Saturday September 5, 2015 (Asia, Cambodia, Southeast Asia)
We’ve spent the last couple of days here in Siem Reap doing what tourists do best in Siem Reap: visiting temples. Lots of them.
We stayed at a place called Schein Guesthouse and it was very pleasant. Lovely breakfasts and helpful, friendly staff. They recommended that given two full days, an appropriate itinerary would do a “big circle” of temples on the first day (skipping the famed Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom), and follow up with a “small circle” on our last day visiting the big-hitter highlight temples aforementioned. We also opted to visit Banteay Srei, considered by some to be the jewel of the temples surrounding Angkor Wat due to its ornate carvings.
Over the course of two days we ended up touring the following sites (in this order):
- Banteay Srei
- Preah Khan
- Neak Poan
- Ta Som
- East Mebon
- Pre Rup
- Banteay Kdei
- Angkor Wat
- Bayon (Angkor Thom)
- Baphuon (Angkor Thom)
- Phimeanakas (Angkor Thom)
- Preah Palilay (Angkor Thom)
- Terrace of the Leper King (Angkor Thom)
- Terrace of the Elephants (Angkor Thom)
- Ta Keo
- Ta Prohm
You can see how maybe, just maybe, some of these temples start to run together a little bit. There’s a lot of them. You tend to drive around in your tuk-tuk for about two minutes and then you’re stopped at another magnificent ruin built over a thousand years ago. Tough life, I guess. I’d say that the highlights are the carvings of Banteay Srei, Angkor Wat at sunrise, the big Bayon stone faces of Angkor Thom, and the overgrown trees of Ta Prohm.
Speaking of sunrise at Angkor Wat, let me tell you that that is quite the popular attraction. You may have an image of sitting alone by a gentle pool watching the sun gently rise above a historic monument. It’s great… but you’re definitely not alone! Throngs of people all holding cameras up to their faces. Including me. We got lucky with the rain and cloud cover and had a really great sunrise to watch. We’d experienced a reasonable amount of rain in Siem Reap but we struck it rich with the weather when it counted. Nobody wants to get up at 4:45am to stand in the rain and watch the sky go from black to dark gray.
We didn’t get to explore a lot in Siem Reap itself. In fact, we got a bit stuck in at a restaurant called The Purple Elephant just down the street from us. It’s one of those cases where, had it not been so physically close to our hotel we probably wouldn’t have visited. It’s strange, too: the TripAdvisor reviews are almost entirely Excellent, but it doesn’t have enough of them to place it amongst the top rated places. We loved it there – really great prices on the food, cold beer. And hey, the first time we ate there I had a dish called the Crying Tiger. Can’t ask for much more in a meal name, right?
Our flight into Cambodia had one funny moment. We were flying from DMK in Bangkok to REP in Siem Reap, Cambodia. For this leg of the trip we managed to get away with only packing carry-on luggage. Great deals on AirAsia if you’re not checking any bags. As we were clearing security with all of our possessions, I was asked if security could take a look into my “personal item” bag. They pulled out our peanut butter. Bastards. Sandra was convinced that peanut butter was neither a liquid nor a gel and should not be an issue. Nope, they told us we had to get rid of it.
We love peanut butter and we have paid exorbitant prices to obtain it. I don’t want to let this peanut butter go. So we decide that we’ll eat as much peanut butter as we can, smothered onto crackers thick like molasses. We wander over to the sharp instruments disposal bin which has a bench next to it. Out come the crackers and here we are gorging ourselves under the watchful eye of airport security. We ate these thick layers of peanut butter until we couldn’t handle any more. We were forced to discard the last of it. What a horrific waste. As a form of protest, we left a wake of cracker crumbs. That’ll teach ‘em to take our legume pastes!
Let’s chat a bit about the arrivals procedure in Cambodia. We were prepared for the “Visa on Arrival” when entering the country. We had our photos. We had our 30 US dollars each to pay for the tourist visa. We stood in a line and handed in our passports, cash, forms, and pictures. We were then ushered over to another line. The way it works is that after you’ve passed in all of your documentation, a selected individual in an assembly line of clerks will receive it and approve it. The fun part is the lottery at the end, wherein a passport is held up and you get to see if the picture on display matches your own face. It’s all up for grabs – everybody who’s waiting is just standing in an arc surrounding the head auctioneer. If you think you see yourself, you say “That’s me!”. Then they just hand you that passport. I think this would be a great way to obtain a spare passport if somebody wasn’t paying attention. Somebody that looked a lot like you, that is.
We’ve found Cambodia to be an interesting country. The first thing you’ll probably notice is that almost everything is priced in US dollars. Hotels, restaurants, convenience stores. ATMs give out US dollars. But Cambodia also has the Riel as its official currency. And since nobody has US coins, people will often give you 2000 KHR (Cambodian Riels) instead of 50 cents American as change. Very weird. It’s a bit of a boon for us, though, as having a good source of US dollars can be challenging on the road!
Last night as we wandered home we happened upon some beach volleyball being played in the city. Netted off between two large buildings were two hard-packed sand courts full of locals. We watched for a bit and then I noticed an open spot on one of the teams. Before long I was in on the action! Some of the guys were quite good! The neat thing about sport is that so much of it is non-verbal. Later in the evening Sandra joined in on the action too, albeit sporting her floral muumuu dress. She seemed to be a popular fixture on the court. There was an incredibly cute moment when a young girl was obviously eyeing Sandra carefully while she played. During one of Sandra’s serves, I watched the girl perfectly mimic Sandra’s actions and timing during the swing as if the little girl were performing the serve herself. Hopefully that girl is not afraid to join in and play some day!
We flew Bassaka air on a domestic flight to Phnom Penh today. I should mention that the route we flew was this airline’s one and only route. REP-PNH. That’s it and that’s all. Well, you can also fly PNH-REP. So that’s cool. I think this might be the first time I’ve flown on an airline with only a single route! It was quite a pleasant flight, don’t get me wrong. You should try them out if you’re in the area! I guess this area is the only place you could conceivably try them anyway, though.
We have now arrived at our hotel in Phnom Penh. It’s called (no joke) the One Up Banana Hotel. With the fruit aspect and the “One Up” reference I was really hoping for something video game-themed. We’re not so lucky. But the hotel is very nice and the staff gave us a super welcome. We’re looking forward seeing some sights around the city tomorrow!
The only remaining concern haunting us is a fresh Myanmar visa situation. We’re heading there on the 8th. And I’ll be honest… I kind of forgot about it. We applied for the eVisa last night. But technically that doesn’t leave us enough processing days for the eVisa to come through. This is yet another occasion on which a weekend has completely screwed our plans. They’re great when you’re working a full time job. But they’re a real pain in the butt when somebody calmly appends “business days” to a duration. So, yeah. We could end up being denied on the flight over there. Strap in: the ride could get very interesting.