Sunday, April 19, 2009

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

From our guesthouse in Phnom Penh we were able to book a cheap bus ($4 US) to Siem Reap and arranged to stay at one of their sister guesthouses there. When we arrived there were tuk tuk drivers everywhere vying for our business but we were supposed to get picked up by the guesthouse for free. As it turned out, most of the tuk tuk drivers were willing to take us to any destination for free. Why would they do this? Simple, if they do you a favor then you will more than likely hire them to go to Angkor (or any other place) the following day. Clever. So if you go to Siem Reap, keep this in mind.

We stayed at the Hello Paradise guesthouse, which was nice enough. We were able to haggle a large room (had 3 single beds and a private bathroom) for $6/night. It's a little bit out of the way but Siem Reap isn't that big and this guesthouse provided free tuk tuks to the market/pub street. Even so, getting there would have only cost $1. Like I said, the town itself isn't that large.

When we arrived at our guesthouse Matt, Sarah and I arranged to see Angkor the following morning. We paid $5/person without haggling. We probably could have haggled but the guy was going to be driving us around all day so we didn't feel it was necessary. He picked us up at 5 am and drove us out to the place to buy our day passes. I was surprised when the lady told us to smile- they printed out a pass with our picture on it. Cool keepsake. Then we hopped back into the tuk tuk and continued on to Angkor Wat and Thom to watch the sunrise. Our driver, Hok, told us we could take as long as we wanted since we had hired him for the day.

Unfortunately the day was a bit grey so the sunrise wasn't spectacular but Angkor is pretty darn impressive. There are different kinds of passes you can buy- one day ($20), three day ($40) or one week (not sure the cost). I'd heard from people that you MUST buy the three day one because it's so huge and fabulous and one day isn't enough. Maybe I'm totally uncultured but one day was plenty for me. I mean, they were gorgeous and impressive but there is only so many stone temples I can look at and take pictures of. I was definitely satisfied with our one day trip and would have been overwhelmed if we'd gone back for two more days. (We also were rushing a bit through Cambodia to get back to Thailand for Songkran so that came into play too.)

As you can see, I took A LOT of pictures. I especially loved Bayon with the huge stone faces and Ta Prohm with it's giant, twisting trees growing through the stone. While we were exploring Angkor Wat it begin to pour and so we had to scramble to take cover. Some little girls came running through the rain to sell ponchos and so we scooped up a couple and continued on our way.

It was a fabulous day- we packed some sandwiches and snacks for lunch and treated ourselves to an ice cream (yes, there was a random ice cream truck out there) part way through the day. One thing that wasn't thrilling about the temples are all the people trying to sell you stuff, in particular, all the children. They swarm you and follow you as long as they can with their bracelets, postcards, flutes and other wares. It got a bit tiring and we felt bad for all these kids selling instead of going to school. At one point we starting pointing to other tourists and telling the kids that they had lots of money in an attempt to get some peace. One clever girl replied, "Okay! But if they no buy then YOU buy!". Hahah.

In summary, Angkor Wat is an amazing place, must see, but I think one day is sufficient unless you're really hardcore. We were tired out and finished by about 2pm (which sounds early but we left at 5am so that was 9 hours of touring around Angkor). I really wanted to see the Landmine Museum but alas, there wasn't enough time. If I ever end up back in Siem Reap I will make a point to go there since it's supposed to be really awesome.

Besides Angkor, we spent a bit of time in the market and on pub street. Lots of good restaurants and many have $0.50 draft beer. I recommend trying the fish or chicken amok- really yummy! Cambodia definitely has a lot to offer and it would have been nice to stay a little longer, but maybe if I had more money. It gets a bit expensive considering everything is in US dollars (even the ATMs dispense US dollars). I'm glad I was able to experience it and now I'm reading a book by a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime. It's called "First They Killed My Father" and it's a quality read and helps put Cambodia in perspective.