Temples, Floating Village
20.12.2007 - 22.12.2007 32 °C
After the space age efficiency of Kuala Lumpur airport, Siem Reap was quite a contrast. We went from the super-efficient fast train linking the terminals at KL to a world of motor scooters, tuk-tuks, cars, bicycles, ox-carts and functional chaos here in Cambodia.
We were fairly exhausted on arrival, but still managed to have a good look around Siem Reap. The food markets were amazing with vendors sitting amongst their produce and all manner of eels, shellfish, poultry, shoes, CDs, etc. crammed into a crowded and lively town block. At night the footpath across the street from the hotel converts to a long row of food stalls selling a range of good local meals from as little as $US1. We went to an upmarket place across the river and dined very nicely for $US30. Cambodian food is great with plenty of noodles, rice, lemon-grass, ginger and chilli. The beer is also very cheap and rather good.
On the second day, we engaged a driver and went to the Angkor temple complex. These were astounding with marvelous architecture dating from around 1100. Angkor Wat is an extensive Hindu temple containing a complex gallery of relief carvings. From here we went to Angkor Thom, which was the ancient capital city here and has many interesting temple sites. We went to the Bayon with its multiple faces of the Buddha, the Baphuon which is a fair state of ruin, and a number of other very interesting sites. It involved lots of climbing in the heat and lots of negotiating with trading children, but it was well worth it. We were constantly hammered with offers of postcards, guide books, brass replicas of the sites, postcards, fridge magnet replicas of the site, shirts, scarves, postcards, trinkets, flutes, unrecognisable toys and noise producing devices and more postcards. We tried out our hopeless negotiating skills and have ended up with a couple of books that we didn't need, a temple rubbing, and a selection of the above items.
Sonia managed to single handedly start a marketing frenzy back at the hotel when she gave a shirtless little girl a free bottle of water. An older boy immediately appeared and started telling us the capital of Australia and a number of fairly intricate details about Australian politics. He pestered us about postcards until Sonia agreed to pay him the $3 he asked for (about $2 too much) and as we only had a $5 note, told him to keep the change. Well, this had a bit of a ripple effect as another boy arrived telling us that the Prime Minister of Australia is the recently elected Mr Kevin Rudd who has replaced Mr John Howard who was indeed a very long serving Prime Minister and would we like some postcards. He was very convincing and pleading and cajoling but we managed to escape by running up to our room on the third floor and locking the door.
Today, our driver Tong (who is university educated and speaks very good English but has to tout for tourists for a living) took us by car and boat to the Floating Village area down towards Tonle Sap lake. This was absolutely amazing and was completely different to anything I have seen before. There were floating schools (with playgrounds), hospitals, police, market areas, restaurants, bars, etc. along with the houses that the people live in and fish from. The whole thing moves with the season and, as it is now dry, some were relocating. They have a boat towing the house, fish traps, extended family, dogs, chickens, garden and their entire lives along the river and lake to a new spot. We stopped at a place where there were stalls and food vendors and this place also did some fish and crocodile farming. Tong told us that they would be rich because they own crocodiles. On the boat trip back, we saw the trinket trading process taken to new heights with the Mum or Dad zooming their boat up behind the larger tourist boats and the little girl jumping onto the deck of the tourist boat as it goes along. All to sell a few things for probably less than $10 if she is lucky. It would break your heart (and it did).
Along the road to this place, there were a lot of impoverished looking houses on sticks high enough to miss the wet season water. Some of these had pigs in pens up at high water level and there were water buffaloes ploughing the rice paddies and all manner of amazing sites and smells.
From here, Tong took us to one of the remote temples on a road trip of about 80 kms. It was built around the same time as Angkor but is more or less being reclaimed by the jungle. This area has only recently been declared safe from landmines and we unfortunately saw the evidence of their impact on some of the people who live, farm and work out there. In spite of all this, the people are friendly, warm and accepting. The temple was used as the set for the movie, Tomb Raider.
Tonight, we are going to a traditional dance show where Tong assured us we will see the Aspara (girls from heaven) so it should be rather good. Last night we indulged in some traditional Khmer massage where for $7 each, we had a young masseuse jumping all over us. Don't worry, Sonia and I were in the same room.
I'll start putting some photos up when I get to a better Internet facility. I tried last night but when I waited so long that I noticed my finger-nails growing, I gave up.