15.03.2008 - 15.03.2008 40 °C
Yep – there really is a hotel called the Hope And Angkor :-)
We tried to arrange our tour of Angkor Watt through our hotel but every time we asked they added on another charge – at 1st it was an extra $10 for an early start. Then they kept adding more extras on. I got fed up in the end and called the tuk tuk driver that dropped us off at our hotel We felt very unhappy about lining the pockets of the hotel desk manager instead of the people who really needed the money. We have discovered that money is everything in Cambodia. Everyone gets a commission for anything you do and if you have enough money you can do anything you want – legal or not. It makes the Cambodians very unhappy who are generally very poor indeed. A typical hotel staffer earns $50 a month. A border guard earns $30 a month – which expains why they milk extra dollars off you at the border!
In the end we paid $25 for our guide and $15 for our tuk tuk and driver (Hotel wanted $58 for the same people). We got a 5am pickup so we could watch the sunrise over Angkor Watt (the main temple of the Angkor complex) which we’ve been recommended to do by several sources. Bleary eyed we set off on our tuk tuk in the pitch black, gently pottering down the road towards the temple, not being able to see a thing. As we walked into the main grounds we had to follow a small group of people who had torches – you really couldn’t see your own feet. We tripped up several times on flag stones and steps here and there. It was a weird and eerie experience – not being able to see anything but knowing Angkor Watt was in front of us somewhere.
There were a few hawkers offering coffee – thank God, so we grabbed two particularly horrific coffees and sat down on the steps of one of the library temples and awaited the “action”. Sure enough as dawn slowly broke the five towers of Angkor Watt started to appear in front of us on a magnificent scale. It was totally awe inspiring – and spookily silent – not too many people bother to get there that early. Ironically, once there was decent light, most of the people who came to see the sunrise assumed that was it and trotted off into the main temple. The sun hadn’t risen into view yet lol! – When the sun did come into view it rose above the towers in a matter of minutes and it was most definitely worth the two hour wait (at 7am is had risen proper) . One we had got over the splendour of the sunrise we headed back to meet our guide at the main gates – and at this time notice the huge numbers of people arriving! They were streaming in non stop and any photo opportunities of the reflection of the towers in the lake were gone.
(it was pitch black, then the sun started rising)
(This is where we watched from, with our coffees)
(Yep! Definately risen now)
(part of the moat on our return to our guide after sunrise)
We hooked up with our guide and jumped in our tuk tuk to be swept off to the 1st temple – we were doing them in an order to avoid the crowds – good plan. We were doing the 17km “small” loop – it’s a massive complex – you can do a 30km loop too.
Our guide was fantastic and we learnt a lot about Hindu Gods, Buddhas, Kings, etc and clambered all over some unbelievably ornate temples – all the while having the temples pretty much to ourselves. As it was still very early in the morning the temperature was hot but OK.
During the next few hours we saw a LOT of temples and climbed some truly terrifying steps up them. As fatigue started to set in I checked the time. It was only 9.50am!! We’d forgotten we had started at 5am lol. The heat is starting to ramp up at this stage and we entered the ruined temple with all the trees growing over and through it – a location used in the Tomb Raider film. It was again spectacular but we’d got our timing wrong and collided with a huge contingency of Koreans.
(Faces everywhere you turned!)
(the 54 towers of faces - faces, faces!)
(the small pool is the King's pool, the big one, which you can see less that half of, was for his concubines. Lucky man)
(to give an idea of height and perspective, you are actually looking at two flights of steps, the ones you can see, and another long flight below, you can't see as it was too steep to photo without me falling down). At the top of this temple I took 3 incense sticks and put them by a Buddha statue and donated a dollar. Kirstin was perplexed as I'd shunned all religeous offerings so far. I explained we needed hep from above to get back down safely.
Koreans are hilarious – they travel almost exclusively in huge groups – we think their entire family. Their dress sense is unusual to say the least! – the best way to describe it is to imagine someone has been fired out of a cannon, passing through a charity shop, Dorothy Perkins, and a fancy dress shop, finally ending up at a silly hat shop. They look like they are off to play golf, but no golf club I know of would admit them. It’s unreal and you cannot mistake them for any other nationality. Being so many of them you can’t get near any photo opportunity spots and you have to spend a lot of time dodging their parasols. Our guide was telling us they use a Korean guide, a Korean driver, eat at Korean restaurants, who’s owners brothers are the guides, then stay in Korean hotels. All their money goes back to Koreans. Thailand banned them from having work permits for exactly this reason. Cambodia do not have the luxury of doing this as any stray dollars coming their way are much needed.
After the “Korean” temple we were absolutely shagged and needed to stop so we got our guide to take us to a quiet restaurant for an 11am early lunch. Once we were done I asked when the Koreans go to lunch (they always go back into Siem Reap to eat at Korean restaurants) and when he told me 12pm – 2pm I immediately suggested that would be the best time to see Angkor Watt itself. “Good idea!” he said. And it was. It was practically empty which was fabulous.
We got a lengthy tour of all the bass-reliefs on the walls of the 1st floor – so lengthy that we were starting to flag a little :-) - the second floor was impressive and we were looking up at the towers atop the 3rd floor with awe – though we both felt that Angkor Watt is best viewed from afar due to it’s scale. We found some of the other “smaller” temples far more interesting close up. Angkor Watt is split into three floors based on the Buddhist belief of hell, life, and heaven. 1st floor is hell, 2nd is life/alive, 3rd floor is heaven. Heaven is currently closed due to maintenance – never thought I’d hear myself say that. Rather ironically we spent most of our time in hell.
(one of many Cobras protecting the main Angkor Watt)
(It's not a small place)
(ahh - it's us!)
(apparently it's a good job being a soldier now. Not so good a while ago...)
By now were were dead beat and “templed-out” so we gave up and returned to the hotel to hit the pool bar. Incidentally – the temperature at Angkor by lunch time was unreal – we found ourselves running from shade to shade. Must have been in the late 30’s – early 40’s.
(This one is for Clare and Rachel - wish you were here - again :-) )
We had a fab day. It was absolutely stunning and fascinating. The best bit was easily seeing the sunrise over the towers. We could have gone back to watch the corresponding sunset but we’ve seen a fair few of them so far this year :-)
Since then we’ve been spuddling round markets and trying out different bars and restaurants – a particular favourite is the Dead Fish bar – which has lots of platforms on five levels, all linked by little stair cases and all served by various arrangements of ropes and pullies guiding drinks trays around the building. Clare and Rachel spent time here and recommended it to us. Great place and they have live crocodiles on the ground floor – fenced in of course – but only a low fence!
We love bars like that. Health and Safety has killed all such places in the Western World which is a crying shame.
We’ve found free Wi-Fi in “pub” street – which is where we are now, supping a cold beer after breakfast. The scene here is lovely. Nothing like Thailand. We have not seen any scruffy idiots or pissed Brits yet – they don’t seem to be here. It’s a much older crowd – but then I guess that’s what you get in a town based soley around temples.
The Cambodian people have so far proven lovely. The tuk tuk touts are not overly pushy, all the bar staff are very polite and helpful and the general atmosphere is relaxed and somewhat “colonial”. The Cambodians are very poor and we see a fair few land mine victims selling books (books you don’t want or need but they want to appear not to be begging) – we’ve found ourselves giving them small change frequently. Their injuries are horrific and for once you really feel the urge to give.
Our guide explained to us that they are all very frustrated at the corruption in Cambodia. Money never ends up in the right hands and they are desperate for more tourists to come (its increasing each year). It doesn’t help when your 1st experience of the country is getting tucked up at the border by the very officials you are meant to trust. We found out that the $30 a month Visa/Border officials work with the chaps who take you to their office and rip you off. The chaps who lead you there pay a fee of $5000 a year for the privilege to higher officials. They then keep some of the money they milk from you, and give some to the border officials. Apparently everything works like this.
Another example is tuk tuk drivers – they get a small payment when they take you to a market, from the market stall holders, regardless of whether you buy anything or not. This results in free tuk tuks to markets - everything you do is linked to money somehow. It’s going to be very interesting when we go deeper into Cambo in a few days time. We plan to work our way overland to the Laos South border which will probably take a few weeks and pass us through some very unspoilt parts of the country. The same will apply in South Laos.
In summary – we love Cambodia so far! It’s so different from Thailand, much less commercial and it really feels like we are travelling “proper” now.
p.s. God bless America – drew out $250 and our account got debited £116 !!!