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

LADY, YOU WANT COLD DRINKS?

Day #4
Monday, 17 July 2006

After being overdosed on temples the day before, I woke up, saying to myself – “Oh No! Not again!!!” I was a bit reluctant to travel further to see Banteay Srei. I read so much about this temple that I think, we shouldn’t miss it. Further, it was loosely translated as “citadel of the women”.

Banteay Srei

This temple is notable for its intricate carvings and said to have the finest examples of classical Khmer art. We went there rather late again and it slightly drizzled as we approached the temple. The sky was gloomy and it was difficult to get good pictures as my camera doesn’t really work well in dark places. Anyway, we did snap some pics as keepsakes of this trip. Banteay Srei is surprisingly a very small temple compare to its cousins. One should just take note of its carvings as it has nothing much to offer in terms of architecture. Further, the temples were sealed for restoration, we hardly had the chance to inspect the carvings close up.

I eaves dropped a tour guide speaking to some tourists in Mandarin, saying that this temple consists of carvings of beautiful women – “….If you notice properly, all the women carvings have small waist and wore earrings. Women with small waist were highly desirable during the time….” (Since when women with big waists were favoured? Tell me! Tell me!!!). The guide can really talk cock.

We decided to have a picnic there since most of the food within the temples vicinity sucks big time, we bought some bread from Blue Pumpkin. The weather was not conducive for a picnic as dark clouds loomed over. We were worried it might rain heavily while we were eating.

Another big mistake. The temple does not have columns like the Preah Khan or Angkor Wat or Banteay Kdei which could provide reasonable shade from the sun. We settled down at the side of the temple. The sun seemed to follow us wherever we go. It was bright the moment we found a comfortable shade by the side of the temple. We ended up eating hastily and headed to the tuk tuk to go to Banteay Samre.

I prefer Banteay Samre to Banteay Srei. I guess it all had to do with the weather. When we approached Banteay Samre, it was gloomy again and started to drizzle. We kinda welcome this cold weather; as if it didn’t rain, it would be too hot to walk. And not rain too heavy either – or else, I couldn’t imagine the 3 of us hurdling in the tuk tuk with cars or lorries passing by and probably splashing some mud into our tuk tuk, considering there are so many pot holes on the road.

Banteay Samre – check out the kid posing for me.

Banteay Samre surprises me by being well restored. Unlike other famous temples which almost reduced to rumbles at every angle, this one stood perfectly untouched. There was hardly anyone there except for a couple of people there. I guess it was well preserved due to lack of visitors who only come to Siem Reap for Angkor Wat. We had quite a good time looking through the temple as the weather was cooling down. There were a few street children playing hide and seek in the temple. I waved at them and gave them some cookies and sweets. This brought wide smiles upon their small, dirt covered face. This was the highlight of the day.

As we approached the backyard of Banteay Samre, there was this garden with a stone platform, where 6 singhas sat. Obviously, most of the singhas were beheaded by probably culprits who sold the loot for a handsome profit. This temple indeed looked like a palace.

I could picture a princess playing with hordes of her servants here; gathering flowers, chatting about nothingness or maybe just bask in the sun. Ah well, what do I know.

Everywhere we go, there would be little kids pestering us to buy cold drinks from them. They would say to you, “Lady, you want cold drinks?” or “Lady, do you want a scarf? I give you good price!” “Lady, please buy a star from me.” I think it is better for you to buy from the kids at the lesser known temples as the famous temples would gather more tourists. Unfortunately, I have bought my postcards and books from earlier temple visits, or else, I would have gotten them from these children.

On the way to National Silk Centre

We went to Artisan de Angkor National Silk Centre after Banteay Samre – it was indeed a long journey. We don’t see many tuk tuks going that way. I never seemed to learn from my past mistake of going to such far away place in a tuk tuk (Phnom Penh to Tonle Bati!). It was a bumpy ride. The scenery on the way is quite fulfilling. There were water buffaloes, cows, water lilies, green paddy fields, little nice straw houses, etc.

National Silk Centre was quite an interesting place, a good change from having to look at temples again. We were briefed for free on how silk is being produced.

National Silk Centre

To produce silk, at first you have to have silk worms (Duh?). Silk worms fed on mulberry leaves. Once the silk worm matures, it would round itself into a cocoon to turn into a moth. However, that won’t be the case for the silk worms here. Once they are wrapped up in a cocoon, they would be dried in the sun for 3-4 days. (Meaning you kill them for their silk lah). The dead cocoons would be boiled and fine strings of silk (look like spider web) would be harvested out of it. I seriously don’t know how people could discover silk this way. Sheer brilliance. As much as I hated bugs – I don’t think I like the idea of killing in order to get a luxurious product. Like you kill a crocodile for its skin, or maybe hunt down an elephant for its ivory, or you fatten up a goose for its liver? I better stick to cotton clothings. I could see myself turning into a vegetarian as well.

After Artisan de Angkor National Silk Centre, we went to Wat Bo area to check out the new and big market, Phsar Leu. It was quite chaotic as everyone was rushing home after the market closed. We were a bit pissed as Chan was not aware of the closing time. Phsar Leu closed about 6 pm, which is quite early. Unlike Old Market and Centre Market (both at about 7.30 pm) We were there for only 15 minutes and I managed to get a pair of Nike shoes at USD12. Don’t know if it is the real thing? Phsar Leu is a big market catering mainly for the locals. Most people there couldn’t understand English. We had to use hand signals to get message across. Both WY and I downed a bowl of pumpkin dessert each since I could hear my stomach growled like a lion.

As we were traveling to the north, then east and west of Siem Reap in a day, we decided to tip Chan a bit more for the long journey; despite not knowing the time of the closure of the market – can’t blame him as not many people would shop at Phsar Leu as most tourists would be shopping at either Old Market or Centre Market. After paying Chan, both Viv and I lectured Chan like our little brother on how to tackle tourists more and improve his communication skills for his own good. Being his shy self, he went, “Yah! Yah! Yah!” – his very standard, yet diplomatic answer throughout the four whole days of journey.

The last night, we had dinner at this Cambodian BBQ behind Pub Street, just opposite John McDermott’s Gallery. It is a cute way of BBQ-ing, the top part is for BBQ, the surrounding part is steamboat. There was a huge lard on top of the BBQ pot. I guess this somewhat brings the nice aroma for the BBQ. The portion is kinda small and slightly pricey compared to others, but it was quite tasty.

I couldn’t refrain myself from buying the whole McDermott’s collection as the pictures were simply breath-taking. Cost me USD12!! A nice little keepsakes from Siem Reap to remind me on how Angkor Wat once stood tall in all its grandeur, a few years ago.

We went to Khmer Taste for another round of beer and fresh spring rolls before we called it a night. It was indeed a fun night out; everyone was at ease and sitting idly to watch the night sank deeper into the dark.

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.

SETTLING IN SIEM REAP

When I told my boss I am going to Siem Reap for 5 days and 4 nights, he just smiled and was puzzled what I am going to do there for such freaking long time? The place is so dusty – all they have there are merely temples and some ruins. He could never understand why people would find ancient buildings at the verge of dilapidation are worth anyone’s time. He gave an example of a place in Istanbul where he visited – “There are some rubbles and ruins, and some pillars still standing. The tourists went “Wah….” and took turns to take pictures. I don’t understand what is so interesting! It is just some collapsed structure.”

Well, I made a mental note of what my boss had said, he is a well traveled man to begin with, so I guess everyone is entitled to their own sets of opinions. I told him I am going there to take some pictures. He encouraged me to travel to Nepal or India, as these places are still developing, and there would be a nice photography subject. As for Europe, the places are already well developed and the buildings will still be the same in a number of years to come. I thanked him for his suggestions. I had wanted to visit India very much. I guess India would be the next targeted destination.

To sum up Siem Reap – it is freaking hot and the three of us (WY, Viv and myself) almost wilted under the sun. Most of my friends advised that it is not a good idea to go to Siem Reap in July as it is the rainy season. We were lucky that throughout our 5 days stay, it didn’t rain much, apart from sudden drizzles and the rain went off as soon as it came.

Traveling to Siem Reap is relatively easy. You don’t really need much guidance as there is abundance of travel guides and maps for tourists made available for free at all guest houses and hotels as soon as you arrived there. The locals speak fairly good English, and getting around Siem Reap is also easy – like Phnom Penh, there are plenty of tuk tuks around for you to make a choice.

Day #1
Friday, 14 July 2006

It was slightly cloudy the moment we reached Siem Reap. The taxi driver who picked us up said, today is a good day to go to the floating village, as it might be raining in the afternoons tomorrow or the day after.

We had drawn up an itinerary to follow, but we guessed it would be better to follow advice and change our itinerary accordingly to the weather.

As soon as we settled down at Red Piano, our designated tuk tuk driver, Chan Boramey, was already waiting outside for us. I got the tuk tuk driver’s reference from a fellow colleague. Chan is a skinny fella with very thick eye brows. He speaks very limited English, but he is quite an honest fella.

However, I couldn’t stop myself from comparing Wan Nak; the tuk tuk driver that I had in Phnom Penh with Chan. Wan Nak by far is a better tuk tuk driver as he is able to advise you on the routes to take, familiar with the closing times of markets and places to visit, and best times to visit the places of interests. Chan is more like a yes-man, you asked him anything – he would leave everything to you. I guess it is good for someone who planned his/her trip well. He, nevertheless, is quite an entertaining fella.

At Khmer Kitchen
Dumplings, Fried Spring rolls,
Stir Fried Pumpkin with Shrimps, Amok Fish and Minced chicken in basil leaves

First stop, we had to ease our hunger pangs first by going to this Khmer Kitchen situated at Pub Street. The dumplings and spring rolls are great. The Amok Fish is a bit too watery for my liking. I like the fried pumpkin though. The Khmers tend to like pumpkin very much.

If you must visit the Tonle Sap, the biggest lake in South East Asia, then it is advisable for you to make a trip to the Floating Village. We had to pay USD10 at the entrance to the floating village as the money would be given to the boatman for transporting us for an hour cruise along the river towards Tonle Sap. It is not particularly a pretty river. It was more like the biggest teh tarik lake in the world.

The Floating Village and Tonle Sap

I asked the boatman, why the water is so yellowish and murky. It was the monsoon season, he said. If we come during non-monsoon season, that is from November to February, the river would be clear that you could see fishes swimming inside.

I looked at both left and right of the river towards the Great Lake – there were people spilling motor oils in the water, people washing their plates, people used the water to cook, children taking a dip to cool off the afternoon heat, they even have a pig sty floating on the river, schools, basketball court, hospital, church, shops etc. Well, I don’t think we can see fishes swimming inside the lake with all the daily activities of the inhabitants of the floating village. It was quite an interesting journey. Viv and WY however, looked rather sleepy and bored. Probably effect from the very hot sun.

It was a mixture of emotions of amusement and sadness to see children floating themselves on the river using the wash basin and pails; totally ignorant of danger and tried to get some money from tourists traveling on the boat. Instead of giving them money, we gave them some biscuits we bought from home.

After the long boat ride, we tipped the boatman USD5 after he told us of some sad stories of his family, etc. I guess, this is the way how people do things here – they always try to get money out of sympathy. It was indeed quite a sad place. The road towards the floating market is littered with small little huts made of leaves and bamboo; acting as homes and shelters for Cambodian countryside families. We were amazed to spot little black and white tvs in almost every home that we passed by.

After the long journey, we asked Chan to stop us at the Old Market to do some shopping. We didn’t buy much apart from lurking every corner to check out some of the goods. We ended up buying our dinner at this baguette stall at Riel 3,000 each. Being tourists, we were conned. The locals bought theirs at only Riel 1,000 but of smaller portion. (Check out their portable toaster!!).We bought some other stuffs to eat as well, a pao and some Khmer dumplings and made ourselves comfortable at the nearest coffee shop we can find to get our caffeine fix.

We went back to the guest house and get ready for the night out. Pub Street, just a few minutes walk away from Red Piano is quite a happening place. Beer comes as cheap as 20 cents at Temple Club. To secure the foreigners, both entrance and exit of the road were sealed off from vehicles – it is sure difficult to cross the road with the tuk tuks zig zag in between when you are sober. What more, when you are pissed drunk.

Temple Club at Pub Street

We settled early for the night as we would be having a long, long day tomorrow. What a long, long day indeed.