Angkor Day 1

Mon, 26 May 2008 06:00:56 +0000

Bangkok to Siem Reap Index Angkor Day 2

Despite having a reasonably early night last night, I felt really lethargic this morning, getting up around 8:00. I had a look at my Wikitravel pages to see how I'm supposed to tackle Angkor Archaeological Park. Of course, to hear Wikitravel tell it, if I haven't arranged a driver, a guide, and a strict itinerary starting at sunrise, then I may as well not bother at all. So I was on the point of just giving up and seeing something else today, and doing Angkor Wat tomorrow. But as it turned out, I had a great time in Angkor.

I went downstairs to organise some travel to the park. I considered hiring a guide, but decided this would be better tomorrow, when I'd be more organised. So the bloke at the counter suggested I do the big circuit today, which doesn't involve Angkor Wat itself. He got me the same tuk-tuk driver with the long fingernails who picked me up from the airport, and we headed off almost straight away, just pausing for me to slap on some sunscreen.

The first stop was Angkor Thom, which I consistently misheard as "Uncle Tom", causing no end of confusion. The driver kicked me out and told me he'd be waiting in "restaurant 16" when I'd finished, in an hour or two. Angkor Thom is a large temple covered in towers, each with a giant face on all four sides. Of course there were lots of tourists, but after exploring around for a little bit I found plenty of deserted corners and corridors where I could leave them behind. It's a pretty marvellous place, exactly what a ruin should be: plenty of structure still standing, but also plenty collapsed enough to give it a sense of age and authenticity. It wasn't long before I was really enjoying myself, to my surprise.

After deciding that an hour and a bit was enough time to devote to Angkor Thom, I went off to find the driver. It turns out that all the restaurants and shops are indeed numbered and labelled, and he wasn't hard to find. I hadn't felt hungry when we set off, and thought I'd skip breakfast, but I was starving now. So I got some stir fried morning glory with rice, since I hadn't heard of a vegetable called morning glory before. It turns out to be a kind of hollow green stem, like a spring onion. Not bad. It's food, anyway.

Then to do the rest of the big circuit, which helpfully we did in the same order as Wikitravel, so I had some idea what to expect. Preah Khan was another temple, slightly more ruined this time.

Neak Pean used to be an island in a vast rectangular reservoir. There are four interconnected pools (now dry) with a tower in the centre.

Ta Som was another smallish ruined temple.

East Mebon is pretty bare, but apparently is famous for its elephant statues, so I photographed some of those.

And finally Pre Rup, which by this stage was Just Another Temple, but since you can climb up pretty high on this one it does provide some pretty nice views out over the jungle.

Especially for the later temples, there weren't all that many tourists around at all, and I was frequently left alone to explore, look for interesting carvings, and listen to the jungle sounds in the background. It was very hot, of course, but there was frequently a nice breeze to blow away some of the sweat, and plenty of shade inside the temples. And I didn't miss a guide at all. Yeah, I had no idea what the carvings represented, beyond "parade", "battle", "mythological scene" and so on. But that didn't seem to matter. It's very atmospheric and I really enjoyed it.

Just as I was finishing exploring Pre Rup around 2:00, black clouds and thunderstorms seemed to be rolling in, so I thought it would be prudent to find the tuk-tuk driver again. A couple of minutes after we set off, the heavens opened. The poor guy got soaked almost immediately, and had to scramble to set up the plastic screens around me in the back. I felt kinda bad about that: if I'd been twenty minutes quicker he could have stayed dry for the whole day. But it worked out pretty neatly for me. I spent a good five hours exploring the park, and the rain held off precisely until I'd finished my big circuit.

This left me with the afternoon to relax. I first ordered some lunch, which was fish and bitter melon salad. I'd never had bitter melon before. It turns out to be rather unpleasantly bitter, but there wasn't so much that it spoilt the salad. I then organised my ticket to Phnom Penh. I wanted to take the ferry, but apparently it's not running at the moment because the water level is too low. So I booked the bus instead. I had the choice of a cheap $6 one or an $11 "VIP" one, so I went for the latter. The magic word: "air-conditioning".

I went to do a bit of shopping, since tomorrow I plan to make an early start, and I don't want to have to wait for the restaurant to serve me breakfast. There's a market just next door, but it didn't seem like a good place to get food. Maybe some of the fruit, but it looks designed for bulk purchases. So instead I went to a 7/11-looking place across the street. It's very weird. There's not much selection beyond drinks and biscuits. I normally like to get some bread rolls or something, but there was nothing like that here. I could have got some breakfast cereal, but I don't have a bowl. I eneded up just getting a selection of biscuits, and some beer and peanuts to consume in my hotel room tonight.

The total came to $10.48. One of the weird things here is that everyone uses US dollars, but with the small change in Cambodian currency. So I gave the lady behind the counter a 20 and a 1 so that I'd get some sensible change. This completely baffled her - as well as the seven people behind the same counter. I don't know why so many people are necessary to support the purchases of one crazy foreign tourist, but apparently even that isn't enough. She gave me my dollar back, and then spent a minute peering at the 20 like it was the most bizarre creature she'd ever seen in her life. The manager had to come over to provide directions to her, and eventually she mastered the complexities of the computer in front of her and, with great ceremony, issued me with the correct change. I assume everyone present learnt something today.

I probably should explore the rest of Siem Reap on foot like I usually do, but for some reason I'm feeling in the mood to withdraw into the tourism cocoon for a while and let the real world take care of itself. I have a nice hotel and a tuk-tuk driver to shuttle me from one tourist attraction to another, and for once I don't feel the need for anything more exciting than that.

Bangkok to Siem Reap Index Angkor Day 2