Angkor Day 2

Mon, 26 May 2008 06:00:58 +0000

Angkor Day 1 Index Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

I'd arranged to make an early start this morning, leaving at 7:00. Somehow, I got up pointlessly early at 5:30. So I gently got myself together. I ate a few biscuits for breakfast, but felt that I didn't need any more than that. This, I later realised, was a bad sign.

The guide met me at the hotel along with the tuk-tuk driver. It feels very very silly to employ two people to support just one person's tourism, but Wikitravel told me I needed them, so who am I to argue. It costs $20 a day for the tuk-tuk driver and $25 a day for the guide, and it seems to me that Cambodia could do with the hard currency, so I wasn't in the mood to be stingy.

I chatted aimlessly to the guide through the journey to the park, mainly to avoid any uncomfortable silence. This is where I learned that this is actually the wet season here, which explains why yesterday afternoon got washed out. But apparently the rain really does only happen in the afternoon, so it shouldn't pose any problem for me. And it also explains why there are relatively few tourists about the place. If I could have chosen a time to visit, this is probably exactly what I would have gone for.

The first stop was Angkor Wat itself. It was actually quite good to have the guide there, because he was able to explain some of the Hindu mythology in the bas reliefs. He took particular relish in describing all of the tortures in the "hell" part of the "heaven and hell" carvings. I'm sure the kids love it. I was more interested in the various scripts used for the inscriptions, which go from sanscrit to several variants of khmer to thai.

He also explained what's behind some of the damage done to the place. There are quite a few bullet holes from the civil war. There are also small rectangles of carvings that have been neatly chiselled out at random places, apparently from suckers who believed rumours that there are jewels hidden underneath. I can totally imagine how someone would fall for that. It's a damn shame though. The guide had somewhat harsher words for these people, which I thought was a little unfair.

Despite the guide being helpful, there's no doubt that guides are annoying, constantly telling me where I'm supposed to stand to take the exact same photo that everyone else takes. Like this one of the towers reflected in the water, for example:

And of course he had his own itinerary in mind, so when I wandered left he'd herd me right. I knew this perfectly well before I started, and I'm prepared to put up with it for a day to get some data to chew on, but there's no doubt that yesterday was more enjoyable than today.

After Angkor Wat itself we walked around the little circuit. Unlike yesterday, we didn't do things in strict Wikitravel order, so I've already forgotten which site is which. There was a huge temple that was left unfinished because it was struck by lightning, interpreted as a bad omen. Seems like a lot of effort to throw away.

Then there was a very quiet chimney-like temple apparently used for cremations.

We went to a couple of temples where the strangler figs have been left in place, including one which is apparently famous for being where Tomb Raider was filmed. I haven't yet seen that movie, so that didn't especially impress me. But it certainly is beautiful to see the trees intertwined with the stones.

There was the elephant terrace and the terrace of the leper king and all the famous landmarks. Quite enjoyable, but hot and sweaty work, and always being dragged around by the guide.

He did loosen up a bit as the tour progressed, revealing that he used to be a monk, that he's an orphan with a brother and sister, and complaining about the rising prices of everything in Cambodia. There's an awful lot in Cambodia to feel guilty about. All through the park there are people who've had various limbs blown off by landmines, who attempt to sell you guidebooks and postcards. There are also lots and lots of little children doing much the same thing. Some of them are obviously under the direction of a parent, who know damn well how much the tourists love a little kid. But the guide explained to me that it's normal here for children to spend half the day in school and the other half selling stuff to pay for their books and so on. It's a complex economy for a foreigner like me to navigate, and my general policy is to stick to official channels as far as possible. So those kids are pretty much going to be hoping that something trickles down out of my hotel bill. I hope so too.

At around 12:30 I decided to call it a day, and not to have lunch in the park. In fact I wasn't feeling very healthy, and by the time I got back to the hotel for a shower, it was clear that I'm suffering from another round of stomach trouble. No idea what caused it, it's been coming on for a couple of days now. But I think it might be prudent to eat only well-cooked food from sensible-looking restaurants for a while. Luckily this time I have a ready supply of Imodium, and I don't seem to be suffering as much as last time.

But the net result was that I decided not to bother doing any more exploring of Siem Reap, but instead spend my time hanging around my hotel room. In fact I had a really good nap, and spent some time fighting with the wifi that's available here. Tomorrow the bus will pick me up directly from the hotel, so there's no need to be exposed to real life Cambodia at all. In many ways I feel like the worst kind of tourist right now, shut up in my gleaming hotel room after a day of being ferried around by two people employed just to look after me, and with all my ongoing travel needs organised for me for just a few dollars. Meanwhile, somewhere out there, there's the real world of poverty and deprivation that the majority of the world is forced to suffer, which I'm studiously ignoring. But when I'm sick, I'm prepared to excuse myself an awful lot. We Westerners are pretty fragile people, really.

Angkor Day 1 Index Siem Reap to Phnom Penh