Upon arrival at quite a nice little airport I was able to quickly get my visa and get through customs without any surprises. Outside the airport I was greeted by my driver who took me on about a 15 minute drive to my hotel in a Romork, a Cambodian Tuk Tuk. The Kazna Hotel is nice but after seeing the plethora of new hotels being built and huge amounts of advertised discounts, I realize I may have been better off arranging accommodations once I arrived here. There are now more hotels in Siem Reap than there are temples in the region, and that is saying an awful lot.
After a quick check in and dropping my bags off in my room I was back downstairs and on my Romork with my “English” speaking guide Nahtan, not Nathan. He seemed like a very nice guy, but between the ridiculous Sanskrit to English translations, which always equated to some 15 syllable name, and the fact that I felt like I was back in high school reliving a history class, my eyes quickly glazed over and I simply acknowledged every one of his pauses with a nod and an uh-huh. It worked out well, him escorting me around the site, me nodding “uh-huh”, until of course he asked me a question that had to do directly with his previous comment. He even gave me a choice between two answers, a 50/50 chance, I still managed to answer incorrectly. He stared at me in a way that I knew he was on to me, I’m pretty sure he just made up the rest of the history from there on out….uh-huh.
The temples were spectacular, and the site was enormous. I fear that there efforts to “restore” the temples is going to ruin some of the allure though. It is removing some of the exotic feel and instead making it feel like it should be at Disney World. More and more restrictions are in place too. Some tourists, as always are destroying it for the rest of us. But for now, most warnings are not enforced as my guide tells me to hop over ropes and disregard “no climbing” signs. The temples have dramatic carvings from floor to ceilings. Most representing the constant battles between good and evil.
Bantray Kdei temple stood out among the rest, with massive trees and there roots, hundreds of years old, growing over the ruins. Luckily I am here in the off season and was able to enjoy and explore this temple on my own for the most part. It is truly other worldly seeing how the tentacles of these trees have grown into every nook of whats left of the temple.
By 3:30pm I was starting to zone from jet lag and we had made it through most of the temples in the park. “How to see Siem Reap in an airport layover”. On our drive back to town I arranged with my guide to pick me up the following morning to take me to the country side and explore Beng Mealea temple and a few other sites about 100km away. I made it to 7pm before I passed out.
In the morning I made it to the roof of my hotel were I enjoyed a potato omelette and Toast. Looking around I can see cell phone towers and cranes across the horizon. It is amazing to me how technology can bring a country so far in such a short time. Siem Reap was nothing only a little over 10 years ago, but the fall of the regime in the mid 90’s, and the realization that there is a lot of money in tourism, has created an absolute boom here.
Although Siem Reap has become westernized very quickly, with theexception of driving rules which is always an exciting experience, the country side is still stuck years in the past. 15 minutes outside of town we are surrounded with rice patties, water buffalo, and mopeds carting any number of things. Entire family of five, Check. Three live pigs, check. One hundred live chickens, hanging from there feet, check. There is no end to the use of there mopeds. The lifestyle of the people is humble, but they seem very happy. Raised up, thatch homes, have numerous naked kids running around playing as the mothers socialize inside.
A bamboo cake, local street-side edible concoction, and 2 hours later we were at Beng Mealea. A temple that has had very little restoration due to the fact that has only been open to the public a little over 1.5 years. This, of course, is due to the fact that it is in the middle of a minefield which was finally cleaned up the end of 2007, I hope they did a good job. The temple was beautiful, thick thick tree cover has allowed moss to overtake everything. It’s dark, it’s dank, it’s amazing.
We hit a few more temples on the way out. The heat and the jet lag was beginning to catch up to me again. This is some major humidity, it doesn’t help that for lunch my guide suggested I have Amok Chicken which is basically a hot curry, Cambodian style, tasty but better kept for eating in air conditioning or cold places in general. This must have been revenge for not paying attention. By the end of lunch, I looked like I just got out of a pool fully clothed. Hair matted, shirt drenched, shorts chaffing. Fun was wearing off as the heat began to overtake me. By 3:30 I was back in my room enjoying my A/C again.
That evening I went to a Cambodian buffet with local music and dancing. It was a great experience, with the exception of the surrounding Japanese tourists. Luckily no one on stage had epilepsy or they would have met there demise. The food was very good and the price was great, most meals have been under $3 this one was a hefty $7 for all you can eat and entertainment. I would say that is a reasonable price.
Here I am now, typing in my bed at 8am of the 17th. I head back to Bangkok tonight. Planning on hitting the old market today and walking around town. If I can manage to get on one of the earlier flights back I may. At this rate I need to add another 3 countries to my trips just to fill the days.