Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cambodia - Siem Reap & Angkor Archaeological Park

Our alarm went off at 3am on Sunday morning. We both had bad food hangovers from the excesses of Old Airport Road hawker centre. We had made the mistake of letting my old colleague Jason and his fiance Suzanne order for us!  By 8.30am we were eating breakfast in our hotel in Siem Reap having been picked up by Mr Han and his trusty tuk-tuk. 

Our guide Mr Now arrived around 9am to escort us round the 'Old Market' which is a real local market complete with live fish, chickens with heads and feet attached, veggies galor and a wide variety of smells ranging from nice to extremely nasty! Having bought a souvenir or two almost our first of the entire trip, we were taken to 'Artisans of Angkor' an organisation dedicated to improving rural Cambodians' quality of life though arts and crafts. 

We were shown round the apprentice workshops where villagers are trained to create high quality items to sell in the attached gift shop and other stores across the country. Normally we'd give gift shops a wide berth but the items on offer were really quite nice and we ended up parting with more cash than we intended!

After a spot of lunch we had to retire to the coolness of our room to catch up on some sleep before heading out to the Angkor Archaeological Park (AAP) to pick up our passes and check out the sunset from Phnom Bakeng. We joined the hoard to climb up to the top of this crumbling temple to try to snap a shot of Angkor Wat and its surrounds as the sun set in the distance. The earlier rains had left some reslient clouds though so the colours weren't quite what we'd hoped for. It was still good to get an idea of the geography of the area we would explore in more detail on the following day.

Once the sun had dropped below the horizon it got dark rapidly and without a torch the climb down was a little daunting to say the least. We met up with Mr Han again at the bottom to ferry us back into Siem Reap. We decided to check out the night market which is billed as being aimed at tourists and it lived up to its reputation. The quality and prices were higher than the Old Market but we still bought a few trinkets and early Christmas pressies!

We had another early start the next morning to beat the crowds to Ta Prohm. We left the hotel by 6am and were following Angelina Jolie's (Tomb Raider was filmed here) footsteps through the decaying temple complex before too long. We had the place almost to ourselves, we only saw three other tourists the whole time we were there. The jungle is trying to reclaim lost land and seeing trees growing out of the temple ruins really is awesome.

We headed back to the hotel for breakfast while the crowds were on their way to Angkor Wat. By the time we'd finished and headed there ourselves the crowd had thinned significantly and although it wasn't as quiet as Ta Prohm we only had one Korean tour group to contend with. Mr Now kept up a constant stream of information that to be honest I'm struggling to remember already. Lots of stories of Vishnu and King Suryavarman II, there were so many it was hard to keep up. We were joined by some trainee tour guides too who kept things entertaining though. 

After several hours of wandering around in the heat we were ready for a break and some lunch. So we stopped at a rest area overlooking Bayon. Here we watched as the tourists swarmed out to head back to their hotels and the town for lunch as we munched our packed lunches. By noon the place was deserted and we almost had the place to ourselves again.

Bayon was superb the towers were all covered by faces on each side. We had a lot of fun taking daft pics before moving on to Bauphon and then other parts of Angkor Thom whose names I forget, except for the Terrace of the Leper King, which I thought was a cool name...

By now we were hot and tired so we headed back to the hotel for a well earned drink and rest before the evening entertainment of an Apsara show started. Apsara are the celestial nymphs depicted all over the Angkor area in carvings and statues, all are topless but for modern modesty the real ones we saw dancing were fully clothed...

We really enjoyed our stay in Siem Reap although we only wish we'd had longer to explore even more of it.

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