September 26 – Monday. Siem Reap

Siem Reap September 26 2011 Monday

What a great day!  If you thought that temples would be boring, try Angkor Thom; Magnificent – part of the ‘Pyramids of Asia’.

To all the group, one of the highlights of today was enjoying a superb breakfast – Cambodian style.  So much to choose from that the mind boggles.  We called everyone to meet for breakfast at 8:00am so we could leave on our Temple tour at 9:00am but they have said that tomorrow will be an earlier breakfast so they can enjoy more than just “weet-bix and milk, toast and vegemite”

Our guide, Lin, is very well versed in the history and the legends of the many temples around Siem Reap.  He enjoys what he does, and enjoys laughing at his own jokes.

The Angkor Thom was enormous. It is a temple place that is never inhabited or slept in.  It has been a place for prayers, chanting, and all things to do with the local religions. It takes up an area of 9 square kilometres, previously the last Capital of the Angorian Empire.  It was built after Jayavarman VII recaptured the Angkorian Capital from the Cham invaders in 1181.  The King began a massive building campaign across the empire constructing Angkor Thom as his new Capital City with existing structure.  So we spent a lot of time wandering through what has become a tourist mecca.  Thousands visit the area each day.

In the afternoon, after a wonderful luncheon in a ‘side of the road café’, we visited Ta Prohm, or Jungle Temple, where massive fig and Silk-cotton trees grow from the Towers and Corridors offering a Jungle atmosphere.  We also took in Bayon or, Four Smiling Faces, where each of the columns had carved smiling faces pointing in the four directions; a total of over 220 faces.

There have been lots of photos taken.  None of the group have lost their camera but some have lost their wallets – temporarily.  Frustrating in a foreign country! Not sure if they are ‘senior’s moments’ or just the norm.

We arrived back at the magnificent hotel at 6:00pm, a quick dip in the pool before another dinner of delicious food.  Bed is to be a great spot to end the day.

Being in the rainy season, Siem Reap is flooded in many areas with vehicles having to venture through the murky waters.  As you get off the bus to visit a temple, lots of children are there to sell you a book for $5 or $8 or some wrist bands or whatever, for a $1.  The books are history books of the Pol Pot era or stories of the Killing Fields – a reminder of the terrible atrocities of that era.  The tourist currency is the US dollar.  I haven’t seen any local currency yet.  I asked some of the children where they came from and in clear English, “from my mother and father” was the response.  Schools are free, and teach in English but many of the children can speak 3 and 4 languages before they are into high school.  Handy for the 3 million tourists that now come to Cambodia each year.

Today’s “Senior” moment – revealed today but happened at Changi Airport yesterday.  There is a receptacle in the toilet containing sanitizer.  Some paper is provided to apply the sanitizer to wipe the seat.  This unnamed group member applied it to ‘her’ seat instead of the toilet seat.  A new type of hygiene!

25 September 2011 Sunday Siem Reap

Today is the commencement of our group tour to Cambodia and Vietnam.  We thought we could stop off in Siem Reap on the way to Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon) just to compare the way of life of both countries.  The main tourist ‘meca’ in Siem Reap is the Angkor Watt, which we will do tomorrow.

After taking cars to Tullamarine and meeting up with Judy & Ian who flew in from Sydney to join us, we departed on time at 5 past mid-night on Sunday morning.  It is the longest Sunday I can remember.  A meal was served just after departure and then we were woken up for breakfast 5 hours later.

As school holidays had just begun, the flights leaving at that time were all full and so immigration was very busy indeed.  However, it turned out to be the funniest time we have ever had in a security area.  Firstly, Lyn got told gruffly, to turn off her mobile (tut tut), but the funniest ‘blonde’ moment happened when Ken told us his episode with the security guys.  Ken has a leg that doesn’t work too well, and so to maneuver around is an effort.  He had placed his belt, wallet and watch in the box to go through the x-ray machine.  When he put everything back in place, he realized that his watch was missing.  He said to security guy ‘I’ve lost my watch.”  The guy wasn’t too helpful but checked anyway to see if it had fallen out of the tray in the machine.  Well, it could not be found – and this was his Dad’s old watch.  So we continued on through all the shops before arriving at the departure lounge and sat down.  Ken felt an uncomfortable feeling in his shoe and took it off – and there was his watch.  His gummy foot has no feeling in it and he hadn’t felt the extra ‘cargo’ in his shoe.  So the first blonde moment is recorded as being in the male kingdom.

The Singapore government, it seems, has intentionally made the airport the most interesting of airports to spend 5 or 6 hours.  There are so many upmarket shops and flower gardens, and entertainment areas, and, and, and……. All enjoyed the 5 hour layover, that’s for sure.  The orchids were just brilliant.  Our flight to Siem Reap was quite bumpy during our 2 hour flight at 38,000 feet altitude.

Arriving and going through customs and immigration at Siem Reap is quite an interesting experience too, with about 15 officials (in smart uniforms) in a ‘chain gang’ each viewing the passport and doing something with it.  After photos and finger printing, customs was a breeze with just a ‘drop the form in a box’ procedure.

Siem Reap is at a very low altitude and flooding at this time of year in their rainy season is all through the area and town.  On the way from the airport, our bus was going through flooded streets.  It was interesting to see motor bikes parked in 6 inch deep water with their riders having a chat with someone on the side of the road – well, not just one here and there, but many.

After checking into the Victoria Angkor Hotel, we sat by the pool for the afternoon, gathering some much needed sleep.  The hotel is just magnificent – old architecture with lots of dark timber used throughout.  Chris, a builder from Wesburn, has been taking many photos of the structure.  And he had a blonde moment too – while taking all his photos, he couldn’t remember his room number, so was systematically knocking on each door.  Eventually, one of the doors that opened, was to his room.  After having a sumptuous meal together, we ‘retired’ early, for Siem Reap time, to our luxurious rooms.