So, Siem Reap. The tourist capital of Cambodia, and for good reason. I was initially struck by how western it appeared, though that’s hardly a surprise given what’s a few KM up the road – Angkor Wat and it’s neighboring temples. It’s such a big deal here, they have even named their national beer after it. There are so many temples in the complex that you can get tickets that last a week long.
I went for the 3 day option. I can honestly say this is the single most impressive tourist attraction I have ever seen. This place was lost to nature for several hundred years, and as a result humongous trees have taken over in places, sometimes destroying the temples, other times actually holding them up. At times, I was more impressed by how nature had put it’s stamp on the place than the temples themselves, as can be seen in the pictures. There were at least ten thousand tourists there, but if you timed your visits to the various temples well, it was not a problem given the massive scale of the place. In the end, I only managed to last a day and a half – initially I thought I was just ‘templed out’ though I found out a few hours later it was something I had eaten… 2 days in bed for me then! That’s the second time in 2 months I’ve fallen ill, which I don’t think is so bad really.
I caught the boat to Battambang, located across Tonel Sap lake, and up a tightly meandering river. Being the dry season, progress was very slow with the bottom of the boat scraping the riverbed often. The advertised 6 hours turned out to be 9 due to a broken propeller. Thankfully it didn’t totally fall off – the coupling just needed a bit of welding. The boat is quite a popular way to get to Battambang given that the boat passes through numerous communities of people living on the river on floating houses. There were floating health centres, police stations, provincial buildings – everything you would expect in a normal community. Other buildings tower 30 feet above them on stilts, showing how high the river gets in the monsoon season. Apparently there are many Vietnamese settlers here – not being Cambodian, they were not allowed to settle on dry land, but the river is fine! We stopped at many these villages to load even more people onto an already overloaded boat. This was made even more nerve wracking by the fact that one of the 2 drivers (the older and wiser of the two) started warning people on the roof – of which there were at least 20 – not to stand up as the boat may capsize! When even one extra person climbed on the roof to enjoy the sunset, the roll of the boat felt markedly different. I was very pleased when one particularly large French woman was refused access to the roof!
In Battambang, I meet up with Natalie, a friend of a friend (thanks Neish!) from home who is working for the Cambodian Children’s Trust which is a NGO working in Battambang to combat poverty. Even though I have been on the road for 2 months passing through seriously poor areas meeting locals, it was still surprising hearing some of the things people have to deal with in Cambodia from a westerner who lives there and is in daily contact with those in real need.
Natalie very kindly offered me a bed for the night which was much appreciated – having slept in many guesthouse beds over the last 2 months, it was great to be able to sleep in a REAL house as opposed to a guest house for a change!!
This morning, I headed west towards to Pailin, though was held up slightly on the outskirts of Battambang by a fire at a petrol station – never a boring day in Cambodia!! I’m planning on cycling to Pattaya before catching a train to Bangkok before flying onto New Zealand – it’s going to be tight – this is the first time in 2 months I have a deadline of any sort!!
PS. poor internet signal = no Angkor temple pictures 😦