I arrived in Siem Reap Airport and found myself a way to get to town – motorbike me thinks, I’m getting to like this mode of travel!
The bike ride to the centre of Siem Reap cost only one US dollar and I was met by a fairly nice Cambodian dude, around my age. On the way in we had a good chat and he offered to be my personal driver (for a fee, of course!) for the next few days while I visited the famed Angkor temples. I thought US$40 sounded like a pretty good deal and he wasn’t having any of this bargaining business and, besides, if I had bartered him down he just wouldn’t have driven as far as I would have liked.
For the uninitiated, the temples of Angkor are ancient Hindu/Buddhist temples, some of which have been lost and damaged by the ravages of time until they were “discovered” by westerners long after they were in use.
OK – enough of the (moderately inaccurate) history lesson. My driver picked me up from my guesthouse at 8.30am and went straight for one of the more popular temples called Angkor Thom which is famous for the carvings of smiling faces on a very large proportion of its surfaces. This temples was one of the many that I saw today as part of what is called the ‘Mini Tour’ of the temples. I won’t bore you with details of every single temple I saw, mostly because I can’t remember some of their names and also because I want to talk about the ones that will remain in my memory most. Most of the time, the pictures say a lot more than could!
The Angkor Wat is the main attraction of the area, a massive expanse of largely intact construction and built somewhere between 1113 and 1150 which makes this temple all the more impressive. The sheer size of the place is astounding and throughout I kept thinking how on Earth something on that scale could have been constructed all those years ago. It was fun to take a walk through the temple and I went back the next morning at dawn to watch sunrise.
Some of the less famous temples turned out to be the ones I loved the most. As I said at the start, many of the temples were completely forgotten and as a result, the jungle just grew in, around and over them, creating some amazingly interesting sights to behold.
On the second day in Siem Reap, I took a boat tour to see the “Floating Villages”, an area in which incredibly poor Cambodians and ethnic Vietnamese live. It was interesting to the see the floating shacks on the river and to take a look at how real Cambodians live but at the same time I was struck by just how poor the country is and did find it quite upsetting. No more so than when a family on a small row-boat came along side me and literally starting begging, tears in their eyes and with their hands reaching out to me, as if for a lifeline. It really makes you take a look at your own life and realise just how easy you have it.
This blog entry could go on forever, as I packed so much into three days but I think it’s best if I leave it here and leave the pictures to do the talking.
Next stop – Kuala Lumpur!