Friday, 1 July 2016

Week 11 - Thailand to Cambodia and Siem Reap

After another sleepless night in Trat, (I’m not sure why, I didn’t see any lizards), we caught the public bus to Bangkok. This time we were the only none Thai people on the bus, the films were badly dubbed, and the bus stopped to pick people and post up from everywhere! Still it was comfy, the air con worked and it got us to Bangkok quicker than the bus to Trat.

We spent 2 nights in the Green House Hotel, just round the corner from Khao San Road in Bangkok, drinking beer, eating good food and mainly chilling out, soaking up the last of Thailand until we return in 2months time. On the third day we took a mini bus to the airport, ready to catch our flight to Siem Reap. The flight was quick, 45 minutes to be exact, not nearly enough time to fill in our arrival and visa forms, and eat the free sandwich, which was unfortunately still frozen! Flying into Siem Reap I was shocked at the site from my window, gone were the skyscrapers and thousands of buildings, they had been replaced with lush shades of green and a few houses scattered around. Upon landing, even Siem Reaps airport looked like a temple. 

After queuing for about 20 minutes, we were quickly issued with our visas and passed through customs. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank all those that voted to leave the EU, we greatly appreciated paying more for our visa thanks to the new low value of the pound. After collecting our bags we were met by our own personal tuk tuk driver provided by the hotel. He’s a nice guy, and loves chatting football with Kyle…he took great pleasure in laughing at England’s performance the night before. Though he did blame it on France’s slippery football pitches.

Driving through Cambodia and walking around, I was first hit by how much friendlier the people seem and how relaxed the atmosphere is. I had fallen in love with Siem Reap within 5 minutes! We had an amazing chicken curry for tea, from what could only be described as someones house turned into a restaurant. Again, they were so polite and friendly, it really is a pleasure to be in the company of the locals. After which, we headed back to the hotel and straight to bed, we needed to prepare for the next day after all.

At 4.15am our alarm went off, that’s right 4.15 in the morning! We had signed ourselves up to go and see the sunrise at Angkor Wat with Mr Dara, our tuk tuk driver. Unfortunately, the weather was against us, and it was raining and cloudy so we weren’t able to see the sunrise. To be honest it didn’t really matter, Angkor Wat is a sight in itself, exploring the huge temple was amazing! We were able to walk all around, inside and out, even climbing to some of the higher parts too. The grounds are well cared for, and you can even visit the monks living close by. You just have to mind the monkeys, running around and screaming, they certainly aren’t shy! 

Next we drove through more of Angkor, seeing many temple remains, monkeys, massive lizards (murgh) and elephants…that sight almost made me cry! I bloody love elephants. Our next stop was Angkor Thom, which was breathtaking! I can’t even begin to put into words how good this temple was. It’s hard to believe that such a beautiful place exists, with amazing buddha heads made from the stone all around the tops of the building, and intricate carvings in the wall, it certainly is a piece of art.

Following this, Mr Dara, took us to the elephant and baboon temple. These remains were slightly smaller, but led to a tall temple with steep steps which you could climb all the way to the top. I fannied out, even at 7.30am the heat was beginning to becoming unbearable, but Kyle manned it and was able to see the surrounding area and forest. 

Now, Mr Dara was very good at setting us rendezvous points, and this time when we went to find him he was playing Hacky Sack with something similar to a shuttlecock, with his fellow tuk tuk drivers. Not wanting to disturb his game, we watched for a while, I have to say he was the best player. Mr Dara, even tried to encourage Kyle to join in by telling him he had the correct footwear, he refused, I think its coz he couldn’t kick his leg high enough.

The next stop on our adventure was a temple built like the Egyptian pyramids. Mr Dara told us that not many tourists climb the steep steps to the top as they are very slippery, and its just too hot. However, Kyle being Kyle decided to give it a go, and came back looking like he’d just been swimming…worse than that time we walked the Great Wall actually! Whilst Kyle was on his solo mission, Mr Dara took the time to tell me about Cambodia’s history, and give me his opinion on Brexit (he thinks it’s good by the way), he is such an intelligent man, and he shared with us his dream of becoming a teacher once his children have grown up.

With Kyle safely back in the tuk tuk, we headed to our final stop for the day, Taprom. Taprom, is more famously known for being the film set of the Tomb Raider movie. Again, this temple did not disappoint, and what made this one so different were the trees growing through and over the brick work. It also felt more authentic as less renovation had been done, the falling stone was left on the ground, and the whole building was turning slightly green with age and moss. I just wish we hadn’t of been so hot so we could of reenacted a scene or two!

We were going to cool off in the pool once we got back, but our luck with the weather seemed to be running out, as the rain started to fall once again. I know its monsoon season, but man does that pool look good.

Tea out this evening was Amok curry, served in coconuts. It was delicious, food here is fast becoming some of our favourite! The smiley service doesn’t go unnoticed either.

We got a little lie in on day 2 of exploring the Temples of Angkor, and we were picked up at 8am by Mr Dara once again. This time he took us to the older statues, made of terracotta coloured stone. The first temple was used to bury the important Khmer people, and was filled with small doorways, and the biggest steps to the top of the temple…they made me feel like a borrower. The second temple of the day was one of my favourites, simply because of the community which now lives around it. The women work on the stalls opposite, whilst the men chat and pray in front of the temple, and the children, well they run around and hide in the temple. Everyone we met there greeted us with a smile or a hello, and we had a delicious fruit plate from one of the stands, with the freshest mango I’ve ever tasted. 

The next temple was similar to the Tomb Raider one, but smaller. It was here that we meet the cheekiest kid yet. Trying to sell her fridge magnets and post cards, we were challenged with a “yes, thank you”, everytime that we said “no thank you”. She even beat me at a game of tic tack toe in the sand.

Next was a tower in a moat. To get to this, we had to walk over a bridge through a bit of a waste land, where the river had dried up and the trees had been burnt down. It kind of reminded me of Scar’s home in the pride lands on The Lion King. What we found strange were the thousands of butterflies, sat in the ground in this area…the colours ranged from yellow, to black, to blue, they were beautiful.

Our final stop of the day was Preah Khan. This was built in the 12th century to honour King Jayavarman the 2nd’s father. This temple was huge, filled with long corridors and tiny doorways. You had to return to the centre each time to be able to find the 4 exits. The four paths leading to this temple are guarded by stone warriors, and the bridges are lined with soldiers. It makes you feel like you’re on a film set whilst walking along them. 

This being the final stop of the day, Mr Dara, took us back to the hotel, and I was buzzing as we were finally able to get in the pool! It was just what we needed after a long day walking around the temples.

The next morning saw another early rise, as we were set to make a long journey to the far side of Angkor park. Here we saw Banteay Srei temple. Filled with intricate carvings of warriors, gods, elephants and horses, its best to visit early so the sun doesn’t shine too brightly and make it difficult to see these. It was definitely worth getting up for, we were lucky enough to be two of a few people there too.

Driving up to this temple, we were taken through many communities and got see the different ways of life. It was interesting to see how the homes varied from big brick houses to little wooden huts. The farmers and families picking and planting rice, using bulls to plough the fields, and the teenagers selling BBQ’d frogs, clothing and petrol from stalls along the roadside. Mr Dara offered us a taste of his frog, but once he showed us the inside we politely declined.

The final visit of our three day adventure took us even further out to two more temples, these were located in the middle of lots of schools where the children could learn English, computer skills and a Cambodian curriculum. During our walk around we got talking to the chief monk, who told us all about how the young monks were building a new school. It would take 3 years to complete and cost $30,000 dollars. Once finished the children will live in the dorms below, and learn in the rooms above. It was an impressive site to see them all working together to complete this project. 

On the way back to the hotel, Mr Dara, told us all about Cambodia’s drug problems and the scams which go on within the tourist areas. Such as fake drugs being sold to westerners, and the money then being split between the seller and the local police. He also told us that many people use drug dealing to make money, which they then put into a proper business to start earning what they call “clean money”. 

We learnt a lot from Mr Dara, and had a great laugh with him along the way, so as a thanks we bought him a hammock for his tuk tuk as a parting gift…he was over the moon, and said he will remember us as we are only the second group of English people to ride in his tuk tuk, and for Kyle’s tattoos.

That evening we ventured to the Night Market and Pub Street. Pub Street is similar to Khao San Road in Bangkok with its loud bars and big restaurants, but a lot cleaner and you don’t get invited to ping pong shows. The only thing I didn’t like were the English and Australian teenagers trying to get you to join their bar crawls, with offers of free shots and discount drinks. The Night Market was huge, we enjoyed fruit shakes whilst wandering through all the stores. Kyle treat himself to another pair of temple pants, and we managed to avoid buying more trainers, these knock offs were good and cheap though. 

Our final day was spent relaxing around the pool, much needed after the last 3 days. Tomorrow we catch the Giant Ibis bus to Phenom Penh, I’m excited for what we might see on the way, but also kind of nervous as I’ve heard that Cambodia has some of the worst roads ever! Surely it can’t be much worse than spending 3 days in a tuk tuk though, can it?


Love Carrie xxx