Saturday, 10 March 2012

Siem Reap & Angkor Wat - 3rd to 10th March.

Our first day in Siem Reap was spent wandering aimlessly, enjoying the city.
SR is full of decent eateries and prices vary vastly depending on whether you eat at the posher restaurants set up for the tourists, or the normal Khmer eateries. We normally settled for something in between.

The second day we moved Guest Houses (GH) from Phrom Roth GH to Mother Home GH. What a great move. We ended up spending 6 nights in total, a refreshing break from constantly being on the move. Amanda quickly unpacked to prove
we were settling for a few days.  The staff were incredible, they simply couldn't do enough for their guests. Each and every time we arrived from an out door excursion, one of the staff members would be there with a fridge chilled menthol face towel, always delivered with a whopping great smile. I've never met such genuinely conscientious hotel staff in all my life. This delightful experience set us back a few pence over £10 each night. The beautiful air conditioned room, which included an 'eat all you want' style breakfast buffet each morning was a joy to sleep and just relax in. Tremendous.
The main reason for dropping into Siem Reap was to visit Angkor.
The vast Angkor Archeological Site, is a series of palace and temple ruins which were rediscovered at the beginning of the 1900's. Lost to nature for over 1,000 years.

Had we purchased one of the many, many books we were offered on a continual basis as we explored the site by bicycle that second day, we'd have known more about each temple, and their years of construction, along with the history behind it. But a combination of intense heat, and feeling hassled by the book sellers, trinket sellers and general pushy traders, ensured we only communicated with them on very necessary basis, ie. food and drink.

Our second morning we rose at 5.30am to hit the road at 6am.
At 6.30am Amanda was finally ready, so we grabbed our bicycles and headed for Angkor. 40 minutes later we were at the first temple. It was very 'nice', a wonderful structure, but it didn't feel ruined enough for me. Fifteen minutes later we were off to the next one. Banteay Kdei (I've lost the brochure so bear with me as far as the names and spellings go) was a beauty, a proper ruin. We looked in awe, picking our way through the passage ways, studying the stone carvings on the walls, appreciating the way the light cut through various windows and cracks. The temples (most I've been led to believe, were were built as shrines to various Gods, I won't go into detail and history, as I'd be inventing most of it from overheard words from various tour guides during our visits. Google Angkor Wat for an indepth history of the the place, it's worth it.) Many of the ruins are in the long process of being 'tastefully restored'. This restoration process is required to ensure that some of the ruins remain upright, but much of the smaller restorations sticks out like a sort thumb. Portland Cement does not really blend well with the colour and erosion that can only be achieved by the aging process. I only have to look at a photograph of myself when I was 20 compared to how I look now, for a fine example of the damage of aging. The ravages of nature eh? Damn sun, wind and rain...... and alcohol.... and bad diet..... and stress.... Ha ha!
Unsightly large, green tarpaulin covers drape over major areas of repair and reconstruction, not very photogenic, but as I've said, the work must be done to preserve these incredible structures.
Some temples (our favourites) have been left unmolested by the 'builders'. Trees that have pushed their way through the stonework and dropped roots over the walls have been left for all to see, providing a feast for the eyes, true fantasy ruins, illustrated best at Ta Phrom. Sadly they have now placed roped platforms for tourists to stand on and pose. Their holiday snapping pal capturing the moment that they stood in front of a 2,000 year old ruin with a tree growing out of the roof. The victory sign being a favourite pose of the Japanese and Chinese tourists, a simple smug smile 'look where I've been' favoured by the westerners. Many people offered to take a picture of me in front of the ruins on my second day (I was alone that day, Amanda decided to laze the day away slumbering in the coolness of our air conditioned room. I decided to cycle and sweat a lot, at one point I do believe the corneas of both eyeballs were perspiring!) ,when other tourists spotted the lonely man shooting images of the ruins. I'd thank them and decline their kind offer, explaining, I'd only take away from such wonderful historic beauty. Who the hell wants to see me grinning in front of Angkor Wat?? Exactly!

'Hey Lhay-dee, you wanna cold drink, you wan' somet'ing to eeeeet Lhay-deee? I got wha-der Lhay-dee.'. 'We have water thank you.'.....'You wan' more whaaa-der Lhay-dee?'..... What ever you have they still want to sell you more. As we stood our bikes up outside a ruin, there'd be a mad rush from the various market vendors. It was as if a starting whistle had been blown for a big race. Dust plumes kicked up, as the women dashed to their cool boxes to grab a selection of their offerings. They would then race directly toward us.... 'Meeester you want foooood.... Lhay-deeee you want wha-der, cold wha-der lhay-deeee?'. No thanks...... But they'd carry on as if they hadn't heard a thing.
It's hard to say 'no thank you' all day long, but we managed, though it does become tiresome.
At one point, whilst a woman in hot pursuit of Amanda, doggedly trying to sell her a book, refusing to take Amanda's polite declines for her wares, and simply continuing to walk along right next to her for what seemed like five minutes, I was forced to turn the tables.

How would they like not being listened to.
'Would you like to buy my map?' I asked.
'No I don't want your map....'
'Of course you want this map'
'No I have a map.'
'Show me your map'
'I have one, I don't want one.'
'You may well have a map, don't have this map, this map is better.'
' I don't want your map, I have one.'
'You could buy this map from me to give to your friend.'
'No, I don't want your map'.
'Of course you do, it's a great map.'............ This would have carried on for much longer had Amanda not managed to get on to her bicycle, then told me stop playing and to come on. I reckon I'd have convinced her to buy the map in the end..... That's what they must think! Ha ha!

That day we cycled a small 12km circular route, spending an hour or so at the more impressive ruins. We Chose to finish the day at the famed Angkor Wat, the big one, the beast! We'd not seen it yet, but we'd seen a thousand paintings and pictures of it in Siem Reap.
We weren't disappointed it lived up to it's big reputation. It was incredible. A behemoth of historic engineering. A true beauty. It was that big we lost one another after half an hour of exploring, discovering one another in a glorious reunion 45 minutes later.
By the time we left the site at 5.30pm we were totally shattered, and we still had a half hour cycle back to Siem Reap. Tough day.

The tragically hot weather did not make exploring the site as pleasurable as it would have been in cooler climes, but it was incredible nonetheless. It is a photographers delight. Especially if you had the freedom of entry to explore whenever you chose. Sunsets, sunrises and moody skies are what is required to make the most of Angkor. We mainly had clear, blue skies, intensely bright sunshine and melting temperatures.... Not the best. But hopefully you will still enjoy a few of our favourite images. I had good intentions of restricting myself to about thirty or forty images over the days we visited, but I ended up taking something ridiculous like 300!!! I wasn't just snapping willy nilly either, like so many others, God knows how many photographs some folks manage, even in just one day.

Our final day (Day 3 for me, day 2 for Amanda) we chose to pay for a Tuk Tuk driver. For $10 he picked us up at 5.30am, the hotel kindly put together a boxed breakfast consisting of half a mango and a salad sandwich each. We decided to check two or three of the remaining temples we'd not had time to see whilst cycling. Ross, the TukTuk driver took us where ever we wanted until 12pm. As per the hoards (Thousands) of tourists that head to Angkor Wat (the main temple) to watch the sun rise, Ross assumed we were headed there too.

If the cloud is sparse you can be treated to the sun poking it's head up from behind Angkor Wat itself. Tourists don't tend to look at the sky very much, and I very much doubt more than 5% of them have ever bothered rising at 5am to appreciate a sunset in their own country, but as the sunrise at Angkor Wat is one of the things 'all tourists' should do, they do it. They know it's expected of them. What they forget to check is the amount of cloud hanging in the sky pre dawn. They don't realise all the low cloud in the sky will impede such power as that held by the sun. They believe their sunrise will still look phenomenal. Well as we headed in the direction of Angkor Wat, I'd already decided that we heading to Bayon instead. The second largest of the temples. We hadn't yet seen it, and we'd have it all to ourselves, whilst the droves at Angkor Wat waited in deluded anticipation for a sunrise spectacle that was never going to be. I have to say it, I made a great decision. We had Bayon all to ourselves, and by the time the sun had risen high enough for it to be visible, up past all the low lying, thick clouds, it was too bright to even look at. By the time the the disappointed tour groups jumped back into their coaches and Tuk Tuks to head to Bayon, we'd be long gone, on to the next ruin. Perfect!

Even on the first day we decided in advance, to do the small Angkor loop backwards, thus avoiding the huge crowds. It worked a treat.
By mid morning Amanda had seen all she wanted, as I pointed out a temple ruin I'd visited on my own the day before, stating how great it was, she simply said 'tell him to keep going, I can see it from here'. Ha ha! This is commonly known as being 'Templed Out' in South East Asia. Amanda was well and truly templed out. As was I.
The Angkor Archeological Site is truly incredible, the most incredible historic place I have ever been in fact, and I've been to at least three. Seriously though, it is awesome.
Amanda loved to spend her time dreaming about how the people lived then, what went on in and around the temples two thousand years ago, how was life. Whilst I pondered how on earth they managed to build the things in the first instance. Wow!

On our second day Bas & Nora caught up with us from Kratie, they stayed in the same guesthouse, then three days later moved on to plusher accommodation for Nora's birthday the day before yesterday.
We met with Bas & Nora the afternoon of her birthday, at the poolside of their posh boutique accommodation. We gorged on dark chocolate, truffle birthday cake, washed down with crisp, chilled champagne! Get in! Thanks guys, a lovely afternoon.
Bas and Nora moved back in to the Mother Home GH at lunch time today, as we were moving out.
Where are we off to they asked..... We don't know yet was the answer, as we perused the internet in the lobby.

A few days ago we planned on heading to Malaysia, but due to time constraints, costs and logistics, with the 4 week Thai Massage Course in April we were confused. Last night Amanda had remembered the main reasons for this adventure. It was to follow a journey of healing, a journey of meditation as well as adventure. She had originally wanted to take part in a 7 to 10 day Silent Retreat/Meditation. I fancied trying this out too, wondering whether I'd come out the otherside a more rounded individual. This had all been forgotten, fallen by the wayside, lost in a blur of buses, guest houses and wooden bungalows. With time whizzing by this was going to be tricky. We spent last night (and will email tonight again) contacting various Temples and Meditation Centres. They are all in Thailand, so even though we are currently on a five hour bus ride to Phnom Penh (Cambodia's Capital), it looks as though we will be heading back to Thailand very shortly. That is if the places we've emailed come back to us. We've narrowed down our selection. Some only offering visits of three weeks or more initially, and a couple stating men intending to spend more than three days would have to shave their heads and faces. The thought of my face on a peanut is not in the least appealing to Amanda, nor is it me, so we ruled them out.

Amanda Shelters From Midday Sun
Returning to Thailand in the next few days, does bring with it Visa problems. If we decide to fly in, we would get automatic 30 day tourist visas (flights are expensive). If we just cross a land border we'd only get 'vusa exemptions' for 15 days. This would mean having to carry out at least two 'visa runs'. Before we return in May. A 'visa run' comprises of a return bus journey to a bordering country, Myamar (formerly Burma) or Laos normally. Hopping into the country, then about turning back into Thailand at the border immigration point. Each time we have to carry this out, the overall cost for us both would be in the region of £30, plus the loss of an entire day through travelling. We'll hit the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh on Monday to see what they can offer. Hopefully they'll make it easy for us, though some how I doubt it.

The Perfect Storm: The Past Three Days.....
This is created within Amanda when extremes of climate, such as extremely hot, humid weather coincides with her four weekly cycle. Batten down the hatches my friend (that was the advice to myself). Throw in a bicycle and an unfortunate sense of direction and there you have it. The Perfect Emotional Storm. You do not want to be in close proximity.
As her husband, I have a duty of marriage, I must stand by my wife whatever. I have built up a certain resilience to this four weekly phenomenon of incomprehensible insanity. But due to the enhancing effects caused by the current climate (possibly El Nino or low resonance vibrations caused by the moderate earthquake experienced in the Phillipines a few days ago), I was almost forced in to hiding. Even when I tried avoiding any form of communication, noise or facial expression that may cause disagreement or potential conflict she would somehow create one. The dark nimbo cumulus clouds which remained threatening, flashing out bolts of lightening and deafening claps of verbal thunderous explosions hovered constantly over the top of her still beautiful head. Now thriving from the negative energy created by contorted facial expressions and raised voices she needed to feed on conflict. Something akin to emotional vampirism! Amanda sucked in the negative energy with gusto, creating her very own microclimate of emotion. It was frightening. One minute fine, seconds later, gone....... These tropical seas can suffer terrible storms on a monthly basis. Luckily the vessel I travel in is more than capable of coping with such conditions, though the deck does suffer some pretty hefty (verbal) waves crashing down from time to time! Ha ha!
Today she is a little calmer, though a little fraught and anxious due to the logistical complexity of our next few weeks. Nora gave her a cuddle and half a packet of Menthos (chewy sweets) to send her on her way today. Any acts of generousity and kindness seem to soothe her tender emotions. A day or two and the seas will have settled.

So here we are headed to Phnom Penh..... Why? I'm not too sure. There is an airport there, so maybe that's why. We are heading further away from the Thai border I know that..... No doubt things will pan out. They usually do.

Hope all is well with everyone following our travels.
Would love to hear from you.


Mark & Amanda.

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