AIN’T NO EXPERT

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Well, I am not an expert when it comes to traveling to Siem Reap, but this is the summary I could gather which were quite useful for me, from my experience.

1. The best time to go to Siem Reap is actually around November to February, where the weather is cool and dry. Probably you would be able to get to see both sunrise and sunset when the sky is clear. I, for that matter, was not lucky this time.
2. Bring along candies, cookies, pens, pencils, color pencils to be given to the kids, rather than giving them money.
3. Do not be afraid of heights. Make the climb. The scenery is worth it. (Remember the advice I gave Kat: If elephants like me can climb, pigs like you can fly! Hahahah!!)
4. Do not be alarmed when your plane is about to land at Siem Reap Airport – we swear we couldn’t see the runway either when our aircraft was preparing to descend. There would be a slight bump just after the plane touched the ground.
5. Bring sunglasses, caps, sunscreen lotion, hats, face mask and shawl (for tuk tuk rides – input from WY, thanks!).
6. Bring a torchlight, as the road at night can be dark at times due to lack of lamp posts and use mosquitoes repellent.
7. Read up on the temples before you go, for those who are really interested in the history of the temples – it would be a more interesting visit, rather than just plod in aimlessly without any knowledge. Or just grab a free guide book from your guest house/hotel before you start to plan your temple visits.

8. As a general rule, it is always good to visit temples in early mornings or late evenings as the weather would be cooler and the sun light is just nice to illuminate the carvings for viewing pleasure.
9. Bring a compass – it would help in your temple study/directions.

10. Just go and relax!

Pictures you might not see in other people’s travels to Siem Reap.

Boatman’s slippers

Floating village’s inhabitants lazy afternoon

Street Children Graffiti on one of the walls at Pub Street

Dragon fly resting in one of the pillars of Angkor Wat

Restoration work at Angkor Wat

A face on the sand in Ta Phrom

(I know this shot is CRAP, but it’s hidden! See if you can find it)

A face behind the Roots in Ta Phrom
(it’s hidden as well! Finders’ treasure)

Miniscule purplish flower in Preah Khan

Bad plastering work at Angkor Wat

Viagra on sale

LANDMINE – BOOM!

Day 3
Sunday, 16 July 2006

Muscles aches due to yesterday’s climbing and hiking didn’t deter us from further raiding the temples on the third day. I am quite excited to see sun rise from Angkor Wat. We woke up a bit late, and took some time to get ready. I don’t understand why WY and Viv bothered to wear make up, considering the make up would go off when we sweat like pigs in the sun.

The sun that never rises in Angkor Wat

Chan waited for 15 minutes outside Red Piano. It was only 5.15 am (6.15 am Malaysian time) but we could see the sky was clearing fast. He drove his tuk tuk at top speed (50 km/hour) with the three of us holding tight to dear life, so that we would not miss the sun rise.

Again, the sun was not visible as it was a cloudy morning. Everything was rather dark. When we reached Angkor Wat, we could see many people already taking good spots to see the sun rise in all its splendor. There were a few photographers positioned themselves on a small pond of water lilies overlooking the Angkor Wat skyline. I guess they were disappointed as well.

We had American breakfast after we gave up waiting for the shy sun behind the clouds to appear. We went to Takeo. Looking at the flights of stairs, I didn’t want to go up; as my legs morphed into a jelly state, merely thinking about it. The steps were rather intimidating compared to the ones in Angkor Wat. I was conned into believing that the worst was over. (Angkor Wat? Bakheng?). I waited around for WY and Viv to check out the place while I lurked around Takeo looking for some good angle, but couldn’t find any. Maybe I was too exhausted from the night before.

Takeo

On the way to Ta Phrom, where Angelina Jolie shot her movie: Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider, Chan stop us at this Stone Bridge. He said, previously, there is a small river runneth over it, but now was all dried up. It looked familiar – like one of the scenes in Lord of the Rings? My sis commented that this place look fake.

Stone Bridge


At Ta Phrom (where the big tree roots are), it was really weird that we entered the temple from behind. I didn’t noticed this as everywhere look kinda same to me, till Viv and WY pointed it out. Forgive me for being ignorant. It is highly advisable to read about a place before you go, as it sure helps a lot. Don’t bother buying books on Siem Reap as you could get plenty of them here. Street peddlers including children sell books and guides at fraction of a cost. It was surprisingly of high quality. I bought one on Ancient Angkor by Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques and it was a really good guide book, which costs me only USD4.

Ta Phrom

Ta Phrom is also another interesting temple not to be missed. The winding three roots are century old and it is quite an impressive sight on how nature blended with man made structure. I guess in another few more years to come, probably the giant root would somehow destroy the structure. Most places are already in ruins and everywhere there were rubbles. Here, a local came to us without invitation and gave us some guides of places for photos. He offered to take pictures for us, but we refused out of security reason. What if he ran away with my camera? He looked like a cocaine junkie. Towards the end of the “tour”, I gave him USD2 for his assistance – but he demanded for USD5. I refused and later on, someone in uniform came chasing after him. I guess he was not supposed to be there and asked from tourists for money.

Banteay Kdei

After Ta Phrom, where I took the most photos, we went to Banteay Kdei. The sky had turned dark and we were glad that we were already inside the temple. Again, we entered from behind the temple. I wonder what’s wrong with our tuk tuk driver that he always placed us at the back entrance to walk to the front. It was a good idea anyway as the moment we were about to leave the temple, there were less people hogging nice spots to take pictures. We had a little picnic here while waiting for the drizzle to stop.

The rest of the temples, they are less impressive or perhaps, we felt somewhat templed out, after a marathon temple visits since yesterday. I think I should refrain from writing about them – I might even get their names wrong!! Nevertheless, here are some of the pics I took for the next 4 temples before we called it a day. At this point, I am already very confused and exhausted.

Taken by WY

Pre rup – since I didn’t want to make another ascend on the treacherous steps, I let WY had a go with my camera. She did pretty good. Pre-Rup, unlike other temples made of big rocks, this is made up of smaller laterite bricks. A good change of colors from the usual gloomy grey.

We decided to give East Mebon a miss as it looked like a Pre Rup miniature. I joked that, anyone wanna have dim sum, could drop by here for some. WY and Viv didn’t get my joke. Mee Bon at Jalan Ipoh? Famous for dim sum?

Ta Som – by the time I reached this temple, I sufferred from a fried brain by the scorching sun. Here are just some of the pics I took of Ta Som.

Neak Pean – there was supposed to be a pond here. But unfortunately, water has dried up. My camera ran out of battery while we were at Neak Pean. So, I didn’t manage to take many pics.

Preah Khan

At Preah Khan, Viv’s camera memory card ran out of space. I offered to lend mine to her since my camera battery went flat. Viv kept on reminding me that her camera is not that superb compared to mine and probably would not be able to take nice pictures. Here’s the proof that it is not the camera that counts, it all boils down to one’s skills. I like Preah Khan for its simplicity and many columns which are available to seal us from the scorching sun.

Altogether, we raided 7 temples (or maybe more? I lost track) in a day. It was quite exhausting even if I didn’t even climb some of the steps – which I think I should have. *slap myself for being such a lazy ass* I couldn’t really recall the names of the temples we visited that day. I think I am suffering from some temple phobia towards the end of the day.

After going to temples, I think I need some form of therapy – so we went shopping in Centre Market. Girls! Surprisingly, all our weariness went off the moment we set foot at Centre Market. Habis. We went on a shopping frenzy. So much for saying that we were at Siem Reap to witness the beauty of ancient temples and not for shopping. :-p We shopped till we drop.

Towards the end of the day, we wanted very much to reward ourselves a scrumptious dinner for walking so much in a day. We went to Temple Club. I was slightly apprehensive – when I see the word “Temple”. I was already phobic. It was a great dinner though, the Khmer curry was delicious! So was the egg plant with minced meat. While having dinner, we get to see some traditional dance. In fact, I think most restaurants and clubs have traditional dance to entertain guests while having dinner. Temple Club is not that expensive and the food is great, service is fast.

After dinner, we loitered a bit at Pub Street to scout for the cheapest beer around. Beers are offered as cheap as 20 cents up to 50 cents per mug. As we were approaching Molly Malone’s, we stumbled upon a group of beggars. In order not to be hassled by a group of beggars – if you give to one fella, the rest of the beggars would come to you, we decided not to give any money at all.

There was this irritating guy who had lost both his arms due to land mine – kept pestering us for money. He even followed us to cross the road to the point that we felt being harassed. I brushed him off. He actually touched my sleeves with his stumps and told me – “Hello? Land mine! Boom!!” I was very troubled with him harassing us to the point that I was all stressed out. I avoided eye contact with him and walked away quickly.

We settled at Why Not? which is near our guest house for some beers (actually we were trying to get rid of the landmine fella) – he still lurked outside the bar while we went inside. He even harassed a westerner who was sitting at the corridor for some money. He is really THAT irritating.

The cheap beer at Why not? (35 cents per mug) comes with popcorn. I didn’t have much appetite after the “Landmine! Boom!” incident. We finished our beer quickly before our blood got sucked dry by mosquitoes at the pub. Everywhere you go at night in Siem Reap, you would need mosquitoes repellent or perhaps, wear long pants.

I DREAM OF APSARAS

For the benefit of people who don’t know where Siem Reap is, here’s the map of Cambodia. I have a friend who thought Siem Reap is in Thailand.


Day #2
Saturday, 15 July 2006

As we were on a holiday, we started the day rather late, which proved to be a big mistake. If you are in Siem Reap, it is advisable to start the day early as the weather could be quite exhausting to keep up with. When you wake up late, the sun is already up on your head – as it is an hour late compare to Malaysian time.

Authentic Pho, Saigon Kickstart (Coffee) and Cheese Omelette

We had breakfast at this nice restaurant called the Soup Dragon at Pub Street. It has Khmer, Vietnamese, Thai and Western food. Compare to other restaurants that we went to, this one comes with reasonable pricing. They have quite a lot of locals dining here, so I guess Chan brought us to the right place to have breakfast. In fact, throughout our stay, we had 3x breakfast here as most places do not open for breakfast and Red Piano’s prices are too exorbitant and choices are quite limited. It is a mistake too for getting a guesthouse without breakfast. Probably we could save more if we were to get a guesthouse which comes with breakfast, but we are not complaining.

We got all excited after breakfast to see the Angkor Wat. When we got there, it was already 10 am local time. The sun was bright and it was really hot. There were so many people walking on the pavement towards Angkor Wat. A third of the pavement was blocked for restoration. It is quite a pitiful sight. Reminded me of our perpetual construction back at home (MRR2?). Being our ignorant self, we didn’t know that the pointed gopuras were inside and not outside. I kept on playing some pictures that my friends took and my mind couldn’t seem to register. Are we in the right place? Then, as we walked inside after the first entrance, lo and behold, it was a magnificent sight. Stupid-nya. Because of the large scale, it was indeed difficult to cram the whole structure into our cameras.

Angkor wat in its splendor

There are some spots closed for restoration. It is indeed a long process to make this place look like the old days, but I think the feat is near impossible. I guess with the looming number of visitors – it is quite difficult to preserve the ancient temples. Some visitors really disgust me by speaking so loudly in the temple – afterall, this is a temple, we have to keep silence to show some respect. They even have a signboard telling people to shut up.

Some visitors – with their designer glasses, Gucci bags, stilettos (yes – some idiots actually wear stilettos to Angkor Wat), etc totally had no respect for the temple. It saddened me that I saw one guy spitting on the ground of the temple. I wish the police there would slap some summons on him. So much for respect huh? Some local kid even pee in the compound of the Angkor Wat – adding rancid uric smell to the guano-smelling Angkor Wat. Siem Reap authority should limit number of visitors to its ancient temples or perhaps ban all hooligans from temples.

We spent approximately 2 hours loitering in Angkor Wat. At first, I refused to climb on the steep staircase, fearing that the clumsy me might fall off. I guess, it is quite safe to climb, as long as you exercise extreme caution. Never mind of stories of people falling to their deaths. The fatality rate is low, though. Nothing to worry about. Serious.

I don’t understand why people would want to bring their children as young as a few months old to Siem Reap. It is not a place for children and elderly people. So I suggest, if you have not hit mid life crisis – it is time to go to Siem Reap NOW. With the fast deterioration of some temples, it is highly advisable to go as soon as possible before the structure came tumbling down. And please – keep your hands off the carvings on the stone as they are delicate things.

We had lunch at the nearby stall within the vicinity of the temples. The increasing number of visitors to Angkor Wat had spurred many stalls mushrooming along the road of Angkor Wat.

South Entrance of Angkor Thom

The next stop was one of my top favorite – the Bayon. The Bayon is in the vicinity of Angkor Thom. We entered Angkor Thom via the Southern Gate – where most heads of the statues alongside the road towards Angkor Thom are still intact. As it was already afternoon, it was difficult to get nice shots of the place – this is just one of the pictures I think quite alright.

Bayon is the place with many giant faces. I guess this is the temple that one shouldn’t miss. Frankly speaking, I love this temple more than the great Angkor Wat. There have been some speculations of whose face are on the carvings – some said the faces belongs to King Jayavarnam, some said it’s Boddhisattva’s etc. It is good to read up a little before you go on a historical trip.

As it was afternoon when we were at Bayon, the light was too bright for photographs. Nevertheless, I tried my best to get nicer shots. It was quite hard to get pictures with the sunlight emerging from the top.

The Magnificent Bayon

After Bayon, our energy drained fast because of the heat. It was scorching hot as we tried to find some shades from the sun. I had down the entire 1 litre of bottled water but it didn’t have any effect. As we walked out from the Bayon, we went to Baphuon but it was closed for restoration. There was a guide who was speaking Japanese to two Japanese tourists – I was glad that I understood what he had just said.

By the time, we walked towards the Terrace of the Elephants, it was already almost 5 pm. We rushed to Bakheng to see the sunset. I was already at the end of my energy level. When I saw the walk uphill to Bakheng, my legs turned jelly. Elephant rides are available up the hill for USD15. Not wanting to waste that amount of money, I decided to climb onto the steep terrain. It took me awhile as I need to rest almost at every 20 steps I took. I blamed it on lack of exercise. Our tuk tuk driver followed us as he would guide us through an alternative way to get down from the hilltop once the sun set. He couldn’t help but chuckled at my lack of stamina. @#$%^&*

After climbing to the hill, I was shock to see the ordeal was far from over. We still need to climb another flight of staircase which was even steeper compared to the one we climbed in Angkor Wat. As I went up, I cursed. I wonder how the ancient people climb the stairs? I wanted to ask Chan whether they purposely built it this way to prevent enemies from climbing in the temple quickly, but didn’t managed to, as I was already out of breath the moment I reached the top. I was tickled at the thought that some of the climbers looked like the female ghost, climbing out of the well, in the famous movie – the Ring – only much clumsier and has no long hair.

The Treacherous Bakheng

Then, bad news. It started to drizzle a bit and we were glad that we brought along umbrellas. It was kinda ridiculous to wait for the sun to set on a cloudy day. As expected, we didn’t get to see the sun set as it was too cloudy. There were many people on top of Bakheng – I felt like a fool, waiting anxiously for the sun – but the sun sets behind the clouds instead. I guess we had to come again if we wanted to watch the sunset but the thought of climbing the steep staircase again put me off. If I were to come again – I am going on the elephant ride! Like Bali – actually we were very lucky to have caught the sunset at Tanah Lot as our guide told us, sometimes, it would be too cloudy to see the sunset. I guess we just cannot plan according to nature.

After basking in the sun the entire afternoon and waiting in vain for the sunset, we went back to our guest house. On our way back, we passed by the Jayavarnam VII Children Hospital, run by Kantha Bopha Foundation Dr. Beat Richner. Dr Beat Richer plays cello music by J.S. Bach and songs by Beatcello. The Kantha Bopha Foundation gives free medical services to Cambodians, mostly children as most Cambodian families cannot afford a proper medical treatment. Hence, this Foundation relies heavily on donations.

We would love to go to the concert, if not being too tired and worn out. My mind just told me to go back to the guest house. We should have gone to the concert. Apart from monetary donation, donation of blood is welcomed as most Khmers do not donate blood due to religious beliefs. If I were to go to Siem Reap again, I would definitely go and support this cause. Beatocello concert is on every Friday and Saturday, starting 7.15 pm at Kantha Bopha Centre, Jayavarnam VII hospital. Probably, I could just mail them a cheque.

We headed to have Happy Pizza (sprinkle with marijuana) at Happy Herb Pizza. The egg plant with cheese is delicious!! I remember I had beer at Happy Herb in Phnom Penh for 50 cents each but this place didn’t seem to offer buy one free one beer and, the service was rather slow. Don’t try the bolognaise spaghetti – it is quite shitty. I think you could try any happy pizza at any pizza parlor, not specifically have to be at Happy Herb.

We were too tired to think of anything towards the end of the day, so we went back to the guest house for early rest as we wanted to catch the sunrise tomorrow at 5 am in Angkor Wat.

The moment I closed my eyes to sleep, I could see Apsaras dancing gracefully in my dreams.