arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our flight from Ho Chi Minh
flight was delayed by 40 minutes which gave us plenty of time to get in a
few games of SkipBo (all of which were won by Terry).
were picked up at the airport by Tayda (pronounced Tea-Da). Driving from
the airport into Phnom Penh
she explained what we would be doing for the balance of the day and how
the lateness of our plane affected those plans. She said that she would
take us directly to the hotel, where we could check into our room with a river view. She also gave us some safety tips on being in
Phnom Penh. The most earnest was to be back near our hotel by 8:00pm and not to walk
back streets after dark. She asked us not to
be too long so that we might beat some of the closing times for the sights
we were to see.
checked into Star Royal Hotel and followed a fellow up to our room which
was tucked into a corner. He maneuvered our two backpacks around the
maid's trolley and opened the door. With some difficulty, he got the air
conditioner to work and left us to settle in. The room wasn't that great
but adequate and having a river view would be great. We pulled back the
closed drapes and faced a stucco wall two meters away. We had to
hurry so didn't inspect the room further.
we reached the lobby, we told Tayda of the view from our room thinking
perhaps there had been a mix-up. She spoke to the front desk and reported
back that they were unable to move us.
took us to the
|Cities were forcibly emptied and people were resettled in rural labour camps. Anyone with foreign ties or education was liable to be executed.|
|By the time
returned to the hotel, maneuvered around the maid's cart and some bags of
towels and then changed from the heat of the day by the one light in the
room that worked (one didn't even have a light bulb) and took a walk to a
recommended restaurant two blocks away. We shared what would be equivalent
at a Chinese restaurant (Cambodian food is very similar), egg foo yung,
beef stir-fry with vegetables and steamed rice, aided by some Heineken
beer while being hovered over by, at any one time, three to five young
the restaurant, we got a quick Cambodian language lesson from some
twenty-something year old tuk-tuk drivers (a rickshaw type
powered by a motorcycle). We explained we were going to walk the short
distance to our hotel. We made it half way and decided to visit the
Foreigners' Club Lounge. Climbing
four flights of stairs found an open deck overlooking the street and the
wide grassed boulevard that lay between the street and the also wide
walkway which ran along the river's edge (like a straight
As we prepared for bed a rather loud sound, like an electric drill starting and stopping, began emanating from either the next room or the room above. We expected that if they were doing any work it would end by 10:00pm. WRONG!! The sound continued through the night -- starting and stopping every six ... sometimes seven ... sometimes eight seconds. The two seconds between the times of six and eight only served to give hope that it had ended; only for that thought to be dashed when it would grind and whir again. There would be no use to complain; if they were too full to move us earlier they would be unable to do anything now. A sleepless night.
had an early flight out and were glad the night was over. The on again off
again sound turned into a constant one at 6am.
we made our way passed the maid's trolley and up to the floor above for
the breakfast buffet.
Tired, we made our way passed the maid's trolley and up to the floor above for the breakfast buffet.
At the top of the stairs we saw the buffet tables
covered with white sheets and were told to make an egg selection from a
sheet of paper and pointed towards a table where we could make our own
toast and pour some watered-down tang-like concoction. One guest arrived
and asked "Where's the buffet? It was magnificent yesterday
morning." We could only assume that the empty tables and the draped
buffet were because they had so few guests ... which in turn begged the
question why we had to deal with a room without a view, a doorway shared
by cleaning equipment, one light, ripped sheets, torturous on again off
again sounds all night and a cleanliness level that would not land them
even one star (they claim three) in Canada. One would think in a society
where so many people are begging for work at poverty wages, cleanliness in
a hotel would not be an issue.
and the driver picked us up and took us to the airport. On the way there,
we asked about the uniformed men placed along the roadway. "Somebody
important must be coming into town," she said.
We purchased some water at the coffee counter and sat at a table next to the glass walkway which guided people to and from the aircraft. During our second game of SkipBo, some big brass army types passed by. The one with the most medals on his chest looked down at the cards with a spark of interest. Shortly afterwards coming from the opposite direction was a rather large and upright entourage which worked it's way passed us. "There's the king," Terry said recognizing the gentleman in the middle of the line.
moment later an announcement came for the boarding of our plane. We walked
down some stairs and stood in front of large glass doors which lead to the
tarmac. Again the king passed by and as soon as he did, the doors opened
and we almost fell in step with his group ten metres in front but they
turned to some gates where his cavalcade of cars waited and we turned
towards the plane for our flight to Siem Reap.
were met at the Siem Reap airport by a gentleman named Sophy who was also
surprised by our lack of luggage. He introduced us to the driver, Somba.
Instead of going directly to the hotel he asked us if we would agree to go
directly to the first sites. We agreed.
first stop was at a check point where park officials took our pictures and
information then laminated a park pass that was good for three days
(though we would only be here for two).
|The three 9th century temples (known collectively as the “Roluos Group”) were unlike the temples we visited in Vietnam and Phnom Penh for these are no longer in active use.|
| Some have only recently been claimed back from
the forests that surround them. Reconstruction projects on some of
is very knowledgeable about the area's history and when we told him that
photography was important to us, he went out of his way to show us the
best camera angles to make the most of what we were viewing.
we got back into the van, Somba had it always so cool and inviting. We
were offered cold water (kept on ice in a cooler) and cold towelettes with
which to wipe away the sticky heat. Very impressive.
the first three temples that charmed us with their age (9th century) and,
albeit decaying, beauty and their intricate carved details in limestone;
we were taken to the hotel to check in, relax and refresh for a couple of
hours before venturing out into the 32 degree C muggy heat again.
Angkor Star Hotel was a happy surprise and our room lovely with a balcony
looking out to the front. Tonight we would sleep. A shower and a change of
clothes and we were ready to go again at 2:30pm.
|Sophy and Somba drove us to Angkor Wat -- one of the world's most impressive ruins.|
|Sophy guided us through the gates and around the massive temple. It didn't take us long to recognize that we weren't following the route of the large-pack tour groups. Without missing what they were taking in, he was helping us explore more intimately these complex ruins. He took us to places with the best camera angles and lighting in mind.||
|When it came time to climb the steep steps on the centre tower Sherrie declined (the height, steepness and shallowness of steps were just too intimidating). Was Sherrie going to keep the camera to click Terry ascending and descending, or was Terry going to take it to capture views from the top. Sophy came up with a solution.|
|Terry climbed up with Sherrie taking pictures. Sophy took the camera up to Terry. Terry took inside pictures of the reclining Buddha and outside views. When they were ready to come down again they avoided the 30 minute lineup to use the one set of stairs which has a side railing to hang onto and chose instead another long, steep and narrow step staircase. Sophy took the camera and came down the stairs (obviously not his first time) and handed the camera to Sherrie to capture Terry's decent.|
kilometre-plus length of mural carved in relief wraps around Angkor Wat.
Sophy walked us through the depictions of battles, both factual and
spiritual, plus pictures of everyday life way back when ... pictures of
fishermen and hunters, carpenters and mothers giving birth, cooks and
their ingredients ... all carved in limestone. In places where it had been
touched a lot the stone had taken on a smooth shiny dark patina (actually
better for picture taking) but the fear of the relief's life being
shortened prompted "do not touch" signs to be placed. (We don't
know if they are helping to stop the touching. We didn't, but the tactile
urge was there.)
as the sun was to set and shine its light on (not behind as it would in
the morning light) the star of the show -- Angkor Wat's recognizable front
entrance and five towers, Sophy guided us to the side of a lake in front
so that we could get Angkor Wat and its reflection in the soft light of
sunset. To add to the ancient scene a lady was taking that time to wash
some clothes as she stood knee deep in the water. If it turns out as well
on a larger screen as it did on the camera's view it should be one worth
guides and drivers get special privileges at tour spots. Free meals seem
to be the most common. Because of our way of traveling, these spots are
no where on our radar screen (although we have had occasions to appreciate
their toilet facilities - when singing a song is on the agenda). Other
guides seem to hop from one tourist shop to the other. What we appreciated
most about Sophy was his honesty.
Nearing town Sophy asked if we might like to spend ten minutes or so at a tourist souvenir shop. They were encouraging guides to bring their tourists by offering a draw ticket for a brand new car each time they did. We told him we would be pleased to stop. As with most of these shops the moment you walk through the door a personal shopper attaches to you like dust to a swiffer cloth. One personal shopper for each person ... just in case a couple splits up. The sales pressure is high. Within the first minute of meeting you they had asked where you are from. Blink at an item twice and they are pulling out a calculator and calculating the item in your country's currency ... ie: Canadian dollars. We got out without a purchase and we wished Sophy the best of luck in winning the car.
asked him to recommend a place for dinner. He named a couple. "If we
go there will you and Somba get a free meal?" we asked.
pick out one where you would like to eat and we will be happy."
we arrived, he helped us choose from the menu. They would not eat with us
so we told them that when they finished they should go home and we would
take a tuk-tuk back to the hotel.
we finished, they were there waiting for us and we climbed back into the
van and slowly backed out of the parking lot. It was dark and some
children were going through garbage piles put out by the restaurants and
shops nearby. On the other side of the van we saw a lone boy of about four
or five years old with two empty plastic bottles tucked under his arm
looking for more such finds.
the car please, Somba," Terry said and got out. He went up to the
youngster and gave him some money. The little fellow's eyes grew huge with
awe and delight at this unexpected happening. The sparkle in his eyes must
have shone like fireworks because children came from out of nowhere and
mobbed Terry so that he had difficulty getting back into the van. Somba
opened the door and carefully slid it shut so no little fingers would get
crunched. There were some sad faces as we pulled away. A few others were
looking at what the little one had received and the little one's face was
alight with sunshine.
|the South Gate to look at the many faces lining the causeway.|
|As with previous temples Sophy again took the time to tell us about the history, beliefs and pageantry of the ancient civilization.|
|Again, faces were prominent. [To appreciate size, see the man in the white shirt in picture - right below]|
|Outside each temple entrance hawkers waited to tempt tourist with their low priced wears and beggars pleaded while others cooked. The ladies pictured below were cooking frogs and fish ... the fish so fresh they still flapped against the heat. Freshness counts in surroundings that are 35 degrees Celsius.|
Our next stop was at one of the smaller temples. Sophy explained how most temples were once surrounded by moats ... sometimes one, sometimes two. At the base of the centre tower of this temple a small moat still existed, then steep shallow stairs stretched up almost to the top.
"There is a good view from up there," Sophy pointed. Again Sherrie declined as she had done at Angkor Wat, but Sophy directed us to the west side where a railing had been installed for those who desired a little more security.
had said he would wait for us a the bottom, we thought it was because
other than the view, there wasn't much to talk about. What we realized now
was he had put us into the care of these amateur tour guides who pointed
out some features at the top, including another set of stairs that climbed
even steeper. Terry climbed up further while the boys ran and hopped up.
Back at Sherrie's level, they pointed out the man-made lakes -- one for
the king and another larger one for all his wives and concubines. The boys
negotiated a fee after the tour and quickly called out encouraging words
to the next climbers as we made our way down.
past the larger lake on the way back to the car, we saw a boy across the
water. He was in the lake having a bath and washing the last of his
clothes. His old bike lay on the grass above him while to the right of it
he had stretched out his shirts and pants to dry smoothly in the sun. He
hung a few undergarments on the bike's handlebars and finished taking his
bath. The water looked cool in the heat of the day.
we so appreciated the cold bottled water and cold damp cloths that Somba
and Sophy had waiting for us in the van.
|They drove us back to the hotel where we cooled down with showers and had a small snack.|
|Still having time before Sophy and Somba returned, we hired a tuk-tuk to give us a tour of Siem Reap. He took us through town, past children working in a plant covered waterway, a market where bananas were being unloaded and a street market selling used shoes.|
|We arrived back in time to greet Somba and Sophy. The white van (pictured right) is our tour car.|
|A stop at a 12th century temple gave us a sight of children swimming in the waters of this ancient place. Many of Cambodia's children live without parents. Many fend for themselves.|
Ta Prohm the first sign of things to come were the roots of a tall tree
pushing up the stone slabs of the walkway. Through all the sights we have
each turn a new wonderful sight appeared before us. One could get lost in
this temple ... both physically and emotionally. It's quiet eeriness was
guided us further between fallen stone blocks to what was to become a
favourite of Sherrie's. The roots had crept over and through a wall that
had been carved with figures. As the roots spread this way and that, they
had left an opening and from behind the opening peeked the face of one of
the images. It has a Mona Lisa style smile as though it knows the secrets
hidden deeper behind the roots.
tell the story better than words.
young girl (about 10 years old) and her younger brother (about 6 or 7) sat
on one of the ancient blocks writing on paper they held against their
knees, perhaps homework if they were among the lucky who got to go to
school. They weren't begging, they weren't selling. They were just being
quiet within this silent history. We left them with some money and
balloons (this time Sherrie had them in her pocket) and walked away from a
haunting part of
had suggested it might be nice to take in a traditional buffet complete
with traditional dancing. The price was right ($12 per person). We told
him we would like to do that tonight and if it would be beneficial to him,
we would like him to make the arrangements.
back into the van, Sophy told us about the last three temples on our
agenda. "Not important temples. Two are small." We
explained that we were "templed out" and would prefer to freshen
up at our hotel before going to dinner.
|On the drive back we watched
elephants returning to the
the hotel Sophy suggested Sherrie go to the room while he and Terry
crossed the street to the restaurant and made arrangements for a table.
7:00pm Sophy returned, walked us across the street and saw us settled into
the reserved table (even though it meant up-seating a couple who had
claimed it for their own) and then bid us "Good night." He had
just enough time to have some dinner (his payment for bringing us) before
he was due at his Spanish class.
buffet was large and varied. With our stomachs full, the length and
excitement of the day caught up to us and we left early after only seeing
a few of the dances. Tuk-tuk drivers waited outside to take tourists back
to their hotels ... we just pointed across the street to ours and said