I believe in nothing, everything is sacred.
I believe in everything, nothing is sacred.
– Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
I spent the last week in Cambodia. I took a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap, which was supposed to be 12 hours, but due to the deplorable condition of the roads in Cambodia, it took 17. There’s a rumor that the airlines pay the government not to fix the roads, so that more people will choose to fly to Cambodia. I don’t know if this is true or not, but the roads really are very bad, and I don’t see why someone wouldn’t fix them, with the amount of traffic they face everyday- much of which isn’t tourist related. When we changed buses at the Thai/Cambodian border, the driver warned us that the roads “were dancing” and made wild jumping motions with his hands, laughing. I guess it was something like that…
On the journey, I made friends with two other prisoners, two girls from Austria, Susanna and Eva. I was nice to know people when I arrived in Siem Reap, because it was midnight. We took rooms at the hotel the driver dropped us off at. A word of fiscal caution: when you take a tour bus from Bangkok’s tourist Mecca, Koh Sarn Road, be prepared to be treated like a tourist. You won’t be forced to do follow the plans laid out by the bus company and their international constituents, but they will certainly try very hard. What do I mean by this? Take for example our arrival in Siem Reap. When the bus gets to town, the driver announces that he knows a “good hotel, very cheap” which he will generously drop us off at, should we like to stay there. Otherwise, (and keep in mind that it’s now midnight), he’ll take us on to the bus station, which, he adds, has no lights. So of course, everyone just stays at the hotel. And I should add, that it isn’t a bad hotel, it is only 4 dollars a night, and it has a tv and in-room shower. Still, you can feel something is off. The people are all very nice, but at every turn it’s, “you want tuk-tuk?”, “you want guide for temple?”, “breakfast? you want breakfast lady?” Whether all these people are employed by the hotel, I do not know, but they sit outside the lobby all day, waiting for someone who needs a motorbike. (Which is everyone, because this hotel is conveniently not centrally located). Though they are all well meaning entrepreneurs, they aren’t the best guides, and they generally milk tourists for all they can get. I am in luck, because I have the number for a guide. I don’t know his name, or if he even gives temple tours anymore, but by golly, I have his number. I got it from my friend Matt’s friend’s…friend whom I’ve never met. That’s right. Anyway, I call the number, and find out his name is Samithy, and he does indeed still give tours. A former UN translator, Samithy is well spoken and very knowledgeable about Angkor history and architecture. And he’s friendly. So friendly, in fact, that he recommended me another driver who would charge me less for the second day. (I bought a 3 day pass to the temples and the first day, I had the Austrians to split the cost of hiring a car, but they only stayed for one day). Just in case anyone’s going to Siem Reap any time soon, I thought I’d put his contact info up:
Tel: 012 958 454 (inside Cambodia), 855 12 958 454 (outside Cambodia)
Email: chhom firstname.lastname@example.org
Nice guy. I asked him to refer me to another hotel in the town center as well, one that wouldn’t hassle to buy some service every time I stepped out the door. I ended up at a place called the Dead Fish Guesthouse. The Austrians and I went out to eat the first night, and we passed this place, and without even looking at the rooms, I thought, this is a place for me.. The room I took there was not the most spacious or well lit, but it did have a tv and shower, and the attached restraint was pretty cool. Every night, they had live music and traditional Khmer dancing, plus the ambiance was just nice; mats and pillows on the floor with low tables, a crocodile farm, and a little pond.
The first three days I spent in and about the temples, outside of town. Angkor Wat is of course the main attraction here, but it is certainly not the only one. There are countless Hindu and Buddhist temples that dot the landscape for some 40 miles, though dot doesn’t really do them justice. They are magnificent. Still standing from as early as the 9th century, their intricate relief sculptures are still in tact throughout. It’s quite a change of pace from Greek or Roman ruins, partly because these temples are still in such good shape (and so very detailed, at that), and partly because of access. There are no ropes, no signs telling visitors to stay off or stay out. This was a huge delight for me, I felt like a kid at a playground. I climbed all over. These people did not believe in building temples on the ground level. They are all raised on mounds of earth and rock, accessible only by stairs, and once inside, more stairs. Needless to say, after the first day of temple hopping, I was exhausted. The stairs, plus the heat plus all the walking and climbing to a vantage point for that perfect picture (and I took plenty, I assure you), had me begging for mercy by 3pm. Still, though a bit costly, the temples are definitely worth seeing. While I’m on it, a note about currency in Cambodia: really, anything goes. Everywhere I went accepted the national currency, Riel, or Thai Bhat, or US dollars. I’d heard before I went in to take a lot of money because there were no atms, but this is apparently no longer the case. There are atms around the cities, and also tons of money change places, so that ‘s not really a problem. Just so you know.
Beyond this, I went to Phnom Phen, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave this blog a ‘to be continued’ for now because I’ve got to go to the airport to pick up a visitor. (And no, I did not meet him online). So,
To Be Continued….