12 Oct 2010
An early 7am flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia meant that we had to be up far too early in the morning. The biggest disappointment of waking up at 3:30am was that Leo (my 7 week old baby) still didn’t ask to be fed until after 5am. He could possibly have slept through the whole night and let us sleep that long too!
We arrived in Cambodia at 8am local time, after a two hour flight. The airport in Siem Reap is small, but I really liked the building – it doesn’t look like your typical airport, rather it has more of a Cambodian architectural look. It took us a while to get our visas sorted out since Jeremy had to fill out forms for four people whilst I kept Doyle out of trouble (and from returning to the air strip), but we eventually got out and met our driver, who took us to our hotel.
During the short fifteen minute drive, the views from the road immediately after leaving the airport were pretty much the depiction of what I might’ve expected of Cambodia had I thought about it – a somewhat flooded road, children playing in the flooded yard of a primary school, and a few locals working in the fields alongside the road. We also saw lots and lots of hotels (some of which had flooded entries for the vehicles), outlining just how much of a tourist town Siem Reap is. It might’ve been expected, though, considering the popular archaeological site and ruins of Angkor Wat nearby, which is the biggest tourist attraction in Cambodia. It was the major reason I wanted to visit the country, though we decided to save our visit for the following day.
It was around 9:30am when we arrived at our hotel but even though check-in time was 2pm, they had a room for us, which we were in before 10am. We dumped our things off and then headed out for a wander to check out a nearby temple (after stopping for ice cream) called Wat Kesararam and then got a tuk tuk (motorcycle pulling a kind of trailer with seats at the back and front) ride to the Old Market. The markets reminded me a bit of a cross between those we saw in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and Phuket, Thailand. I decided to get some nice pants since I’m kind of lacking in pants that fit my post-pregnancy body at the moment.
After the markets, we crossed the river (where some boys were jumping off the bridge into the water) to find a place to get some lunch. I opted to have Beef Amok, which is a beef dish made with coconut milk and vegetables, and a pineapple shake, which I had enjoyed before in the Philippines. Both were delicious.
Then we wandered back across the river (which was very clearly flooded, and dirty) to another temple called Wat Preah Prom Rath. As we were leaving the temple grounds, we met a tuk tuk driver who told us he got funding from an Australian NGO to fund his tuk tuk business. It then occurred to me – perhaps the reason people from rich countries fund things in places like Cambodia is just so us rich nation tourists can have a better experience when visiting their countries – and meet nationals of those countries who speak decent English. Oh how privileged us rich nation citizens are. We didn’t need a ride since we were just a short walk away from the central market (where I bought some Christmas presents, and Doyle tried to steal a purse), and then back to our hotel where I took a much needed nap.
In the evening, Jeremy wanted to head over to the orphanage for a free dancing show he had picked up a flier for. We caught a tuk tuk down that way and soon met flooded streets. Our driver had to take us past the orphanage to stop just because the street was too flooded. I didn’t really want to have to walk through the water, but Jeremy really wanted to see the show, so I removed my shoes and Jeremy carried them and Doyle (I was already carrying Leo) and we braved the flood water to get to the orphanage. Naturally, the show was cancelled due to the flooding, which we didn’t know was not normal until I asked about how often it floods to the (presumably Australian, judging by the accent) woman we spoke to at the entry, who worked at the orphanage, whilst others were trying to place sandbags in front of the area. She told us the flood was worse than the one they had about a year ago, and the toilets (which are little more than holes in the ground) were already flooded out and so the orphans living there didn’t even have anywhere to do their business. The rain had only come the night before, and the show had been performed the night before. Since we were about knee deep in water, it was pretty understandable that the show could not go on.
Since there was no show and nothing we could really do to help whilst we were both carrying children, we continued on through the flood water and I kept thinking about the orphans. Some locals made sure we didn’t fall in a hole under the water, but not long after we were on slightly higher ground and a tuk tuk was able to stop and pick us up to take us back to the Night Market. We first walked through the Noon Night Market, where I bought a shirt I liked.
The Night market ground was covered in large pebbles, which was very unpleasant to walk over in socks. We made it to the bar at the other end and ordered some food and drinks for dinner. I had a very nice Cambodian green curry and banana shake. Again, very yummy!
After that, we headed back to the hotel, and Doyle crashed pretty much straight away. It had been a long day!
13 Oct 2010
Jeremy had emailed the Australian NGO tuk tuk driver from the previous day to be our driver for the day, but he ended up providing us with his “brother” instead (in quotes because I’m not sure they were literally brothers). Mr Seng took us on a tour of the archaeological sites of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and a couple of other nearby ruins, which lasted pretty much the whole day. I didn’t get to take too many photos myself, unfortunately, since my camera battery died just as I was walking up to Angkor Wat.
Walking through Angkor Wat is pretty incredible, to see the detail of all the carvings in the walls and the stories they told, though they were working on repairing the wall at the back. The tallest part of the temple was pretty high up so I left the rest of the family at the bottom, thinking it was too steep and scary for Doyle to climb up, whilst I went up to admire the views and see the Buddhist altars inside.
On our way back through to the entrance after admiring the enormity of the temple itself, we walked past the number of Cambodian market stalls and got suckered into buying a book, since the guy first said it was US$1 (they use US currency in Cambodia, except the coins) but then changed his mind and said $11, but eventually we got him down to $5. If Doyle hadn’t insisted on sitting down and us then deciding we should get something to drink (I tried the papaya shake), we probably wouldn’t have bought it, but $5 seemed like a good deal for a book that costs $27 in stores. There were other Cambodians trying to sell us things while we drank, though we didn’t give in to them. They all seemed surprised that I was a mother because apparently they thought I looked about 18 and Jeremy 23 – but maybe they were just trying to flatter us so we’d buy something. On the other hand, the girl who told us she was 23 and had a couple of kids herself looked about 15!
We met Mr Seng again after our drinks, and he drove us to the Angkor Thom area, where we took in a number of other ruined buildings. This took quite some time and thus by the end of it we had to stop in the market area again to have lunch (it was about 2pm by now) and were subjected yet again by persistent Cambodians trying to sell us things. This time there were definitely younger girls, one of which tried to get Jeremy to buy something if she correctly named the capital of Australia, which she did. Maybe he should have asked for the capital of every Australian state instead. We still didn’t give in to buying any more of their products – we knew it was cheaper to get pretty much anything back at the markets in town, and clearly their market was pretty much any tourist who only flew in to Siem Reap to visit the ruins. Given how many tourists we saw in this area compared to the town itself, it was pretty clear that most tourists don’t even bother to visit and take in actual Cambodian culture. All they care about is old, falling apart buildings. It’s a bit sad really.
There were a few other sites Mr Seng took us to after that, but by the third one we walked Doyle through, he had had enough (understandable, he’s only three!) so I stayed with him and Leo in the tuk tuk while Jeremy wandered through the last one to take photos on his own. Finally we got back to the hotel around 4:30pm for a bit of a rest until we headed out for dinner.
At around 8pm, we headed out and got a tuk tuk driver to take us to a restaurant we had seen advertise a BBQ dinner and show deal. Whilst we ate spring rolls, tom yum soup, kebabs, rice and fruit salad, we were treated to some traditional Cambodian music and dancing. Neither of us brought cameras, though (mine was still charging), so we didn’t get any photos of that. I thought the way some of the dancers moved their finger and elbow joints was a little bit gross since they moved them in unnatural ways, but on the other hand it was also kind of cool. Not something I would try at home, though!
We’d had a tuk tuk driver wait for us until the show was over so he could drive us back, though we hadn’t actually specifically asked him to. When we got in, he didn’t even ask us where to go, instead driving us pretty much straight there, which was a little creepy until I realised it was probably the same driver who took us to the restaurant. I’m not so good with faces so I couldn’t be sure; I know I didn’t think it was the same guy by looking but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t. He still had to ask the specific hotel we were staying at when we were nearly there anyway. But at first I just thought that we were so recognisable (we’d been noticed by several other locals who spoke to us on the first day as people who had seen us around) that everyone must have known where we were staying!
14 Oct 2010
We treated ourselves to a bit of a late sleep in on our last day before heading out a bit after 10am to the Cambodian Cultural Village, which was just on the main road between the airport and town. This was the one thing I had decided I really wanted to see after I noticed it from the van on our way into town on the first day, and I have to say it was pretty good. It was similar to the Sarawak Cultural Village we visited near Kuching in East Malaysia in that the place consists of several houses in the various styles of different ethnic groups that live in Cambodia, as well as some US style architecture for the Cambodians living abroad. We arrived just in time to catch most of the Khmer Wedding Ceremony show at 11am, and spent several hours wandering through all the various villages, a somewhat scary tunnel (where there were statues of incredibly gross punishments for various crimes, including “breastfeeding in a Buddhist temple,” which was to have a snake attached to the woman’s nipple), and some buildings in miniature.
The Cultural Village was also sadly pretty deserted by tourists, and in fact when we stopped at the restaurant to have lunch, we were the only people there, so they ushered us into a VIP room. I forget the name of the food I ordered, but my drink was a watermelon shake (are you noticing the trend of different types of fruit shakes yet?)
When we finished our lunch, it was time for the next dancing show, “The Immortal life of Khmer Soul,” to start. So we hurried off to that, having only missed the beginning. When that was finished, we went to the wax figures we had missed at the entrance. Probably the most distinctive thing I noticed here was that in the paintings on the wall I noticed, female dancers like the ones we had seen perform were bare chested, and now in reality this is no longer the case, presumably because of Western influence. We really are a bunch of prudes in the Western world, aren’t we? There’s nothing wrong with it if raised in a society where bare chested women is the norm. Maybe then there wouldn’t be such an obsession with breasts among men, and people freaking out about breastfeeding in public. But I digress.
Our morning tuk tuk driver waited for us during the day, so we met him after that and he drove us back to our hotel for the rest of the afternoon, since we figured we didn’t have enough time left to visit the National Museum (the last thing I particularly wanted to see), and Jeremy had to make a skype call anyway.
For dinner we just headed around the corner from our hotel to a small restaurant that looked as though it was the front of someone’s house. We sat on cushions on the floor and ate at a coffee table. I ordered Khmer Curry and Jeremy ordered lak lok, which we shared. We also each ordered different fruit shakes – I had mango, Jeremy had lemon and Doyle had apple.
That was our last full day in Siem Reap as a family, though Jeremy stayed on as he had to be in Phnom Penh next week for work anyway. The rest of us flew out at 8:30am the next day.
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