05.11.2010 - 09.11.2010 28 °C
We take the bus to Siem Reap to see the temples of Angkor. This stop is a must on any backpackers trip in Indochina and we are very excited. We fly past beautiful deep green rice paddies dotted with palm trees as the bus driver thunders down the road honking his horn at anyone in his way. Cambodia is very flat compared to Laos and Vietnam. Travelling this country is more difficult compared to Laos and Vietnam in many ways – there is more poverty, the gap between rich and poor seems larger, and the horrific experiences these people had to live through seem very recent. Travelling this country makes my heart feel heavy in my chest, and I find my thoughts lingering on the horrors that happened here often, more than once with a big lump in my throat.
Once you get out of Phnom Penh, the people here are more curious of foreigners. They sneak a peak at you and wave excitedly with a big smile. Many children have learned how to say ‘Hello’ and they shout it at the top of their lungs, waving their arms at us. On the bus, a boy sitting behind us puts his little hand on my head, feeling my hair. We stop at a ‘restaurant’ for a leg stretch and a loo visit. Its hard to find snacks for bus rides in Cambodia, crisps (chips) and biscuits are expensive and difficult to come by. Cambodians like to snack on insects and fruit. On offer at this stop is a selection of fried crickets, spiders and cockroaches. There is also a cricket and cockroach mix, if you fancy that. And the usual mango, banana, oranges of course. There is a ‘western snack’ corner, wrappings slightly covered in dust. We decide to skip the snacks this time.
At the bus station, we manage to avoid the tuk-tuk mafia (yes there is one, hiking up the prices and generally threatening everyone). As we have booked ahead this time, the hotel is picking us up for free. We had enough of dingy, slightly damp and smelly rooms and have booked the USD 20 a night ‘honeymoon suite’ at a hotel called MotherHome guesthouse. And they are just as welcoming as the name indicates. Wet towels and drink on arrival, big smiles, clean big room, flowers on the bed that spell out a heart in roses and the words ‘I love you’ in jasmine blossoms. There are lotus flowers in the bath. Aw bless! Siam Reap as a town reminds us of Las Vegas – there are lots of neon signs, big expensive looking hotels everywhere. This place seems to have exploded overnight.
The temples take a good two three days to see. There are many. We spend the first day cycling around seeing crumbling temples with moss on them and trees growing through them. Its like the forgotten city. Its like an Indiana Jones movie. Its beautiful. We try to imagine what it must have looked like back in the day, when there were 1 million people living here and instead of horses there were elephants on the roads. The old gates to the town where all these people lived are still there, and you can still ride an elephant through them. But this place is now teeming with tourists from all over the world, there are big busloads of them thundering in every day.
On the second day we hire a guide and a tuk-tuk as we want to have the proper experience. We are seeing the biggest sights with him, Angkor Thom which is the village, and Angkor Wat, the main, big temple that pulls the most crowds. His English is not that good and although he tells us many stories and a lot of information, we feel slightly disappointed as we had expected more. The most absurd thing to happen that day is that the guide invites us to his nieces wedding which is taking place the same night. Or maybe its when a monk asks to have his photo taken with Nico. It’s a tie.
The third day turns out to be nicer that we had expected, we meet a german couple that we first bumped in to in Mui Ne, then in Saigon again. They are having breakfast at our hotel, and have hired a tuk tuk for the day. We split the cost with them and ride out to a temple further away from Siem Reap, and a little river, sacred to the Khmer and covered in carvings and religious symbols. There is a waterfall that we have a dip in.
We spend the evening getting our feet pedicured by little fish. It tickles like crazy at first, but you get used to it after a few minutes. It’s an absurd experience. Oh, and we hear a gecko squeak for the first time and realise why it’s called gecko.