It’s early afternoon on my final full day in the historic city of Siem Reap, Cambodia and instead of exploring scenic regions of the world previously unknown to me I’m sipping from a pineapple shake with an ailing foot/ankle, having minimal pressure exerted upon it. Not the most admirable form of soft adventure, but it’ll have to do for now. If I have any hope of enjoying my final 2 or 3 days in Southeast Asia.
I’m not sure what exactly brought on this massive helping of hurt, but it was probably aided by yesterday’s hectic temple touring schedule. At 5am Andy, Jeff, Morwin and myself met our drivers Phearom and Jhom in the lobby of Popular Guesthouse for a sunrise rendezvous with Angkor Wat, one of the famed man-made wonders of the world and the Khmer people’s main source of national pride, not to mention it’s top tourist attraction.
We arrived at the temple, the sky still dense with stars. I gazed upwards hoping to catch a glance at a shooting one to wish upon, but to no avail. We were a little too early and still had plenty of time before the sun came up, but we weren’t the only ones as the tourist masses descended upon and through the gates of the aged expanse. We stubbornly held a spot on the bridge leading up to the gates for quite a bit, falsely surmising that we would have the best view at sunrise, unfettered by the throngs of clueless foreigners.
After snapping a few shots in the slight dawn we came to a realization that perhaps we were the clueless foreigners. There was probably a reason all of those people were positioning themselves inside. It would probably be better to have a photo of Angkor Wat at sunrise rather than the gate of Angkor Wat.
The lot of us soon shuffled inside amidst hundreds of other shrine visitors. We repositioned ourselves several times before settling near the pond with the throngs of tourists.
Despite the sheer volume of onlookers in this main area I was surprised that we were each able to get clean looks at this truly awesome sight/site. I like the fact that for the rest of my life I’ll be able to say I’ve seen the sun rise over Angkor Wat. I don’t necessarily know what it means in the long run, but it certainly felt special to me. That is certainly more than could be said for a few twenty-something British lads a few feet over from us, who rather than focusing on their remarkable surroundings were busy ruminating over the ability to self-fellate as a direct result of rib removal.
When the sun had fully risen a large number from the crowd exited the site and made for breakfast. We, on the other hand took this as our cue to explore the ruins even further, unfettered by the congregation of families and fellow travelers.
The temple was an impressive monument indeed. Several pool type structures marked the area where we first entered. We bounded around the edges examining the surrounding contours and delved deeper inside the great structure, exploring towers and chambers, before reaching the principle sanctuary known as Bakan. This area was absolutely humongous, yet unfortunately roped off (perhaps wisely) to visitors due to restoration.
We wandered the outsides snapping photo after photo of the impressive construction work around the aged Kingdom including the Bas Relief, Churning of the Sea of Milk whose description had many typos. All in all we were at the the site for about three hours before heading off to our next spot.
Phearom and Jhom brought us to a nearby restaurant for breakfast where I had some delicious pancakes with banana and pineapple. I can’t seem to get enough fresh fruit in Southeast Asia.
On the way to our next stop we dropped by a roadside market/petrol stand. They sell gasoline in 2 liter botttles of soda here in places that also serve as food stands amidst roosters and broken down wagons, with children running around. It seems like every family makes a living here just selling the same things just outside their village.
The next stop on our temple tour de force was Pre Rup. It sort of reminded me of Ta Keo in that it had three towers and required a little climbing, but it wasn’t nearly as steep. It was as if Ta Keo was built just to show whomever built Pre Rup that they were a much more powerful king. Then again it seems like 90% of the temples we’ve seen were built by the same guy, one Jayavarman VII.
From Pre Rup we took our tuk-tuks out to the countryside. Phearom and Jhom brought us to Banteay Srei…which according to Lonely Planet is considered to be “The Jewel in Angkor’s Artistic Crown,” and if I do say so myself there were plenty of impressive design intricacies though I’m no architectural expert. I did notice some numbered components on the side that were almost certainly marked for their piece in the restoration puzzle.
The temple tour monotony was broken by an utterly sobering trip to the Cambodian Landmine Museum, which featured tons of landmine specimens from Cambodia’s war-torn past; many of whose brothers and sisters are still occupying the country’s mine belt.
One thing that has struck me funny or maybe a little bit disturbing about the whole land mine thing is the tacky shirts many Cambodian vendors sell that read, “Danger! Landmines!” obviously aimed at tourists. To me that’s like Jews selling shirts that say “Danger, Nazis!” or Africans selling shirts that say, “Danger Lots of Our People Have AIDS!” on a colorful shirt. I hope proceeds from at least some of those shirts go to Land Mine victims. All that aside, the museum was a very effective monument to a still relevant problem. A relevant problem that Angelina Jolie enjoys tackling head on. Good on her!
Once the Land Mine museum was a thing of the past, Phearom took Morwin and I on a shortcut through a small viillage to our next stop. We saw plenty of children playing along the dirt road and the striking sight of a mother with a baby slung over her shoulder riding a bike.
We pulled up at what I think was Eastern Mebong Temple and non-chalantly wandered through. The most impressive parts of the site were the four large elephant statues guarding the four corners. That was a rather brief stay. Afterwords we stopped for lunch, during which we tried to discuss our day three plans, but couldn’t since the child vendors were completely harassing us and I could barely pay any attention to Andy as he was trying to tell me what he wanted to do.
Unsure of our next stop we pressed on via tuk-tuk to the Ta Som Temple. It was here Andy, Jeff, Morwin, and I had a pow-wow of sorts to decide whether or not to hire our guides for a third consecutive day. Jeff was out for the flooded village. Morwin was on the fence, Andy and I were in. Andy pointed out the oddity we had parked ourselves for our itinerary discussion in a Thousand-year-old temple. How often does that occur?
After reaching this conclusion we arrived back at the tuk-tuk where Jhom announced two more temples. We were somewhat shocked seeing as we’d been up since 4:30am and thought this would be an early day. It was already nearing 3pm. The last two temples, despite being sites of worship, of which we had grown increasingly tired, were well worth it. Beside the fact they were interesting, they helped me realize I had hit a wall and would be fine, perhaps better off if I didn’t go sightseeing the next day.
I began to waver from my initial decision about seeing the flooded forest the next day while staring at the beautiful former fountain at Prasat Neak Pean and reached a solid conclusion while roaming the glorious grounds at Preah Khan.
When we arrived home at around 4:30 we notified both Phearom and Jhom in two separate meetings that we would not be requiring their services the next day. They both took it well and talked with us for a while after. We asked Phearom to recommend a good place to grab a few beers. He told us to go to Pub Street. We had already been to Pub Street and didn’t really want to go some place that American, but rather preferred the Khmer nightlife experience. He gave us the name of a bar near the Angkor Health Hotel and we insisted he come out to drink with us. He politely declined and then said he’d have to clear it with his wife first, being the responsible family man he is. So things looked doubtful. The same invitation was extended to Jhom, to meet us at the bar at 9pm. Jhom agreed.
From the Guesthouse Restaurant we decided to spend a few hours of leisure around the area. I made a quick trip to the Internet Cafe with Jeff, returning to the room at 7pm and promptly falling asleep. I awoke at 7:40pm, finally being roused from slumber after Morwin had apparently spent ten minutes knocking at the door. I hastily left the room in a daze, not paying much attention to any of my actions, save for making sure my shoes were on my feet. Our group of four met in the lobby and walked for ten minutes before deciding on a street restaurant for dinner.
Midway through the meal I became paranoid that I had left our door unlocked. After dinner, despite being halfway to our bar destination we all walked back. The door was locked and I had made us walk back for no reason. Jeff took this opportunity of being back at the guesthouse to turn in. Andy, Morwin and I continued on to meet at least one of our new Khmer friends at “Treykoun Sra Priel Beer,” the bar Phearom had so kindly recommended to us.
During the lengthy walk to our destination I started to feel an increasing amount of ankle pain, probably due to the fact that the ground was largely uneven. My tendon strain from a couple of years back was acting up. I fought through the beginning stages of pain and after taking one wrong turn and asking directions from two people, we finally arrived at the bar.
Upon arriving we glanced around the premises looking for one of our two friends. We saw neither of them and were about to be seated when Phearom spotted us. He was with his friends and yelled over to us. We should’ve gone over to join him, but instead we took a seat and he split time between us and his friends. It probably would’ve been a whole lot easier to just go over where he was, but we completely misread the situation.
A few minutes passed and we were enjoying a few beers. Phearom had gone back to his friends, but he was soon back at our table with a rather worried look on his face. He told us that Jhom was angry with him for bringing us to the bar. Phearom was worried about his job being contracted out by the guesthouse and of further conflict with Jhom. I thought I heard him say that he might have to fight him, but he might have meant they were arguing. Though I sort of think it was the former. It didn’t really make sense.
Jhom then called to speak to Andy, but Jhom hung up on him. We told Phearom that we’d straighten things out and that this whole thing must be a misunderstanding though we weren’t really sure we understood.
The problem was either:
A) Jhom was upset that Phearom took us to or recommended a bar for Khmer people.
B) Jhom thought we would meet him at the Guesthouse at 9pm and go over with us and was mad at Phearom for taking us, which he did not do.
I sort of think it’s option A, but either way I felt bad for creating a rift in the #1 tuk-tuk duo in all of Cambodia. They’re like the Riggs and Murtaugh of tuk-tuk drivers. They showed us a great time around Siem Reap and I hope they settled their differences. We walked home after a few beers and hoped to see Jhom so we could settle them. Along the way we had many tuk-tuk drivers offering us rides to “sucky-sucky,” “boom-boom,” “lady” and “happy endings”, but by the time we made it back Jhom was gone and we went to bed having resolved nothing.
I woke up this morning excited to see Siem Reap without sightseeing. We walked around for a bit, stumbled into a street market and into an internet cafe to book a room for our last two nights in Bangkok. By that time I was hobbling around and had no recourse but to call it quits rather early. Oh well, sipping pineapple shakes and people watching ain’t so bad.