Sunday, 17 November 2013

Weds 13th Nov - Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the small town from which tours to the nearby temples of Angkor are launched. It has been possible to arrive here all the way from Ho Chi Minh City by boat, up the Mekong River, but that is no longer the case. Roads have been improved (allegedly) and air travel is cheaper so that's no longer viable. I flew in from HCMC on the Sunday night which took about an hour.

Siem Reap airport

I was eventually met at arrivals by the tuktuk driver hired by the hostel I'd booked and we tuk-tuk'd the few miles back into town at 10pm. In Cambodia tuktuks take the form of a two-wheeled covered carriage drawn by a small motorbike, and hinged at a bracket welded to the bike behind the driver's seat. It's a comfortable way for up to four passengers to get around, but seems indulgent for just one, especially one like me who'd just experienced the pillion thrills of Vietnamese Xeoms.

I arrived at the Tropical Breeze Hostel and was very happy to be reunited with Will & Phie who'd arrived the previous evening. We shared recent stories and a couple of beers before heading off to bed before our pre-dawn start.
The next day having survived monkey attacks, mosquitos and tourist infestations at the temples, we went for dinner around the corner at Green Star, a little restaurant proud of it's ethical status. Green Star trains and employs former street kids and tries to give them a bit of a leg-up into the adult world. The fresh fish was excellent too, served simmering on a charcoal brazier thing.

A couple of days later I went to Haven, a little more upmarket than Green Star, but not really much more expensive, where I enjoyed a fantastic three course meal, content in the hope that my gluttony was in some way helping to make the lives of malnourished khmer street kids ever so slightly better. To be fair, Haven earns it's name doing a fantastic job of providing one not just for the young people it trains, and seeks onward work for; but also for tourists looking for a respite from the generic neon-drenched booze and bite dives of Siem Reap's succinctly named Pub Street.

It was just off pub street in fact that Sophie suggested it would be a wonderful idea to get our toes nibbled by fishes for twenty minutes. This 'fish massage' is all the rage here, personally I feel a bit sorry for them all kept in tanks and fed on only the dead skin of drunken western tourists' feet. They seemed to find mine more appetising than Will's; Sophie refused, citing ticklishness. It was indeed very ticklish and even once accustomed to it, not particularly pleasant. Certain ladies pay good money for this in London. It takes all sorts.
With baby-soft feet Will and Sophie crept out of the door of the hostel early on Tuesday morning, heading beachwards to Shianoukville on the south coast. I glimpsed them leaving before sneaking back to bed to prepare for a long day's temple gazing, eventually making it back to Angkor well before sunset.

On a rainy day in Siem Reap, as they mostly seem to be in November, one can visit the Angkor Wat Museum. It's exhibits range from the earliest days of Funan culture as reported by early Chinese sources, through the first Hindu temples of the region, and the zenith of the Khmer empire in C12th; later Buddhist repurposing and new temple builds, and the eventual decline and fall. It's probably worth the $12 entrance if you have the stamina to concentrate for a couple of hours. I did not, and stepped back out into the evening and the ceaseless rain.

Ganesha, elephant headed deity of Angkor.

After three days at Siem Reap, it was time to move on. Phnom Penh beckoned, and so I arranged through the hostel for a night bus, due to take seven hours...

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