Saturday, 22 October 2011

Siem Reap

In which a bicycle tyre bursts and three pairs of shoes are sacrificed to the flood.

Starring a 22yr old marine with a keen sense of irony and a waitress who made no apologies to Vietnam.

Given we were intending to go there anyway, we had decided to just ignore all the ‘stories’ we had been hearing about flooding in Siem Reap and so were a bit surprised to find ourselves sloshing into town unable to distinguish the river from the road.  

Luckily we had found ourselves a marine on the bus so although there was much squealing it seemed highly unlikely that he wouldn’t step in and take action in the event of a genuine emergency.  The Cambodians seemed as amused by it all as we were – instead of the usual cries of “You want Tuk Tuk laydeeee” one guy called out “You want boat?”  

We had a coffee, went to the old market and then settled into a cocktail bar (50p mojitos!) as it was quite hard to do anything else.  Our waitress explained to us that the problem was that this was Thailand’s water and they had just said “Sorry Cambodia” and sent it over.  But not to worry because the Cambodians were planning to open another sluice gate and send it all to Vietnam.  She roared with laughter and spent the rest of the evening teaching us to speak Cambodian and passing round her co-worker’s baby.
The next morning we hired bikes from our hotel for a day’s cycling out at the Angkor ruins.  No sooner had we set off than we cycled through a small lake and Abby’s canvas shoes were sodden through.   This was the first pair of shoes the flood claimed.   As we huffed and puffed our way around, gasping from one patch of shade to the next it became clear that we were the only fools on bicycles.  We watched in subdued silence as a whole contingent of Japanese tourists wafted past in a never ending convoy of tuk tuks.  “For my spiritual journey,” said the marine, “I would like shade.”

The Angkor temples are spread out over an area of over 3000 square kilometres.  I think we covered about thirty. We planned our day to arrive back at Angkor Wat for sunset and set off with Abby leading the way on the dodgiest bike (no gears, screechy brakes).  Spent the majority of time at one of the largest temple complexes called Angkor Thom which has incredible gates – huge heads staring out into the jungle.   There are several temple complexes within it including Phimeanakas with a 300m terrace of carved elephants. There was quite a lot of mud and flooding but they’d mainly put boards over the worst bits and there were whole crews of workers digging out canals to move the standing water away from the ruins. (Another addition to the list of jobs I would rather not have.)

It was just after lunch as we set off for Ta Phrom (otherwise known as the Angelina Jolie Temple as it was used one of the sets for Tomb Raider), when we were at the furthest point we could possibly be from the hotel, that Abby’s front tire burst with a loud pop.  We were just standing around discussing what to do about it when the rain started; a huge downpour that saw us scurrying into one of the city temple gates to take shelter with four giggling girls on mopeds who were trying to keep their homework dry.  “Also,” said the marine, “for my spiritual journey, I would like a poncho.”  Once it cleared we persuaded the marine (you can’t fault a polite American!) to drive the bad bicycle, and set off again. 

Ta Phrom is also well known because of several large trees growing over the top of the temple.  It’s all absolutely extraordinary.  You’re allowed an incredible amount of freedom to just wander in and out of the ruins and clamber up on things.  If it wasn’t for the neat walkways and handrails in the trickier bits it would really be like tomb raiding. 

As we pulled up to each temple we were met by a chorus of “Hey Ladeeeeee, you want to buy something?” and swamped by small children wielding postcards, scarfs and coconuts.  At the last temple, as we were balancing our way back along some planking, four girls emerged from the surrounding trees yelling out their bracelet prices.  “Oh wow,” said the marine, “forest people.”  We all fell about. 

Another pair of shoes down (the marine had snapped a flip flop but managed to buy another pair at a place that sold shoes, water, coconuts and many, many silk scarves but alas was not able to fix bicycle tyres) we raced the last few kilometres around to Angkor Wat just in time for sunset and then back into town. The trip back was rather hairy as it was in darkness and although we had our headlights as lamps on the bikes they weren't particularly effective.  Added pleasure of bugs of who knows what description sticking to the sunblock/deet/sweat/dirt mix that we were utterly covered in. 

By the next day the town had dried up and the bars had filled up. We spent a happy evening on Pub Street drinking whiskey buckets (free t-shirts) at bars called Angkor What? and The Temple before eventually moving to a piano bar because the 22yr old among us was finding the music a bit loud!


Of course Siem Reap has a lot more to offer than just cheap cocktails (50p mojitos!!! have I mentioned that already?) and fish pedicures (signs saying – No Piranahs!).  Abby and I did a half day cooking course which included a trip to the market identifying all manner of extremely strange fruit.  We cooked a three course meal (you could choose anything from their menu) that we had to carry away in polystyrene boxes because there was more payapaya salad than a person can possibly eat in a day. 

We also spent another day out at the temples – this time by tuk tuk – including a very early start for sunrise at Ankor Wat and a diversion via the Landmine Musuem.  It was set up by a Cambodian guy who had originally been in the Khymer Rouge but then spent many years trawling through rural villages disarming whatever people had stumbled upon or clearing their fields.  There is so much ordinance left in the ground in Cambodia that every time it rains heavily the ground has to be recleared because mines have washed down from higher ground.  

It was on this last jaunt that we said goodbye to yet another pair of shoes as Abby’s flip flops were literally sucked from her feet by the unrelenting mud.  

More pictures:

1 comment:

  1. Kellie Netherwood5 November 2011 at 10:17

    Ahhh, Siem Reap, my home away from home! So happy you enjoyed it there and experienced Pub Street! Have had many hangovers as a result of the Temple Bar and Angkor Wat - surreal to imagine you drinking in them as well! Loving the blog Sal, keep the entries coming so I can live vicariously through your travels - and I look forward to hearing the entries not suitable for a blog over a glass in wine when you are back in London xxx