Poipet to Siam Reap, Angkor Wat & surrounds -9 -17 September 2008
We crossed the border into Poipet in
On that point quite a few people have emailed asking for more detailed information about what's needed with the Carnet at each border. When we were researching this we couldn't always find what we needed to know and so for the benefit of those that follow we are writing a more detailed account of what is needed for the Carnet on each border and will insert a separate page for this in due course.
We spent the next couple of weeks getting ready for the next stage of our trip. Again we were greatly helped by our friends at Hema Maps. We had realized that we had not got enough detail in some of the maps we had and asked Peter Davis Hema's marketing manager and his assistant Sonya if they could help. Once more they came to our aid sending us not one but 2 lots of maps when the first lot went missing. This has been a huge help in the planning stages and we'd like to send a big thank you to Peter Sonya and all else at Hema. Please see their website on our sponsors' page to get your maps if we've inspired you to go overlanding!
You may have heard of all the political troubles in
Having enjoyed a lovely rest we sadly left Margi to drive to the Thai town of
Getting the car through customs was fairly easy. We had expected to be hit for big bribes - based on some of the horror stories we'd heard and our own nightmarish experiences in
Just a short time on the roads showed us why insurance was deemed redundant. I would say that approximately 80% of the cars we saw didn't even have number plates. As expected from the research we'd been doing the roads were amongst the worst we'd experienced so far. There is a huge scheme under way to upgrade all the roads and you do get sections of this road which are quite ok, but they are a bit few and far between! It didn't help that it started to rain really heavily so soon we were slipping around. It really reminded both of us of off road driving we'd done in
Our first impressions of Siam Reap the next morning were favourable. Due to its proximity to Angkor Wat which has become a major tourist attraction Siam Reap has become a quite sophisticated centre with some top hotels and lovely restaurants though it remains very poor in parts as demonstrated by the shanty towns on the river. We stayed at Siam Reap Riverside Hotel and very nice it was too, the owner TT being extremely helpful -no this isn't it below ..read on !!!!
We had a day of "down time" prior to getting to see the temples and enjoyed a wander around the market. We quickly got to know many of the local children who make a living selling goods to the tourists. They were lovely friendly children quite amazing in their linguistic skills many of them speaking at least 2 languages. Of course we ended up buying things we didn't need! After a few days of this we did a big shop of pens and books so that we could still give them something whilst not buying more souvenirs or we'd run out of money having spent it all on tat we didn't need!
There are also a lot of landmine amputees who make a precarious living selling books cards etc. It is pretty hard for these people with no social security and you really feel bad that you can't do more. We visited the Landmines museum which was amazing. The museum was set up by a Mr. Aki Ra. He was forced to join the Khmer rouge after his parents were murdered and first laid a land mine at the age of 10 years. After suffering dreadfully through the Khmer Rouge years Aki now donates his time for free detonating bombs and landmines. He and his wife Hourt set up the museum where they sell goods to raise funds for this work. In addition they run a centre for homeless children who were disabled by landmines. I have included the centre's web here so you can find out more about the work they do or donate any money you can to help Ari keep up the good work. www.landmine-relief-fund.com
Whenever we are travelling I try to read books about the area to get some understanding of the culture. I would have to say the literature about
The Raffles hotel "chain" has a lovely hotel here. Initially opened in 1923 it miraculously survived the Khmer Rouge years and was re-opened in the 1990s. The doorman wearing his traditional outfit -which he carried off very well! - showed us around and it was stunning. As mentioned Seem Reap have some beautiful hotels and restaurants to reflect its importance as a centre of tourism. After looking around Raffles (cheapest rooms from $360 USD) we bumped into some children begging and bought them both spring rolls and rice from a street stall for under $1USD. Not a fair world really!
There were many stalls set around a local Wat or temple, with ladies selling beautiful flowers to be used as offerings. There was one family who had 100's of little birds in cages see the picture above. In Buddhism It is considered good luck to free them (I bet the birds think so!) which you can do for $1USD. I freed mine too quickly so no photographic evidence remains but believe me he certainly looked very happy!
As mentioned the main attraction round Siam Reap is the nearby Angkor Wat. It is $20 USD per day to visit or you can buy a 3 day pass for $40. We did the latter and splashed out for one day with a guide, having 2 further days on our own. We both agreed that Angkor Wat is amongst the most amazing things we've ever seen. The site of the temples of the ancient Khmer peoples, most of the building took place between the 9th and 15th centuries, & was an attempt by man to honour the gods. The temples consist of examples of both Buddhist and Hindu architecture as the individual kings chose the religion and it changed frequently. I cannot do any justice with my few words here I'd just say it is really worth a visit.
Angkor is vast with over 50 temples on over 250 sq km so there's a lot to see! Highlights for the 3 days included: Angkor Wat itself. This is the main temple and the intricate carvings which cover every inch of wall are depictions of both sacred stories and day to day life at the king's court. The carvings of the ceremonial dancers were very interesting showing all the different styles for clothes and hair which were around. I also loved the Bayon temple which includes 216 smiling Buddha faces, so that you feel you are being watched wherever you go.
Another real highlight was the Ta Prohm an ancient temple completely taken over by nature. Apparently this was the setting for the "Tomb Raider" movie a bit lost on us as neither of us have seen it, though we found the scenery amazing. The long "elephant terrace" where the entertainment for the King was performed was another highlight. You can still tour part of the site by elephant or indeed by Helicopter but most people were in Tuk Tuks. The site is quite spread out so too big to explore on foot.
Seeing the history close up you can understand a bit more about the present conflict with
So we spent 3 days exploring the temples. The only downside was that as we hadn't got prior permission we weren't allowed to take our professional camera in. The authorities are very precious about the photographing of Angkor Wat. We took it in on day 1, but were not allowed to use it so on day 2 we went as directed to the government office to try and get a pass but we couldn't get one though we weren't clear why. We went back with an interpreter the next morning but the office was shut as it was the weekend. In the end we just used our little camera but if you are going with a large camera (a small video one is ok) it's definitely worth arranging permission in advance.
Just when you thought you wouldn't ever need to buy another pack of postcards …the kids selling all around the temples are equally cute and hard to resist! They were pretty persistent too ..in our picture you can see the menus from the kids trying to get us into their restaurants and we hadn't even turned the car off!!! A Couple of times we were saved when coach parties arrived and took the heat off us!
We also met an opportunistic police man who tried to sell us his badge for $40 USD!!! In a country where the police only earn $40 USD per month they are keen to make money any way possible! We didn't dare as being caught with the thing on borders might be a bit tricky!!
For the final days in Siem Reap we had a bit of a relax followed by a trip out to the
This immense lake which borders 5 provinces is the home of several floating villages which constantly move around. Incredibly the water we crossed on our 45 minute round trip isn't there in the dry season and the area is the site for an open air market. Between the wet and dry seasons the water level drops 40 metres and the water heats up to the extent that some of the fish don't survive!!! There are several floating school (one is for the Vietnamese) and various shops/houses /snooker halls/animal pens (mainly pigs and chickens) -all of which are the same as any other aside from the fact that they are floating!
We also saw a couple of "crocodile farms". None remain in the wild here but they are farmed for their skins. The farms weren't a patch on the
A really pleasant surprise has been the food here. Neither of us have "eaten Cambodian" before and (maybe as we have hit the restaurant capital early on!) thus far the food has been delicious. It is pretty similar in parts to both Thai and Vietnamese with its own variations. We had a degustation menu of some local food -spring rolls, spare ribs, fish curry - all beautifully presented in folded banana leaves. The signature dish is Amok Fish -fish in a coconut milk lemongrass and chili curry and it is beautiful. Marijuana is also a traditional ingredient for Khmer food and some restaurants have jumped on the gravy train of selling "special happy herb" pizzas to tourists! Think we'll stick with the Amok!
So as at Tuesday 16 September we are enjoying a bit of a lazy day prior to once again hitting the road to Battambang. Research has shown that the bus takes 6 hours. Hopefully this means the road isn't too bad and we'll manage it in a similar time span….. ..time will tell!