Siem Reap was fun, Angkor Wat is of course amazing. It was exhausting though! Three days ago we went in the afternoon; we hired a tour guide who was great. He spoke very good English and was a history teacher before which meant he really knew his stuff. It was a lot of information to take in, but it was nice having someone tell you the significance of all the different temples instead of wondering around by ourselves aimlessly without having an idea of what these building really were/why they were built etc. We watched the sunset sitting on top of one of the temples which was pretty cool although unfortunately the sky was pretty cloudy so the sunset wasn’t as dramatic as it could have been. Then next day we got up and went back again but this time we got there for sunrise, which again wasn’t as good as it could have been because the sky wasn’t clear, but it was still quite a cool experience to walk through some ancient temples when it was still pitch black outside and see them light up in the morning. We went around the main temples that we hadn’t seen the day before plus a few smaller ones on our second day. One of the temples was used in the filming of Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie so that was the most touristy overdone of the temples although next to Angkor Wat (the big ‘main’ building) it was by far my favourite. These enormous trees have grown throughout the temple and taken over so it is a really cool site to see – these ancient sandstone walls then broken down by the huge dramatic trees with enormous root systems. A few hours after sunrise we had started to see lightening in the sky and eventually it did start to POUR with rain. We decided to press on though and our tour guide had an umbrella so he didn’t mind. We got completely soaked but it was actually great fun because the rain cleared out a lot of the other tourists of course, and for some reason seeing these temples in the jungle with this big rainstorm going on gave it a really dramatic atmosphere that was pretty cool to see.
There was a large Japanese tour group at the Tomb Raider temple (or Tha Prom if you want to call it by it’s actual name) at the same time as us with their umbrellas and everything. The open area by the entrance had turned into a shallow mud pool except for just along the sides so they were all waiting to go along single file to get in. After about 30 seconds of that we decided we were all soaked and dirty already so we just took of our sandals and walked straight through the mud to get in which worked out well because we were able to take some photos before all the Japanese filed in!
By noon we were already exhausted. We lasted for another hour or so before calling it a day and going back for some much needed sleep.
On our third day we took a tour of the floating villages which was pretty interesting. We hired a boat with a guide and we slowly made our way down the river to the Tonle Sap lake which is the biggest lake in Southeast Asia and is one of the major sources of income for Cambodia as well as a major source for their diet. The lake is full of a huge variety of fish that make up most of their diet around here. Unfortunately we’re here during dry season we the river and the lake were both at their lowest levels, although the lake was still so big that I couldn’t see the other side over the horizon. The villagers move their ‘houses’ every year, living on the lake during the dry season, and living further down the river during wet season because the lake water gets to rough with all the rain and storms.
It was very strange seeing things like a floating Catholic church (one day I’ll manage to get all these photos up, but for now just picture a Cathedral on water…not because that’s what it looked like, but because that’s a funny image 🙂 ) and a floating school. The first school building we passed had the enclosed playground on the roof, the second school had a second floating platform that was an enclosed basketball court/playground. Kids just ran around the boats and the younger ones splashed around in the river.
We also saw floating ducks (ok, ducks float everywhere, but they were farm animal ducks being kept in a floating cage), floating pigs and floating chickens.
We visited a floating restaurant for lunch that also had a crocodile farm, a fish farm and a snake cage. We also went and visited one of the floating schools although I have my doubts about how much of a school it really was. It was a Saturday after all, and the building seem to lack any obvious education material. We started to get the notion that these children just sat in this building all day for the tourists waiting to be given candy, money and things like notebooks that they can sell back for money all of which they got while we were there. It was an interesting thing to see though overall.
Tomorrow is Phnom Penh. Not sure exactly what the plan is although I think the main thing to see is the S-21 Museum and the killing fields which I’m sure will cheer me right up….
It is pretty strange being in a country with such a recent gruesome history. I was in a pharmacy yesterday being served by a woman who looked to be at least in her 60s or so which I noticed because there are very few old people here – probably a compounded effect of the Khmer Rouge history plus the simple fact that life expectancy is shorter here, but trying to imagine the things she had gone through was pretty hard. You can still feel the history around you; more than once I’ve walked past people, often beggars, with limbs missing; a few times we’ve seen street bands made up of land mine victims who are playing traditional Cambodian music to try to make money instead of just begging. Every night when we walk home from going out to dinner or a bar we’re accosted by a dozen children who literally cling on to our clothes or arms trying to get us to buy them food.
Despite all that I’ve actually been really impressed with the Cambodian people in general. They speak great English – better than in Thailand and Laos, and they have a great sense of humour. All of our hostel staff, restaurant/bar servers, guides, etc have been so friendly and they really know how to have a good laugh.