Siem Reap, Angkor Wat (photos to follow)
03.12.2007 - 06.12.2007
From Bangkok we started off our mission to get to Cambodia. According to all the literature this is one of the most complicated border crossings that you can encounter anywhere in the world, mainly because everyone and anyone is trying to scam you along the way. We were warned off taking tourist buses which can take 20 hours, deliberately so, in order that you arrive at Siem Reap at 5 am and go for whatever overpriced accommodation they drop you at. So in order to avoid this we did it all oursleves. We had a few adventures on the way as expected. We took a local bus to the border town of Aranyaprathet on the Thai side.
From there we took a tuk tuk to the border, and had to stop the driver taking us to a travel agent instead of the border. In fact he didn't take us right to the border. He dropped us short of it at a group of touts who offered to do our Visa's for us, and told us that we wouldn't be able to get a Cambodian Visa at the border. Bollocks. We managed to avoid them and headed to the border control. Departing Thailand was all very straightforward. We then walked across nomans land - which is a case of dodging all of the begging children before going to the Cambodian Visa office. I lost the rag a bit here.
We filled out our applications and took them to the counter - above which there is a large sign requesting $20 for a tourist visa. We were served by a very officious looking character in a military uniform. I had calculated $20 as being about 800 baht each so passed this over to him with the applications. He flatly refused the 1600 baht, saying that it would be 2000 baht. I in turn refused and told him that it was 1600 baht. He sat down and read his paper and ignored me, which got me a bit angry. He kept saying it was 1000 baht. I kept telling him he was a liar and that I knew it was only 800. After a bit of more of that, I then went into my rucksack and produced $20 each for the visa. His response to this was that it was $25 each, despite the clear sign above his head stating $20. I did a bit of pointing at the sign and shouting at him, but he wouldn't budge. Then he shouted at me that it was only $20 if you prearranged the Visa in Bangkok, and if I wanted to do that then it would take 24hours! I was apoplectic by this stage and pulled out my mobile and shouted at him that I was going to phone my embassy, the British embassy, to find out what they had to say about that.......and he accepted the 800 baht each and gave us the Visas. Absolute joker. But I won. Just before I get criticised for being tight (as the difference between 1600 and 2000 baht is about 6 quid) it's the principal that really annoys me, that some fat twat who sits drinking coffee, reading the paper and smoking fags in his uniform can demand extra money (and get it most of the time), just because he's wearing a uniform, is just wrong. Especially when there are children begging in the streets outside his office. So corrupt it made me want to strangle the guy. Anyway, we then went to the next office to get a stamp and we were in Cambodia. No sooner had we stepped into the country than we were escorted to a free bus to the "bus station''. Turned out the ''bus station'' was 100 yards up the road and was a travel agent. We agreed with another couple who we met on the bus to share a taxi to Siem Reap. We went into the ''bus station'' and there was a guy with a piece of paper with various pricings for buses and taxis to Siem Reap. At the top of the paper, which was clearly something he had typed up himself was "Ministery of Transportation of Cambodia''. The prices were ridiculously overinflated and so we went outide into the street and got a guy off the street to drive us there for half the price.
The difference between Cambodia and Thailand is immediate. The tarmac road stops at the Thai side, and continues as a very dusty, pot-holed, dirt track all the way 160km to Siem Reap. The journey took us around 3.5 hours. The countryside is so beautiful though.
We drove past loads of little rural towns, with children playing in the paddies at the side of the road, animals roaming about the place, people living in little thatched houses on stilts, people fishing in the ponds beside the road. Very reminiscent of Central America. Unfortunately Siem Reap is a bit different. It's a bit of a sprawling mess of Massive Super Hotels for the wealthy. We got dropped on the outskirts of town and picked up by a tuk tuk. Turned out the reason for this is that they want to secure a fare for the day after to the Temples at Angkor, which are just outside the town. We went with our guy and arranged for him to collect us at 9 am the next morning. He dropped us at our hotel and we checked in. Crashing back to reality after our time in Bangkok. Nobody greeting us with jasmine garnets, no lifts for anyone to be waiting to press the button. Our room was sparse to say the least, and the warning on the back of the door was a bit of a shock.
Cambodia is clearly very poor. Everywhere we've been there are very young children begging, or selling books or trinkets. It's all a bit sad. There are also a lot of people begging missing limbs, presumably as a result of coming into contact with one of the hundreds of landmines that are still present in the countryside. We succumbed to one little boy, who couldn't have been older than about 8, who asked where we were from? We replied ''Scotland'' to which he immediately reeled off "Scotland. Capital Edinburgh. Population 5 million people. Minus two. You know why? Because you 2 are here''.
On our first night we went out for an amazing meal at a crazy little restaurant in town called the Dead Fish Tower. Not the most appealing name, but it is so unique. It is laid out on various different levels and has a really cool atmosphere. Coolest of all though is the pond and the crocodile pit that they have right down at the bottom. The food was really tasty and the beer really cheap (Cambodia is so cheap mug of draught beer for 40p). After our meal we ventured downstairs to see the crocodiles. First we stopped off at the pond.
There was a huge fish about a couple of feet long lurking about in there. I decided it would be funny to try and tease it by hanging my finger over the water above its face.
It looked like it was recoiling away, but it turned out to be readying itself to attack, as a second after this photo was taken it lunged right out of the water at me. I was just quick enough to get away, but screamed like a little girl, much to the amusement of all the staff who had gathered to watch. Jenny just about wet herself. After I'd calmed down we went to have a look at the crocodiles.
Turned out you could feed them dead fish which was good fun. Jenny enjoyed this a lot. There were loads of them all living under the floorboards. They all looked in pretty good nick as well.
The next morning we were rudely awoken at 7.30 by drilling and banging right outside our room, so we upped and left to go to a better place. We then hooked up with our driver - riding a motor bike pulling a carriage that we sat in. We negotiated $12 for the day and set off to Angkor. Angkor is a massive site of temples built during the Khmer empire that controlled Cambodia. The Khmers built a vast array of temples to worship their Gods and bury their kings. They were clearly an amazing bunch given how intricate the temples are.
The first temple we came to was Angkor Wat. This place is sijmply incredible. As far as temples go this one is mindblowing. The sheer scale of it is as impressive as the ornateness of its design. It was built in the 12th century which makes it even more special.
I'm not really that fussed by temples but this place is just magnificent. It has a moat all the way round it and ponds with pink and white lotus flowers floating on them. It's just an awesome sight. Jenny's perhaps not quite as enthusiastic as I am about it she said ''if it had been built by a monkey then I'd be impressed''. I think she was quite impressed though, and there were some monkeys stealing stuff from tourists, and some elephants roaming about the roads to keep her baredom levels down.
The next temple that we visited, Bayon, was really impressive too.
It has lots of faces carved into the rocks towering up the sides and the centre of the inner temple. Jenny was a bit more enthusiastic about this one, however that was tempered a bit by the fact that she had her bottom pinched by a Japanese tourist (of which there must have been several million in the entire complex). We went to see another couple of temples, one which you could climb right up to the very top of, on very narrow, shaky stairs.
There is another temple that has been made famous by the film Tomb Raider that was filmed there, and a final one where they have made no effort to protect the structure from nature, resulting in huge octopus-like tree roots strangling and warping the stone walls.
Both of these were pretty amazing also, however we ran out of camera battery unfortunately. We were supposed to hang around for a couple of hours longer to watch the sunset, but it was clouding over, and both of us were shattered, wo we gave that a miss and got our delighted driver to take us back.
We've just been taking it easy for today and are probably going to venture south to Phnom Phen.......