days 3&4: Siem Reap

From KL, we took leave for Siem Reap, Cambodia.

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We rented 2 rooms at Empress Angkor hotel which gave good value for money. The hotel has just recently opened so the facilities are still new. The service was excellent! They provided airport pick-up service for free. Upon arrival, the staff made us feel comfortable. The rooms were clean and spacious. It was not 5-star quality but you get more than what you pay for. We reserved it through agoda and had 2 connecting rooms with breakfast for 4 people for just 100$. The breakfast spread was good. Again, more than what you would expect from a 50$-room-a-night hotel.

We hired Mr. Park to be our tour guide in our 2-day stay in SR. M was the designated leader for this part of the trip. She looked for places of interest as well as for guide and transpo. She asked for quotation from several guides she found through google and Mr. Park quoted the best price (here’s his website for reference: angkor tours). Included in the quoted price were his services as guide for the angkor temple tours and floating village, van rental for the 1.5 days (with driver), and transpo services to the poipet border.

Our first day was spent exploring the Angkor Temples. From this experience we’ve learned that summer is not an excellent time to go temple-hopping in Cambodia. the heat was almost unbearable as we walked along the ruins. But despite that, the beauty of all those ancient ruins never escaped me. It was breathtaking to see such structures built from thousands of years ago. Mr. Park was very enthusiastic in sharing the history of the place with us. I could not help but compare these temples with the ones we saw in kyoto and nikko. These ones were huge and overwhelming while temples in Japan seemed light and intricate. The temples here are closer, in terms of structure and material, to temples in India which also uses rocks as the main material. Japan’s on the other hand were mostly made of wood much like the temples in China.

By lunch time, we were all frazzled and in need of a good break. We asked Mr. Park to bring us to a restaurant frequented by locals. The restaurant, as it turned out, was a stall along the road with shoddy roof and a few tables and chairs. There were no walls and the place was wide open to the dirt road. There were also stray dogs in the area and they freaked the hell out of me. I couldn’t concentrate on eating, afraid that a dog might just jump on me or something. (yes, i have a severe case of cynophobia). Flies swarmed the area so we had to keep swatting to avoid them getting in contact with our food. The food, however, was fantastic. Nothing fancy but still a treat. Maybe it appealed to my southeast asian tongue. I particularly liked the grilled fish dipped in a concoction of fish sauce, calamansi(?), and cayenne pepper. The food reminded me of road trips with my family when I was little. It was also extremely cheap based on Tokyo standards. But I wouldn’t say it was downright cheap as I could get the same kind of food for less in the Phils.

Saving the best for last, after lunch we set off for the angkor complex which was a large expanse surrounded by water. The engineering of the whole complex was astounding! We spent the whole afternoon going around the place, looking at carvings on walls and meandering along halls and small passageways. M and I weren’t able to go up one of the temples because we were in shorts and they required us to cover ourselves. We would’ve rented a sari but the ladies renting the saris have gone AWOL. So we took a seat in one of the rocks there and wait for Mr. Park and the boys.

Having our fill of the temples for the day, we decided to go back to the hotel early so we can go for a swim before dinner. We were just on our way out of the complex when the sky turned dark. Upon reaching the gate, we were greeted by a sudden gush of wind that brought heaps of dirt/sand flying and we found ourselves swimming in a cloud of dust.

It was a surreal moment. We were like characters in a disaster movie and the climax was fast approaching. But worry not, it didn’t get worse from there and we all lived to tell the tale. When the cloud has cleared, we hurried our way to our ride as we didn’t want to get caught in traffic when it rains. On our way back, strong winds were sending objects flying around. One time, our car was hit by a flying plastic container. Driving in these conditions could be courting danger. Good thing our driver seemed used to this kind of weather.

Before going back to the hotel, we went to buy some beer. There were very few stores that sell liquor in the area and not much choice for drinks. We bought a few cans of beer and some local snacks. By the time we got to the hotel, rain was already pouring hard so the pool was closed. Since going out in such bad weather was not the adventure we’re willing to take, we decided to call it a day and just stay inside our hotel room. We ordered room service for dinner but then, since it’s the 4 of us there, dinner turned into a night of drinking. By the time we finished, our bill could already rival a night in Tokyo. The food was awesome though a bit pricey for Cambodia. It would have been wiser to stock up on beer since the drinks were so expensive it was highway robbery!

The next day, we took off early to take a balloon ride and witness the sun rise with the view of Angkor wat in the background. The balloon was a bit far from the temples. Since I was too lazy to bring an extra zoom lens, I had to make do with my kit lens. This didn’t result to pretty pictures but we were left with pretty good memories of the breathtaking view. After the balloon ride, we went back to the hotel for a sumptuous breakfast. The buffet spread was delectable and after an hour of devouring whatever caught our fancy from the table, we were all well-stocked for the long day ahead.

A 2-hour bumpy car ride brought us to the Ton Le Sap lake where we took a boat to visit the floating village. Wearing white was a bad idea as E learned because there were occasional splashes of muddy water as we pass by other boats. Mr. Park did not join us for the ride but the boat ride included a guide to tell us about the village. Our guide,whose name i forgot, is a young man (probably younger than us) who used to live there. He sounded very passionate about his people as he talked to us about the hard life in the village. At first, I was moved by the passion and dedication he has for the people in the village (as I gathered from the way he talks about life there). That is, until we got lead to a store in the middle of the village, and were ‘asked’ to donate some food for the children in the floating school. It felt like having our backs against the wall- we were in the middle of freaking nowhere surrounded by water! I have no problem with giving especially to children. In fact, I can be very passionate about this and I consider it my goal to live a life centered on helping people. But something about the way we were asked to help rubbed me the wrong way. I felt like we were trapped into donating. We were in the middle of a huge lake and saying no would spell an uber awkward boatride after. What annoyed me even more is that everything the guide said felt like a ploy to build up the moment when he asked us to donate. I don’t like being manipulated- even if it is being manipulated to do good. And that is exactly how i felt then.

After the tour, we went back to the hotel to get our things. The driver picked us up from the hotel and we were off to a 4-hour uneventful drive for the poipet border.

At the border, a guy approached us offering a ride to Aranyapathet. Having read about all the con stories from travel sites, we decided to just ignore the guy. But he proved to be determined as he trailed us until after we crossed the border. He was very insistent that we take his cab to the bus station. But we remained firm and ignored him relentlessly. After finally shaking him off, we decided to look for a tuk-tuk that would take us to the station for Bangkok-bound buses. Looking for tuk-tuk though was a big challenge. After minutes of walking around and asking locals, we finally got a ride. We caught the bus to Bangkok and headed off to our next adventure.

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