My original plan was to take a boat up the Mekong River in Cambodia to the Lao border and then on up through Laos but I kept hearing reports about the opening and closing of the border and you have to pay off the guards to let you through and someone reported they had to pay $200 and if they don’t let you through for some reason that day and then you are faced with coming all the way down the Mekong back to Phnom Penh and starting over in another direction so I said the heck with it and decided to do the “tourist route” to Siem Reap instead.
While Bob took a bus to the Thai border and then on to Bangkok, I took a fast boat down the Tonle Sap (Great Lake) to Siem Reap, a sleepy village famous for it’s many wats (temples and monasteries) especially the biggest-Angkor Wat-but fast becoming a major tourist destination. Most of the people sat on the roof of the boat for the four hour trip through marshes and past entire villages on stilts.
I spent an entire day on a motorcycle taxi going from one temple to another that was built between the 9th and 14th centures in the middle of the jungle when the Khmer civilisation was at the height of its creativity.
Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 sq. km, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. These include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.
You could easily spend a week or more here seeing all the monuments. Most temples are actually little more than ruins…blocks of carved volcanic and sandstone rock lying in piles at the foot of the remaining structures. Much of Angkor’s finest statuary is stored inside conservation warehouses because of the danger of theft. In some monuments such as Ta Prohm, where a French movie company was filming the few days I was there, the jungle has stealthily waged an all-out invasion with bare tree roots spilling out and over the walls.
I had a Cambodian roast chicken and vermicelli salad late lunch at Les Artisans D’Angkor, a small artisan shop and cafe amazingly situated directly opposite Angkor. I thought of my friend Jana who visited here in the 60′s and wondered how the town had changed since then. My day ended taking pictures of the sun setting pink on the face of the dark stone of Angkor Wat.
I had had my fill of war museums in Vietnam and Phnom Penh so I avoided the War Museum in Siem Reap with an exhibition of Soviet and Chinese Mi-8 helicoptors, Mig 19 destroyers, T 54 Tanks and US 105mm artillery. You could also see an artificial minefield here, the brochure says. My motorcyle driver did pull onto the grounds of a Buddhist temple on the way back from Angkor that displayed a glassed-in pagoda filled with bones and skulls that could be viewed from all four sides.
Back in my hotel I spent some time organizing photos on my computer…we have some really wonderful ones of people…especially women and children. I gave a two hour English lesson to one of the Khmer girls that worked in the kitchen of the guesthouse where I was staying.
Finally, after five days, it came time to leave Siem Reap so I regretfully said goodbye to Arnfinn and his Khmer staff and left the simple and elegant Earthwalker Guesthouse that was built and managed by a young Norwegian cooperative and made my way down a dirt road out to the highway with my pack on my back to flag down a motorcycle taxi for the 10 minute ride to the airport. The young guys working in the airport laughed at my hair when I walked in. “Motorcycle Hair” I said laughing! The $100 Lao Aviation flight that took me to Vientiane Laos had no safety card, no airline magazine, no safety demonstration by the hostess and no floatation device under the seat…and I doubt if there were oxygen masks…but we did get a sad little hamburger patty and bun with a packet of catsup.
Tags: Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Hotels,Hostels & Guesthouses, Motorcycles, Must See, Restaurants, Siem Reap, UNESCO World Heritage Sites