Starting Cambodia with a Bang

After a long day on the Mekong we arrived in Phnom Penh after dark and were not able to find an air conditioned room. We did however find a room for only 4$ US (for three people), it became the holder of two titles "the cheapest place we've slept at" and "the stinkiest place we've ever slept at", I guess the two go hand in hand. It didn't matter because we were getting up early the next morning to head to Siam Reap, home of Cambodia's main tourist attraction, the Angkor Temples.

The 6 hour bus ride to Siam Reap from Phnomn Penh was fairly easy (although the air conditioning seemed to become less and less effective), when we arrived at the bus station we were drenched in sweat and greeted by the usual team of tuk-tuk drivers. One in particular caught our eye, he was holding a sign on which was painted the hand-written message: "100 RLS tuk-tuk ride to any hotel HASSLE FREE". The young skinny driver is basically giving a free tuk-tuk ride, so what's the catch? We love a good fight, so we hopped right and asked him to bring us to a guest house we had selected from our guidebook. He suggested a different one, "just to look at" and he would bring us "anywhere else" if we didn't like it. We didn't really care where we went, as long as it was cheap and had air conditioning. The first place he brought us to was a whopping 15$ a night, we told him we needed cheaper, he happily obliged. The next place he brought us to seemed nice, and I went to look at a room while Margaux and Yann waited, exhausted and overheated in our tuk-tuk. It was nice, only 8$ a night, but it didn't have air conditioning. After a tense moment between those who wanted air conditioning and those who didn't, we decided we would stay at the hotel, and the manager agreed to transfer our things to an air conditioned room the next day and we would pay 10$ for that room. Good compromise. Our tuk-tuk driver waited patiently as we worked out the details and settled on the guest house. Meanwhile he chatted Yann up about touring the Ankor Temples the next day. A brilliant scheme, he drives us around "hassle free" and then gets customers for the next day. We were happy to tour with him, his English was decent and he charged 12$ a day (including a 5:30 a.m. pick up to catch Angkor Wat at sunrise).

Getting up at 4:45 a.m. is extremely painful, but we did it, just to get a glimpse of the fames Angkor Wat with the sun rising above it. And a glimpse is about all you can get at Angkor Wat, as we pulled in at about 6 a.m. there were already thousands of tourists entering the massive complex. It's what we expected and even with all the people around, I still had butterflies in my stomach, walking down the giant walkway leading across the moat into the main gates and catching my first view of the spiraling towers of Angkor.
We spent almost two hours exploring Angkor Wat, actually Yann did more exploring than Margaux and I did. Margaux and I did a lot of exploring from a seated position. I am aware that it was only the first temple of the day, but there were many left to go and the Cambodian heat hadn't set in yet. We were thinking ahead, we were conserving our energy.
Note: Yann has climbed to the top of Angkor Wat to snap this photo, Margaux and Emilie generously remained seated to add some character to the shot

The next 8 hours is somewhat of a blur of giant temples, tuk-tuk rides and lots of sun. The temples are incredible, each one of them with its own special feature. My favourite were the huge faces of Bayon Temple. As you approach Bayon it looks like a big pile of stones, but when you enter the temple the stones come together to form giant faces, you can't be anywhere in the temple without 3 or 4 of them in your field of vision. When you step back and look the temple from the road, they disappear. Amazing. Margaux's favourite were the long carved murals at the base of Bayon Temple, telling of the various struggles of the Khmer Empire: Chinese invaders (with Khmer wives), famine, slavery etc. Yann's favourite moment of the day (although he won't admit it) was fighting for a spot to get a good shot of Angkor Wat at sunrise.
In the afternoon we visited Ta Prohm, one of the famous temples being reclaimed by the jungle (also the filming location of Angelina Jolie's Tombraider). Actually I had to take note of all the temples we saw using our guidebook at the end of the day, trying to piece together our visit from the maps of the site. This was our first day of three. We had to convince Yann to skip the sunset over Angkor Wat, he would have two more chances and we had already been at Angkor for almost 10 hours.


Margox said...

Wow, no comments on this one yet? Did the postcard frenzy get exhausted on the first post? OK, I admit, I agree with Jean that the response was hilarious!

2par4 said...

If they're making tourist money on Vietnam War tours, there must be "Killing Fields" tours in Cambodia? Probably not....yet.


Super-Mario said...

quelle belle aventure!

Pendant que nous pelletons de la neige, vous cherchez des hôtels à air conditionné. Sachant que les appareils à air conditionné contribuent au réchauffement de la planète, vous devriez vous abstenir.


Margox said...

In Em and I's defence, we did climb pretty much all the other temples that day, even if we did pass on the Wat.

I'm surprised you didn't mention the painful boat ride from the Vietnamese/Cambodian border and Phnom Penh. Worse than any bus we took... hard seats and no breeze whatsoever, plus we were basically in the bottom of the boat with only small windows. Em and I tried to distract ourselves from the discomfort by furiously trying to solve crossword clues that had evaded us thus far...

Margox said...

Oh, and I like to remember the $4 room as the one that smelled exactly like an outhouse. It also had no sink or hot water, just a tap and a bucket. 4$ WAS very cheap, though.

Margox said...

To answer Paul's question, we did go see the Killing Fields (I imagine that it is to come in the blog, although I don't know if we took too many pictures...) and you can hire a guide there. Apparently some of them are actually ex-Khmer Rouge! (that could be a myth, though)