ticket to Siem Reap and found a seat further back, out of sight of the front windscreen and almost out of hearing of the horn and the karaoke machine. The trip was almost relaxing.

The only notable event was when we stopped at a roadside stall in the middle of nowhere to get refreshments and visit the bathroom. For the first time on my trip so far I found creepy crawlies on the menu. There was a selection of locusts and spiders in amongst the other unidentifiable foodstuffs/ The locusts and spiders appeared to be deep fried so I gave them a miss as I’m watching my cholesterol levels. One of the ‘spider ladies’ even had a bucket of live spiders (tarantula’s I think), presumably to prove that the fried ones were fresh. Every now and again she’d stir them from their slumbers to show that they were alive.

I booked into the Angkor Friendship Inn in Siem Reap on a web recommendation and was pleasantly surprised by the level of accommodation for a very reasonable price.  My Tuk-Tuk driver had been determined to take me elsewhere where he’s get a commission, but I stuck to my guns. The Inn is down a little sidestreet off the river and relatively close to the tourist area of Siem Reap. The torist area consists of a couple of markets and a street called ‘Pub Street’, which is pretty much what it says on the tin. The area is pretty much restaurants, bars, massage parlors and hundreds of tuk-tuk and motorbike drivers – all relentlessly seeking your custom.

On my first full day in town I wandered around taking it all in, intending to do the main tourist attraction – the Ancient Temple tour the following day. I visited the National Museum and thought that it was overpriced at 12 dollars for foreigners. The building is magnificent and the content is beautifully presented, but I personally didn’t think it was very good value for money. The whole town is very tourist orientated. Foreigners are seen as walking cashpoint machines and everyone wants a piece of the action - particularly now in the low season.

The riverside is very pretty with lawns, trees and benches. Drinking sundowners at the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) was great – it felt quite colonial and decadent. Later that night while enjoying the atmosphere of Pub Street it started raining… and boy did it pour! This was Tropical Storm Ketsana, which as Typhoon Ketsana had wrecked havoc in the Philippines and Vietnam. I’ve never been in a tropical storm before and this may not have been typical, but there was hardly any wind accompanying the rain, simply a torrential downpour that just went on and on. From under cover on the pub verandah it was quite fun to watch. Eventually it came time to leave and I managed to find a tuk-tuk driver to take me back to the hotel. He was drenched, but probably coining it.

The following day was fairly relentless rain most of the day. I took a walk out during one of the quieter moments and it you could see that the river level was rising pretty fast. I didn’t venture too far, but managed to get back onto Pub Street for sustenance. By now, I’d been in most of the restaurants for at least a beer. My new favorite Cambodian food is Chicken Amok. It is a mild slightly sweet curry with coconut milk, a bit like South African baboutie. The best was from the Khmer Family Restaurant on Pub Street.

The following morning the water was lapping outside the hotel front step. The river had burst its banks and town was flooded. The street outside had become a tributary of the Tonle Sap River and was flowing quite steadily, albeit only a few inches deep. The rain stopped around mid morning and I ventured back into the tourist area wearing shorts and flip flops. At worst the water was about knee deep and had covered a fair portion of the riverside areas which included most of the tourist areas. Amazingly many of the motorcycles and tuk-tuks carried on working, although very few ventured down the road where I was staying as the deepest water was at the top of that.

Even though the rain had stopped the water levels remained high. I attempted a short tourist trip to the Silk Farm which is about 17 km out into the countryside. I thought that that would be fine. When we got there we found the access road was blocked by knee deep water so we turned back and was back in Pub Street considering my options.

I’d already stayed a couple of days longer that I’d originally planned and I still hadn’t seen the Temples so I arranged a trip for the following morning. The tuk-tuk driver came to collect me and informed me that I’d have to wade back into town to get his tuk-tuk, which we did. The temples are truly amazing. I’m not going to try and give you a history lesson, to be honest it was all a bit much for me to take in, far too long ago and far too many very long names of God-Kings. I only saw about 6 temples, each very different and I’m sure an enthusiast could spend a lot longer at each of them than I did. Angkor Wat is huge. The outer wall runs about a kilometer in each direction and that is surrounded by a moat probably 200 meters across. Bayon, is straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. Ta Keo is a massive mountain of stone blocks with near vertical stone steps. Ta Prohm has a massive tree seemingly growing out of a cloister roof with its massive roots spreading over the stone, but seemingly leaving the corridor intact. There were some Temples that we couldn’t get to because of the water levels, My tuk-tuk driver jokingly called them the floating temples. One day of temple trekking was enough for me, but I can see how others would prefer longer and take their time. Each of the temples that I saw was fascinating and I’m sure there are many more, further afield, that are equally worth visiting.

Having done that temple tor it was now time to move on. I’ve decided to go down to Battambang for a couple of days before meandering towards Vietnam.

Facebook photos http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=328711&id=744675149&l=464afe04d4

Tags: angkor wat, siem reap, temples


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