Pretending to be Lara Croft in the temples of Angkor, Cambodia
02.08.2010 - 05.08.2010 35 °C
Experiencing the ancient temples of Angkor in the flesh is another dream come true for me. I flew into Siem Reap direct from Luang Prabang, realising how non-fazed and comfortable I was now crossing borders into unknown lands. I have developed my own little routines and ways of doing things. Right down to how I pack my bags so that I can find everything easily, to cunning ways to make sure i am one of the first in the queue at the visa on arrival desk! During the short flight I started talking to a Cambodian businessman who was asking a lot of questions about my education. It was interesting the way he reacted when I told him I had a PhD, he completely changed the way he spoke to me! I have avoided divulging this irrelevant piece of information during my travels, unless specifically asked, and this is exactly the reason why. Education is immensely valued in these countries, and rightly so, but it is weird to be actually treated so differently just because of it. He kept calling me Dr Karen and insisted on carrying my bags for me! It felt a bit awkward, but he meant well i guess.
I had the afternoon free so planned to track down a reasonable rate on a tuktuk driver to take me around the temples for the next couple of days. I was pretty chuffed with myself though that I managed to negotiate a 15 USD per day rate on a car plus driver. He even threw in a free ride that evening to see the sunset! Why not eh? I guess I have the low season to thank for this, and i was very thankful to have the air conditioning in between temples as it was blimmin hot walking around.
So, to the main attraction in Cambodia... The 50 or so temples in this important archaeological park near to the town of Siem Reap represent the ruins of ancient Angkorian capital cities. Most of the temples were built in the 12th century and display classical Khmer architecture in exquisite detail. Following periods of political and religious turbulence, the temples of Angkor were abandoned and lost to the jungle over hundreds of years. Many have now been restored to glory but many, such as Ta Prohm, have been left wild and unrestored, with trees growing dramatically from the ruins. This place is amazing and it felt very special to be here taking in the scale of the temples, the detailed designs, inspirational. This was by no means a unique discovery though. There were hordes and hordes of tourists, coachloads of them, everywhere, in every nook and cranny. Hey, I thought this was supposed to be off-peak season? With these tourists of course comes hordes of hawkers selling all kinds of tat that you can possibly imagine, some you would not!. I discovered a great way to deal with this though, plug in the ipod, block out the noise, experience the magic of Angkor wat with my own choice of soundtrack. ‘You buy lady you buy, one dollar one dollar’ ‘SORRY I CAN’T HEAR YOU’...I was very happy, sorted
After tiring days exploring the temples, I spent the evenings in the tourist town of Siem Reap. The place is absolutely full to the brim with hotels, restaurants and bars. It didn’t feel very asian to me. Actually, the main tourist strip in the town, called ‘Pub Street’ felt like I could have been anywhere, maybe in the tourist parts of Spain or Portugal, maybe Blackpool or something. I sit down in a restaurant in Pub Street, enjoying a remarkably tasty Khmer curry. The first guy I get talking to turns out he went to the same University as me in UK! We were there at the same time too apparently! Enjoyed sampling the local beer for the first time, Angkor beer, nice but I definitely prefer beer lao and chang. Small world.
I have to compare my experience of Angkor wat to my visit to the temples of Bagan in Myanmar. Both represent culturally important archaeologically sites with unique and interesting history. Both made my jaw drop, both contain detailed architecture to die for. Thinking of that exquisite sunset over 4000 temples in the plains, exploring the place by horse and cart and having the place to myself, for me the experience in Myanmar was more special. Saying that, I wouldn’t have missed Angkor wat for the world.