11 11 2012

After a short stopover and a very nice evening with some friends and delicious food in Singapore, the next destination was Siem Reap in Cambodia. Siem Reap itself is a bit touristy, with night markets where one gets blind due to the blinking lights and numerous shops selling the same stuff one doesn’t need 🙂 they even sell T-Shirts with prints like „No Tuk-Tuki“ and „Don’t Need Anything“ which would also have been helpful in India… The weirdest area in Siem Reap is around a street called „Pub Street“, where millions of tourists sit in numerous bars playing all different music so that it is impossible to chat or not get crazy after 10 minutes. I didn’t expected to see something like that, but with a monument like the Angkor Wat temples only a few kilometers away I think one cannot expect a rural and still unchanged area. Another fact that is disturbing is, that the preferred currency is not the local Riel but the American Dollar. This destroys a big part of the experience of beinig in a foreign country and makes haggling impossible and therefore everything more expensive. The sentence you hear on every corner, even in the area around the temples of Angkor Wat, is „One dollar…“, announcing the price of almost everything… A whole pinapple, fresh and nicely cut: „One dollar!“… a small mango: „One dollar!“… a coke: „One dollar!“… Even most of the restaurants provide the prices in Dollar although there is a law that these must be given in Riel and the ATMs provide only dollars… hopefully Cambodia is able to ban the dollar at some point in the future!

Exploring Angkor Wat on bikes.

Exploring Angkor Wat on bikes.

On the next morning we rented bikes („One dollar!“… but at least, this was good value!) and cycled the 6km to the entrance of the Angkor Wat Park. The admission is exorbitantly overpriced with 20$ per day or 40$ for a 3-day-ticket. For the first day we planned to see the eastern side of the park and it turned out, that, due to the distances, it is impossible to see everything on one day. We cycled the whole day for 8 hours and almost 40km and just managed to see 4-5 temples in detail. Right now, reconstruction work and excarvations are done at many temples. If you are and archeologist there are a lot of cooperations between the Cambodians and many other countries and this might be a cool workplace 🙂

Bateay Kdei temple.

Banteay Kdei temple.

Most of the temples are impressive and simply breathtaking. It is unimaginable how the ancient people were able to build up such complex and huge temples, everyone with beautiful carvings and more a piece of art than a building. Often one ends up marvelling in front of any of these temples. The different temple complexes are spread over a wide area of several kilometers in length and width. Often one has to drive or cycle a few kilometers to get to the next complex. Walking through the park is almost impossible if you want to see more than 1 or 2 temples a day.

The most impressive temples are Bayon, Ta Phrom and the well known Angkor Wat. If you have only one day try to see at least these ones!

The amazing temple of Ta Phrom - all the documentaries of earth without humas were probably filmed here.

The amazing temple of Ta Phrom – all the documentaries of earth without humas were probably filmed here.

The Ta Phrom temple area itself is so big that one could spend half a day only at this site. Some of the temple’s structures and buildings have collapsed and were taken back by nature over time. This adds to the charme of the complex because everywhere huge trees are growing out of walls and even on top of some buildings.

Bayon - maybe the facebook of the early days :-)

Bayon – maybe the facebook of the early days 🙂

The features of the Bayon temple are also well known and became a synonyme for the park almost as known as Ankor Wat itself. It is one impressively huge temple with multiple levels and numerous little towers with faces carved into the stone blocks. In total there are 216 faces smiling at you from every direction.

Angkor Wat complex.

Angkor Wat complex.

The Angkor Wat temple itself is surrounded by an artifical water pond and a wall right behind it. Inside the wall is a immense garden and in the back the black and grey Angkor Wat with its iconic 3 (5 in total) visible towers. One can walk around inside the building, watching the beautiful carvings on lamost every wall and piece of stone, and even go to the top level of the temple with nice views of the surrounding. Make sure to wear cloths that, at least, cover your shoulders and everything down to the knees (maybe not a dress). They are very strict if you want to climb the top level of Angkor Wat and Baphuon temple. It might be because of religious matters but in my opinion it could be also because of the very steep steps and to avoid that people can look under the women’s dresses.

After two days of exploring the temple park by bike, which is highly recommended not only because it is so much cheaper than a Tuk-Tuk but also the better experience to get a feel for the size and the distances, we tool a mini bus to Phnom Phen the next morning. The „highway“ connecting Siem Reap and Phnom Phen is less than a small road connecting villages in Europe. But still, everyone is driving as if on a highway with 3 lanes… in each direction 🙂 our driver was the most reckless this day and so we managed to get to Phnom Phen in less than 5 hours (considering the state of the road this was almost the speed of light) with not a single car that was able to overtake us…

In Phnom Phen we only had 1 1/2 days so we saw the temples and riverfront around our lovely hotel on the afternoon and went to the Genocide museum and the central market in the morning and did some shopping in the afternoon. Many boutiques are found in the area where most hotels are situated but most of them are exorbitantly overpriced. I really can’t understand that these „french designers“ dare to offer their (mostly similar) stuff in one of the poorest countries at prices that are higher than in Paris! If you wanna be impudent, be it in your own country!!

A must-see in Phnom Phen is the Genocide museum. It was a former school but as schools where unnecessary during the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979 it was transformed to the S-21 prison and interrogation facility. There is a very good but also depressing exhibition about the inmates and the few survivors of the facility.

Head to the Central Market but not for the touristy shopping options rather than the local food stalls on the outskirts of the market. Be brave and taste some of the delicious dishes although you’ll seldom know exactly what you are eating 🙂

On the last day of our short stay in Cambodia we chose the more cumbersome otion to get to Vietnam: by boat from Phnom Phen to Chau Doc and then further on to Ho Chi Min City by bus. The boat trip takes 4-5 hours is not very spectecular but at least I can say that I was on the Mekong river 🙂 be sure to know a bus company, their departure times and, most important, their address if you want to travel to HCMC the same day. There are some „fast buses“ that should take 5 hours for the trip, but our fast bus needed 8 hours and was definitely not worth the price that was double of the „normal“ bus (which officially should take 6 hours)! The easy option is to take the bus from Phnom Phen directly to HCMC.

Julia at Cambodias Mekong border post...

Julia at Cambodias Mekong border post…