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Siem Reap - Angkor What????????

Kambodja (Siem Reap) 2006-09-02

Chaos!! To be dropped off at the bus station in Siem Reap after a calm bus journey from Phnom Penh is chaotic. Especially as it low season and there are hundreds of tuk tuk drivers who wants you to take his tuk tuk. The drivers are trying to take our luggage; they are grabbing our arms and there are screaming louder and louder. Fortunately we see a “white man” among these screaming guys and he points one tuk tuk driver standing behind the others. He seems to be very relaxed and his is just smiling and eventually he takes us to the hotel. 10 minutes it takes and we pay 15 cents!

THE tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap - Ratana. Click to enlarge.Of course he knows he looses money on this trip as the big money is to be tuk tuk driver for the next day and we really likes this guy so we agree to have him the next day - $10 for a full day. We also contact a guide on the phone. We received a recommendation from the staff at Billabong hotel down in Phnom Penh and we agree a rough 3 day plan with him where we go by ourselves the first day and go together with him the last two days. We rush down the street in the pouring rain and have some local food before we head back to the hotel where we sleep very quickly.

Our driver Ratana (contact him via mail - he is great) takes up to the temple area and we realize quickly that you need a car or tuk tuk to get to the temples and between them. The distances are big and some of the temples are also very big. If you have been to Angkor Wat or the other big temples you know what we are talking about. Our first stop is the mighty Angkor Wat – the largest religious monument in the world.

Regarded as the supreme masterpiece of Khmer architecture, it is a huge pyramid temple built by Suryavarman II between 1113 and 1150. It is surrounded by a moat 180 meter wide and about 7 kilometer long. The mass of bas-relief carving is of the highest quality and the most beautifully executed in Angkor. On this visit we skip the relief carvings and head up the very, very steep stairs as high as you can come to get an overview of the temple. Going up is easy but going down is not easy!

The fascinating faces at Baylon. Click to enlarge.We return back to Ratana and he then takes us to Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by king Jayavarman VII. In the center of the city is the temple Bayon. Its most distinctive feature is the multitude of smiling faces on the towers which rise up to its central peak. It also possesses two sets of bas-reliefs, which depict an unusual combination of mythological, historical and mundane events.

It’s a very special feeling having all these faces looking at you and when we leave Bayon we smile back to the faces and head for Baphuon and Terrace of the Elephants. Ratana takes us to Khmer restaurant where he introduces us to some Cambodian specialties such as “Cambodian cheese”. It’s some kind of fish paste and Eva likes it very much.

After lunch we go to Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei and Prasat Kravan before we tell Ratana we have seen enough of temples for today! Tomorrow we will take a similar tour with our guide but in much slower tempo and look at the details instead of getting the overview. Around all the temples we are attacked by vendors of water, books, t-shirts and handicraft. Almost all vendors are between 6 and 14 years old – there are also a lot of handicapped people selling or begging for money – many of them victims for the land mines in Cambodia.

We finish this tour with a visit to The Landmine Museum and after seeing all these mine victims in Cambodia we though it would be good to end our day. As you noticed we thought it was so interesting so we decided to make a separate story about it.

We have probably driven 40-50 kilometer this day so of course you need a car or tuk tuk to get around in the temple area. Ratana drops us a few hundred meters from the hotel at Seeing Hands massage (blind people) so we both have an hour of excellent massage.

Next day at 8 o’clock Ratana and our guide Rathanak is waiting for us outside the hotel. Rathanak tells about the history of Seam Reap and the Khmer history on our way to the temples so when we arrive at the South Gate of Angkor Thom for our first stop we have had a 30 minutes history lessons. He is very informative and when we enter Bayon we spend most of the time looking at the very detailed bas-reliefs. The outer gallery features a series of historical and everyday scenes on its outer wall and Rathanak shows us fascinating details on them. The $20 investment to have a guide for a full day is absolutely worth it!!

We continue to Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King before we make a lunch stop outside Angkor Wat where we buy lunch for our two R:s – highly appreciated.

Angkor Wat. Click to enlargeThe afternoon we spend at Angkor Wat. Also here we look at the splendid bas reliefs about the Khmer history and some of the famous Hindu religious stories with the excellent carvings and our guide points out details and tells us stories about them. Fascinating!! This takes a couple of hours so once a gain we are pretty exhausted when we get back to Ratana and the tuk tuk.

When we are back at the hotel we make an appointment with Ratana at 6.30PM so he can take us to the restaurant on the other side of the street 20 meter from the our hotel!!!?? Why? Well, we know that if he takes us there he will get food for free at the restaurant but first he takes us downtown to a ATM and on our way back he shows us a good small local restaurant (for tomorrow) and we have time for a beer on a pub before we head for the restaurant. We have a buffet dinner and watch a traditional Cambodian dance show before we head for bed (not that far to walk!!!)

Our last day in Siem Reap we started with a drive to Tonle Sap Lake where we jump on a boat. Tonle Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. Approx one meter deep in dry season but during the monsoon season, the Tonle Sap River which connects the lake with the Mekong River reverses its flow. Water is pushed up from the Mekong into the lake, increasing its area very, very much. We head out to see the floating villages and some fishing farms. After a couple of hours we head back to the tuk tuk and head for the temples again.

Yes, it is here they filmed Thomb Rider. Click to enlarge.Our first visit is Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor's most popular temples to visit. It’s really special and those of you have seen the movie Lara Croft - Tomb Rider will recognize some of the scenes from the movie!! We also visit Pre Rup, Banteay Kdei, Prasat Kravan and end up at Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset together with thousands of Japanese, Korean and Chinese tourists!!

In the evening we head for the restaurant Ratana has recommended. Eva has a bad stomach and stays at the hotel so Anders and Ratana enjoys some nice local Khmer food together and after the dinner he wants to go to the hotel to say goodbye to Eva. We say bye-bye to him and Anders gives him his watch as a present. Hope to see you some day Ratana!!

Next morning we have a very tuff bus journey to the Thai border.

Kisses from EvAnders, Your professional Tourists