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Entries about siem reap

To Kratie!

Buses shouldn't break down!

overcast 27 °C

So, we woke up stupidly early, at 4am, in order to be ready to be picked up for our 5:30am bus to Kratie, in the Northeast of Cambodia. By 5:25 we were beginning to worry slightly, so we woke up the poor security guard, who phoned the bus company.. They sent someone over in a tuk-tuk to pick us up, and as we got to town, we flagged the bus down in the middle of the street, and transferred ourselves over to it. The journey promised to our first excessive bus journey, of 8 hours, so we settled down. Luckily the bus wasn’t too full, so we had two seats each, and after watching the sunrise, we settled down to sleep. However, peaceful slumber was not to be; as the bus thundered down the road, we were woken by an almighty crash, as one of the tyres burst! We fell asleep again as the bus got the tyre mended, and woke up an hour later as the bus set off again. For the next 4 hours, John mostly slept, whilst Susie watched interesting things out of the window, such as people harvesting rice using oxen, cows being driven to market, lots of ladies riding along on top of a truck full of bricks, various sculpture makers, a large group of men in a cafe intently watching a WWF wrestling match, and a man on moto with a trailer with two massive jars on, each with a small child in it!
We suddenly stopped at 11am, and were told to change buses. This time we were lucky enough to have aircon, but there were less seats, so poor Susie had to deal with John lolling all over her as he slept! Another looooong 4 and a half hours later, we arrived in Kratie at 3pm, 9 and a half hours after we’d left Siem Reap. Hurray!

We got settled into Yon Hong guesthouse, into a $5 a night room with a private bathroom, and then wandered into Kratie and bought our bus tickets to take us to Laos tomorrow. Kratie is nice, very untouristy really, but really quite small. We then got a tuk-tuk out to see the Irrawaddy dolphins – the main reason we’d chosen here as our stop off point. The tuk-tuk ride out, 20km through lots of villages, was very pretty, and as ever, we enjoyed all the kids getting excited at waving to us! We got to Kampi, where the dolphins are, paid our $9 conservation and boat fee, and set off, onto the beautiful Mekong river. It was so calm and picturesque, as we went across. We saw really quite a few dolphins, about 7 different ones we think which, when there are now only about 80 in the whole Mekong, isn’t bad really! Some of them were fairly close to the boat, but they’re not as inquisitive or playful as other dolphins, so we didn’t manage to get any good pictures unfortunately.
Susie on the boat

On the way back, the sun started to set, and it was just beautiful. The whole sky was pink and orange, and it was all reflected in the river. Just perfect! It lasted us most of the tuk-tuk ride back, before night fell and the hundreds of bugs started. Yuck! When we got back, we got some fried noodles where we’re staying, and fell into bed.

Posted by Susiep539 19:13 Archived in Cambodia Tagged bus siem_reap kratie irrawaddy_dolphins Comments (0)

Goodbye Siem Reap :(

sunny 27 °C

Goodbye to Siem Reap!
Our last week at school went well, and we both really felt like we’d got in the swing of it. The change of topic, from the ridiculous religion one to a (slightly) more sensible one of ‘Past and Future’ helped, as we both felt we were teaching the kids things that they’d actually find useful! John completely blew his kids minds by using a piece of string to show the history of the universe, whilst Susie stuck to the slightly more straightforward ‘Tomorrow is...’, ‘Yesterday was...’, etc!
Our last lessons, on arts and crafts Thursday, were both lovely. Susie’s class finished making octopus mobiles, that look really great hanging up the classroom (even if they are completely unrelated to the topics in hand, and only happened because we studied shapes, and octopus is like octagon!). John’s class made birthday cards for Grace House, as the school celebrated its 2 year anniversary on our last day. The cards are so sweet, and some of the things that the kids wrote about the school make you want to cry!
One of Johns cards
Some of Susie's octopuses

Then Friday was birthday party day! It was a really nice thing to end on. The party started with an hour of free choice – there were computers, arts and crafts, football, board games, and Khmer party games on offer, and the kids just wandered round doing what they wanted to. Susie spent her time making origami and bracelets in the arts and crafts room, whilst John split his time between computers, football and Khmer games.
Making bracelets
John's football crew

It was then break time, where the kids all got a snack of an orange, a cake/bag of crisps, and a juice drink. After they’d eaten we all joined together where they were given a sparkler each, since the day coincided with Bonfire Night. Not a good idea as it turned out, since none of the kids knew what to do with sparklers, and a few of them got burnt. Oops! There was then a little treasure hunt, where all the kids got a little something, like a bouncy ball or a hair clip. There was then about 30minutes of mad Khmer dancing, for which it is apparently very important to have a ROUND table WITH FLOWERS. Then some songs you dance round the table, and some you dance next to it! Obviously we joined in, John more enthusiastically it has to be said, but we really came into our own during the macerena, being the only two people there who knew it perfectly!!
We then said our goodbyes to all the kids as they went home. It was really sad, but it’s good to know that we’ll be back to say hello in a few weeks, and we both like the volunteers who are teaching our classes for the next 8 weeks, so we feel like we’ve left them in safe hands. The kids were really sweet with their goodbyes, with all of them who spoke enough English telling us to come back soon, and with lots of them giving us drawings they’d done and bracelets they’d made. I don’t think either of us are going to forget the kids at Grace House in a hurry, and we definitely want to keep helping them out somehow, as and when we can. We’ve just got to work out how!
All the kids bundle into a photo!

Then on Friday evening, we went out, which we’ve already written about.

On Saturday we had a really nice last day with the volunteers that we’ve gotten to know best. We went for breakfast with Jenny, Flic, Natasha and Tamara, to Soria Moria, which is our favourite ‘treat yourself’ breakfast place. For just $3, you get all you can eat of various cooked breakfast bits, ranging from pancakes to poached eggs to noodles, as well as fruit and drinks. Yum! We stuffed ourselves, which helped ward off the hangover, and then went back and tackled the mountain of packing we had to do.

After a failed attempt (we actually just watched ‘Australia’!), we went swimming, which again we’ve already written about. Then during swimming, we all realised that although we had no right to be hungry, we actually all wanted a burger! First we had to go back and skype to our mothers, since we didn’t know when we’d be able to again, and then we met Natasha and Flic at Soria Moria once more for lunch. It was very yummy, and the four of us had a really nice chat over our burgers! Very full, we went back and packed more successfully, before heading out to Green Cafe for our last dinner. We were meeting all the staff from school for the adults birthday celebration, which was really nice. We tried a variety of different dishes, but we were both too full to do them the justice they deserved! We did both try frog though! After goodbyes to the staff, we went to meet Flic and Natasha for some goodbye drinks. We also bought some popcorn from Angkor Famous for our bus journey the day after, and said a fond farewell to Tombraider, our favourite tuk-tuk driver! When the four of us got back (with a pancake stop for Susie and Natasha, and an ice-cream stop for Flic that ended with Susie and Natasha losing John and Flic and everyone being confused), we bundled into our room, swapped photos and took some more stupid ones!
"Into the Pride" - Natasha's favourite show!

We’re going to miss Flic and Natasha, all the kids, and everyone else at Globalteer and Grace House, but we’re excited to be setting out on new adventures!

Posted by Susiep539 19:09 Archived in Cambodia Tagged siem_reap globalteer grace_house soria_moria Comments (0)

Other things in Siem Reap

We've told you about our trip to Battambang, and our explorations around the temples, but we've done a few other bits and pieces too, that we've not got round to blogging about, so here's a quick(ish) summary.

Pchum Ben
We've mentioned a few times that it was Pchum Ben festival the second week we were here, but we've not told you very much about it. Pchum Ben is supposedly a Buddhist festival, but they only celebrate it in Cambodia (although most people here won't believe you if you tell them that!) and it's actually an animistic festival, because it's all to do with ancestral ghosts. It's really a big deal here, and is the largest Cambodian religious festival. The basic idea is that during the 15 waning days of the last lunar month, you have to go at least once to feed the ghosts at the pagoda so that they don't give you bad luck for the next month. However, the ghosts only come out between 4-5 am, so you have to go to the pagoda then. You make little balls of sticky rice, and take them along with fruit. You then sit and listen to monks chanting for about 45mins, which I guess is their version of a service, then you walk round the Pagoda three times, throwing the rice balls onto mats that are set out all round the Pagoda. It was really eerie, because the only light was from candles. It was a great experience! We've biked and walked round the town quite a bit too, so we've got our bearings and everything.

Cooking course
We splashed out on our fourth weekend in Siem Reap, and did a cookery course at Temple Bar, a bar/restaurant in Pub Street in the centre of Siem Reap. Peta and Flic, two Australian volunteers, came with us, and we all made a selection of tasty things. It was $10, but such good value! We got a free t-shirt, and cooked an absolutely massive three course meal, which we could pick. Susie made fried spring rolls, our favourite Khmer Amok, and a strange banana and tapioca pudding. John made mango salad, Cambodian curry and the same pudding with pumpkin in it. We had great fun making everything – the Cambodian staff were really helpful, and made it all really straightforward for us – with their instruction even John managed to roll a spring roll! We spent about 90mins-2hrs preparing and cooking all our dishes (they do the washing up for you :)).
Then we ate! None of us who went were convinced by the desserts – Cambodia isn’t a pudding type place really – but the rest of the food was yummy yummy yummy! There was also A LOT of it! Between the two of us, we ate John’s starter, about half of his main, and 1 spring roll each, and then we were stuffed! After trying them, we left most of the puddings, but took the rest home to feed us happily for two more meals! We’d definitely recommend the course to anyone.

Now everyone reading this probably knows that I’m (Susie) not really a ‘getting my nails done’ kinda girl, but the fact that it’s really dusty everywhere so our toes are a horrible colour, and we’re wearing flip-flops all the time made me want to get them done. I went to a little place near school one lunchtime. The two girls in there, who were about our age, are the sweetest things, and were having a chilled out nap on the floor when I got there! They soon woke up, and lept into action! Now, I had only planned to get them painted a plain colour, but they thrust a pile of intricate designs at me, all priced at 2000riel – 50c/30p! I picked a blue flowery one, and then some over-excitement on the girls part, and a severe language barrier later, I ended up with four flowery toes on each foot, one snowman and one rabbit with a balloon! They’re amazing though, and they’d be at least 10times the price anywhere else, even in Siem Reap. Everyone else was so impressed that Peta, Jenny, Flic and Natasha, 4 other volunteers, all went to get theirs done too! On the final trip, we persuaded John to get his done, much to the amusement of the girl there. She gave him a good little pedicure, and he now has a rabbit and some flowers on each toenail!!
Susie's toes
John's toes

Despite saying we’d go swimming a lot, we only actually went twice. The first time we went to a tiny little pool, but it didn’t cost us anything and there were lots of fun toys to play with! The second time was on our last day, and we went to the Prince D’Angkor, a ridiculously posh hotel! Room rates for a double, we noticed, ranged upwards from $240!!! Swimming was a rather more reasonable, although still expensive, $5, and it was lovely. Flic and Natasha came too(they’re Australian and American respectively, both 18 and the four of us have become good friends), and we had great fun taking photos, messing about in the water and trying to sunbathe, although the clouds kept preventing that one!
Susie, Flic and Natasha

Trip round near school
On one of our last days at school, we went with Jenny on a little explore around the area. We first went to visit the local pagoda and Angkor era temple, which is where a lot of our students go for religious events. The pagoda was funny – it’s got a monastery next to it, so there were a lot of monks around. However, being a monk in Cambodia isn’t quite as religious as it would be in the Western world. All men are meant to be a monk for at least a day during their lives, and so there are a lot of men/boys who are monks at the weekend, or for the odd week or whatever. When we went they were all just chilling out, but apparently when Jenny had gone a couple of weeks earlier, they’d all been watching a slightly racy film!! The Angkor temple was pretty, as they all are, but was nice and quiet, except for a couple of girls doing their homework!
We didn’t see many of the kids from school – some biked past and said hello, but that was it really. Susie did see one of the loveliest girls from her afternoon class though, and went to have a little look round her house. It was good to see where she lived, but sad to see how poor it obviously was.
We then biked around to Treik village, which is definitely not spelt right, and is where some of the kids from school live. The area is just beautiful, with rice paddies as far as you can see, just broken up by palm trees and the odd lotus pond. So so pretty. We wished we’d done more bike rides around, because it gave us a lovely feel of how the kids live, as well as showing us some of the unspoilt Cambodian countryside.

Nights Out
We’ve been on two proper nights out since we’ve been in Siem Reap. The first was after we’d done the cooking course. We went out to celebrate with Peta, who had just had some good news. We first went upmarket, to the posh garden of the Foreign Correspondents Club, where we had a cocktail, before heading to our standard Angkor Famous for dinner and some more drinks. We had food, and then Peta and Jenny decided they’d go home, since as they’re both in their 60s, they thought a big night out wasn’t quite for them! I think they were both a little tempted though! Us two, Natasha and Flic carried on, had a tequila shot, shared a pitcher of vodka and sprite, then went onto ‘Angkor What?’, the main tourist drinking spot in Siem Reap. We shared two ‘buckets’ of goodness knows what, had some great fun taking ridiculous photos and laughing at Flic going through a very rapid stage of sober, drunk, really happy, dancing, very tired, within the space of 10 minutes! Susie took her home, and when she got back we had a good dancing session, before dying of tiredness at about 12:30 and heading home. We had a great time, but felt a little too touristy, so we went more locals for our second night out!

This was on our last weekend, and we’d invited Matt, a 19 year old (in Khmer years, or 17 in Western years!), who is working for Globalteer for 6 weeks, and who has a lot of love for John! He calls him his ‘number two James Bond’ and is really quite adorable about it!
We started at our favourite, Ankor Famous, to see shouty lady, get dinner and to line our stomachs with some free popcorn! It wasn’t long before Natasha got a phone call from “number one James Bond” asking where we were. John told him we were in the alley, to which he replied, where?! Now this would all be well and good if A. He wasn’t a local. B. Didn’t do the town tours for new volunteers and C. Hadn’t shown the girls where it was originally, just a few weeks before! Anyway after a few too many directions he got the idea. He also told John he was drunk already, good start!
He found us after not too long and was certainly on something. We don’t thnk we’ve ever heard someone talk that fast, for so long, about so little! He was crazy, but hilarious. He told us he can’t add us on facebook because he’s too rude on there, he wrote wanker! Oh noes! He also told us he wanted to take us to a Khmer club which we were all up for but it was only 8pm, so perhaps not yet.
Soon we headed off to get dollar cocktails at a place the girls had found not too long ago. Matt came with us and also invited two of his “best” friends from uni. They met us there and it turns out he’d only known one of them a week :/ No matter, he had a car and after a time (and Matt’s insistence) we were driven to this Khmer club.
The club could have easily been in England, it had a really nice garden area and rooftop bar where Matt ordered us fried corn, YUM, chilli clams YUM YUM and something else which was dubious...
Anyway, it all seemed to agree with our stomachs well enough and it wasn’t long before we were dancing to.....the Macarena! Now this night out was the same day we’d had our party at school so it was the third time we’d busted a groove in 12 hours! That song really does get everywhere! Fortunately the rest of the music was much better and we had a really good time.

Posted by Susiep539 18:44 Archived in Cambodia Tagged siem_reap globalteer temple_bar khmer_amok Comments (0)

Siem Reap 5s!

sunny 33 °C

Top 5 things about Siem Reap

1. Angkor Famous - Our favourite little spot in Siem Reap. A small bar in the Alley - which is one of the two main touristy roads in Siem Reap centre - which we frequent far more often than is healthy! It's run by a group of women, the one who is in charge is far too pregnant to be spending all day on her feet, and they are all so so sweet and friendly. There is one lady who stands at the entrance all night, every night, and says on repeat in the most deadpan way, with no pauses or punctuation, "Cocktails buy one get one free beer 50 cents free popcorn free rice with every meal free fruit salad". It's funny but a little tragic! But her list tells you some of the other reasons Angkor Famous is our favourite place to chill! Even Susie has got into beer when it's only 50cents for 3/4 of a pint, and it's cheaper than any soft drinks! We also love the popcorn, which is both salted and sweet, really tasty, and you get a new plate every time you finish one. Yum yum yum!!! They even brought us free water after we had quite a few drinks there the other night. We really do love them!!

2. Cycling - We cycle to work everyday as I think I mentioned in a previous blog, and it's such a ridiculous experience that it just had to go into our top 5 things here! There are very few cars, and nearly everything is done by motorbike, including transporting livestock(we've see chickens and a pig in a little cart on the back), taking whole families to school (4 people is common, 5 people on one moto is a rare sight, much sought after by us volunteers!), carrying new purchases (we saw a guy today using one arm to steer and one to precariously hold his new TV on the back!), and taking children to the hospital (it's scary how many kids you see on motos, with their mum behind them holding up the drip they've just been prescribed!). The roads are manic, and there's always lots on them, but because it's Cambodia, and because it's all motorbikes and bikes, everything is quite slow paced. There's a lot of people biking down the wrong side of the road until they can cut across, and people going every direction, but it's surprisingly organised chaos, and once you get used to it, it's great fun! Cycling in England is going to be very dull after this!

3. People - We love Cambodians. Fact. Overall, they are the friendliest, nicest, happiest nation of people either of us has ever met. They are always happy for a chat, or a bit of a joke as you walk past or when you meet them. From the really cute little kids, who run out excitedly whenever you walk/bike past and shout hello, to the tuk-tuk drivers, who always have a good bit of banter for you, to the people who run everything, who are so appreciative and happy about everything you do that helps them. Especially when you think about everything that has happened to them as a nation within living memory (and not even that old living memory - 1970s), it's astonishing and humbling that they are as lovely as they are. nb - if you know as little about Cambodian history as Susie did before we came, just quickly google 'khmer rouge' and look at what happened - it's horrific. We're both going to be so so sad to leave Cambodia - we both feel really at home here, and a massive part of why that is is the people. Anyone who comes to Cambodia and doesn't make any effort with them is really missing out.
Kids waving hello from the floating village

4. Khmer amok (and food in general really!) - Unlike some countries we're visiting, we weren't expecting a lot out of Cambodian food. Unlike Thailand or Malaysia, it's not really somewhere you think of when you think of tasty food. However, although the flavours are more sssubtle than other Asian food, they're just as tasty! The excessive use of coconut in everything makes Susie very happy, whilst John would be happy with any food that involves lots of steamed rice! Our favourite dish is Khmer Amok - it's like a tasty version of a korma curry, and at the end of cooking you cook two eggs into it. It gives the sauce a lovely texture, and it's so so yummy! We did a cookery course last weekend and learnt how to make it, so if you're all very nice to us we might make it for you when we get back! Our other favourite are these deep fried bananas that we get for 300riels (about 6p) from a market stall near school. They squash the banana till it's flat, dip it in a slightly coconuty rice batter, and deep fry it. A very tasty, but very unhealthy way to get one of your 5 a day!!
Gorgeous amok made for us by the cook at school because we said we like it - thus illustrating points 3 and 4!

5. Phrases - The Cambodians do have some funny little phrases that really endears us to them. The most prevalent is 'Same same but different', which they all use all the time! Apparently it's a Thai phrase that means two things the same but of different quality, therefore explaining why one is more expensive, but here they just use it for EVERYTHING! The use is so excessive that the kids in my class don't understand if you say two things are the same, but the second you say 'same same', they get your meaning at once. and usually respond 'but different?', which is slightly annoying when you're trying to explain that no, they are actually the same!! There's also a song, that they're all obsessed with, sung partly in English and partly in Khmer, but the only bit we ever hear just goes "I am sorry, I am sorry" (but it sounds more like "I am soaring"). It's very waily and excessive, but everyone loves it, and sings it far too often. They also love Justin Bieber too, but the less said about that the better!

Worst 5 things about Siem Reap

1. Cycling - Whilst it went in our top 5 for the sheer experience of it, it has to go in the bottom five too! Whilst everyone (or almost everyone) on a moto, bike or tuk tuk is nice and considerate, there are too many people in cars/trucks/tourist buses who are complete arses to everyone else. There seems to be an unwritten rule that once you're encased within any form of metal box, you no longer care about anyone else on the road. Tourist buses are the worst - there's a horribly touristy floating village further on on the road from school so there are always loads of them going past, and there's no chance they're moving out of the way of anyone, or slowing down so they don't splash you, or in fact anything that involves consideration for others. Urgh!

2. Weather - Whilst those of you reading this in England, heading into dreary, cold, grey, miserable November will definitely be rolling your eyes at this, the weather has to go on our least favourite things. It is so hot and humid all the time, especially in the afternoon, and although our classrooms are semi open, they're still boiling. We have fans but it annoys the kids too much cos they blow their papers around, so they turn them off, and then we all die of heat! And the heat makes the roads so dusty, and then you get covered in grimy grit every time you go anywhere. Plus, the rain is really unpredictable (see next point!) and that causes it's whole host of own problems! Having just said all this though, we were discussing it today, when we were biking to school in beautiful sunshine, and we're both so so grateful we're not suffering English weather, so perhaps we shouldn't moan too much!!

3. Floods - Whilst most days have been hot hot hot, there has been some ridiculous rain, as you'll see if you look back at our previous posts. We had one night where it rained harder than I've ever seen rain before for 12 hours straight. All the flooding was a result of that one night. Completely ridiculous! Not only do we feel so sorry for all the kids and their families who have to put up with their houses being swimming pools, but it causes a lot of problems for everyone. Firstly there was all the issues with getting to school that we wrote about before, but even now when the floods have subsided the road is completely torn up because it wasn't very well made anyway, and it was wet for so long, so now it's full of pot holes, which make the journey to school rather interesting!

4. Tuk tuk sir, madam?...Obviously not, I'm on my bike - We do love the Cambodian people, and as mentioned above, we do love the tuk-tuk drivers (especially Mr Tomb Raider - thus named because his tuk-tuk says tomb raider on it - who is our favourite), but sometimes them, and the other people selling you things really do need to use their brains a little more! When you're unlocking/on a bike, chances are you don't want a tuk-tuk! John had someone the other day trying very hard, and when John said we were here for 6 weeks and it was too expensive to always get a tuk-tuk all the time, the response was "My tuk-tuk very fast, you can do it in 3 weeks". It did make us laugh, but I think he missed the point! Similarly, there are people everywhere who try to sell you fish massages, like we had in Kuala Lumpur, and they are very annoyingly persistent. If I've just walked past 2 minutes ago and said no, and then walk back past, without looking at the fish tank, it's highly unlikely that within those 2 minutes I've suddenly gone, "Actually you know what, I need a fish massage right now!". 6 weeks of it drives you a little mad!

5. Dogs - Our final worst thing, and quite possibly the worst of all, are the horrible dogs that wander around the streets. We got very scared of one that was following us down the road after dinner the other night and wouldn't go away, until a local noticed us being scared and threw a bottle at it which made it run away (see, we told you the locals were lovely!). There are lots of them, and they wander all over the place, and if they smell the littlest bit of meat on you (eg if you've eaten some finger food, or been in a restaurant that smells of meat at all) then they follow you a little too closely. There's loads at school too, which walk round, fight and mate outside your classroom. Lovely. However, someone did bring the cutest little puppy into school yesterday, that barely had its eyes open, and couldn't walk yet, and so that enamored us back to dogs a little!!

Top 5 Siem Reap Eateries

1. Khmer House in the alley - Our favourite place for Khmer Amok (which as we said above is our favourite dish). It's only $2.50, which is much cheaper than the place a bit further down that claims to have the best amok in Siem Reap. We tried it, but we can verify that its sign is lying, save yourself $4 and eat at Khmer House instead! It's so coconutty and tasty and beautiful. Yum yum yum!! There's lots of Khmer House's in Siem Reap though, so make sure you head to the one in the Alley (which is parallel to Pub Street!)

2. Our little lunchtime place - This is our little bit of locals Cambodia! It's about a 10 minute walk away from school, and we've been going there for lunch a couple of days a week. They're so sweet and lovely, and always really friendly to us when we come in, and they sell grilled pork, warmed bread and amazingly tasty salad (that's made even John like cucumber!) for just 3000riel (75cents, 50p).

3. The Night Market stalls - From about 4pm, a lot of stalls spring up on the far side of pub street, which sell various dishes for $1. As you walk up to them, they all run out at you manically shaking menus at you, but it makes no difference where you eat, because the phrase 'same same but different has never been more true since they're all the same. We especially like the fried noodles - John is a yellow noodle fan, whereas Susie prefers the rice noodles. They are really good, and for 66p you can't really go wrong anyway! Then, if you fancy treating yourself afterwards, you can head across to a little pancake van that does banana, cocoa and condensed milk pancakes for 50 cents which are amazing bad for you, but so so tasty!

4. Angkor Famous - It just has to go on this list too! Although we mostly use it for beer and popcorn, we do really enjoy the food too, and have eaten there quite a few times. The coconut soup and burgers are very tasty, but never EVER try the Khmer sausages, which aren't sausages by any definition!

5. Various curry houses - We weren't expecting much when we first went out for curry in Cambodia, but both the Bengal Tiger in Pub Street, and the Maharajah in street 7 (parallel to pub street in the other direction to the alley) do very very tasty curry. We always go for the vegetarian thali, which is delicious, and the most ridiculously huge portions ever! Every time we've eaten at either of them, Susie's stomach has hurt excessively for the rest of the evening, as it's been far too full of food, and both of us have felt very happy at getting our good curry fix! At about $3.75 they're not the cheapest meals ever, but they are so worth it!!

Posted by Susiep539 02:34 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap tuk_tuk cambodian angkor_famous khmer_house night_market pub_street the_alley bengal_tiger Comments (0)

Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor

all seasons in one day 30 °C

Siem Reap itself has a nice small town feel to it. However since going to Battambang (which we'll blog about later) it does feel slightly excessively, but unsurprisingly, touristy. The town itself and surrounding temples area has had a hell of alot of, mostly Korean, money pumped into it. This is no bad thing because it obviously needed it but very little has found its way to the villages outside. That said everything here is orientated around tourists and its clearly providing alot of much needed work for the local people.

As a result life in Siem Reap is a little more sheltered than it would be in "real" cambodia. Most people speak a bit of English and there's always a TukTuk to hand to take you home in the rain. Also the variety of restaurants is impressive with mostly any cuisine you could want lacing the streets (no bbq snake and cockroach in Siem reap!).

Our evenings here mostly consist of a walk to town, a nice meal for $3 each or so in a restaurant and a Tuktuk home for $2. There are also loads of stalls where you can get dinner for a dollar, which we keep telling ourselves we need to visit more but the restaurants are just too tasty! We're yet to manage a big night out but hopefully we'll manage one this weekend, especially since beers are 50c for 3/4 pint! We're also hoping to finally find the swimming pool at some point and might try some Yoga (if John's decrepid limbs can cope). Apparently the Yoga at the Peace Cafe (near-by vege hippie cafe, scrambled tofu ftw!) is pretty relaxing so that might be a good starting point!

Outside town the obvious main event, and real reason people come to Siem Reap are the Angkor temples. Angkor Wat is the one you'll probably all of heard of, but there's lots and lots of others too. We didn't get to them all by any means but over 2 days cycling (a 26km round trip each day) and a third on a Tuktuk, we managed to the main groups. All of the temples are exceptionally impressive, even the ones slightly off the beaten track. The pure scale of the area is staggering. I don't know how many there are altogether - they're spread out all over Cambodia - but most, especially the biggest, are at Angkor. Angkor literally translates as Capital City, and it's where the Capital of Cambodia was between the 9th and the 12th Centuries. In an area of maybe 5 miles square, where this capital city was, there are loads of massive temples and other stone structures that they built, all within this 350 year period. There are about 10 temples that you was describe as ridiculously huge - I'm talking York Minster size or bigger (although not as high of course) - and probably about 15-20 that are bigger than a normal church. And that's not including all the magnificent walls, gates, etc that are around as well, and all the smaller temples. It really is amazing.

We slightly regretted our decision to do all the temples by bike at times, but in a lot of ways it was lovely, as it's quieter, you don't have to make any decisions ahead of time about where to go or anything and its much more satisfying, but it was very hard work!! The 45km we cycled over two days was far enough in any circumstances, but when its 30 degrees, very sunny, the roads are bumpy and you have no suspension or gears on your bike, it's a VERY long way!!

We took about 600 photos over the 3 days, which seems excessive, but the wow factor you get as you walk round just makes it irresistible. We've included a small selection here but there really is no way to get across just how amazing they all are.

On the first day, we went to all the most touristy temples. We had a more relaxed start, and set off at about 10am for the 6km bike ride to the temple area. We managed to pick a stupidly hot day for it, after we'd had 3 or 4 cooler, cloudy days (OK, so cooler only means 30 degrees, but thats a hell of a lot better than 35 and beating sunshine!). Once we got there, we started off at Angkor Thom. This is the largest religious complex in the world, and emcompasses several large temples lots of smaller temples/shrines, all surrounded by a wall and moat. It's 3km square. The main attraction inside Angkor Thom is Bayon, a large temple with 37 towers, most of which have 4 carved stone faces on them. There's also a lot of beautiful intricate carving, which nearly all the temples have. It's ridiculous how much effort was put into every little bit of all of these massive temples.

After that we wandered/biked around various other places in the Angkor Thom complex, including the Terrace of the Leper King, Terrace of the Elephants, Bauphon (which had a ridiculous huge carved stone Buddha on it) and Phimeanakas. Susie hadn't drunk enough water and felt a bit ill but after we'd sat in the coolest spot we could find for a while and she felt better, we biked out towards some of the other temples.

We next went to Ta Keo, where we climbed a LOT of very dodgy steps! A lot of the temples are what they call 'temple mountains', which basically means that it's just a massive square pyramid, often with various size towers on the top, and steps up each side. The steps are pretty lethal. Whoever built them must have had very small feet and very long legs, because they're only about 2-3 inches wide most of the time, and more than a foot high per step. Slightly hair-raising, especially now that 1000 years have gone by and they're rather weather beaten, and when you've got 200 of them to fall down if you slip at the top! Ta Keo is one of these temple mountains, built of sandstone, and we did get some nice views, and, more importantly, a lovely cool breeze at the top!

We then went to Ta Prohm, which is a lot of people's favourite temple, as it has a real 'jungley' feel, both in the compound around the area, and in the temple itself, which has trees growing up through it at various points (see photo below!). Lots of people complain that it feels to restricted, because they have put in a few walkways, but we didn't really find this at all. However, this may partly be because we accidentally found ourselves on the wrong side of a no entry sign, after a lovely quiet wander through some dilapidated bits of the temple!
Tree at Ta Prohm

We then went and had an explore around Bantaey Kdei, a large monastic complex (so the guide book tells me - two weeks later, which it is as I'm writing now, I'm afraid I already can't remember all the temples individually, although plenty do stand out!). After that we went to Sras Srang, a reservoir opposite it, which was very beautiful and peaceful (despite the many people asking us to buy drinks/food/etc).

We then set off back, but as we got to the Angkor Wat moat, which you have to pass on the way back to town, the evening was so beautiful that we decided we just had to go and get our first look at it, which it's suggested you do in the late afternoon, so we biked round and joined the hoards going in. It's kinda sad that when there's so many beautiful temples so close, that a huge percentage of people who visit here, obviously just go into Angkor Wat and then leave again. It was so, SO much busier here than anywhere else we went. But anyway, we went in regardless and just looked at the temple from the front walkway - we were too exhausted by this time to explore properly. It was impressive and beautiful, especially with the sun just starting to set, but we were both a little disappointed with it - it gets built up so much but it's not that much better than any of the other temples around. However, the evening was beautiful and the bike ride round it was lovely. We then biked home, completely shattered, collapsed upstairs, only to come down later to find that everyone else had already ordered pizza. We were too exhausted to go into town, so it was boring rice and egg for us, before falling into bed to rest before our second day of temples.

Our second day started with a rather long 9km bike ride to our first temple of the day. However, it was worth it as this was Susie's favourite temple! It's called Pre Rup, and is one of the oldest ones in the Angkor area. It's another temple mountain built out of bricks rather than sandstone blocks, which was really interesting and the temple was beautiful, but it was the views that were the best bit about it. There were lovely views across the local countryside, which is just beautiful green paddy fields as far as you can see.

After another couple of kms through this lovely countryside, we arrived at East Mebon. This is really similar to Pre Rup but not quite as big. It used to be on an island in the middle of East Baray, which was a reservoir, but it's dried up now and is all paddy fields.

After that we biked on further and went to Ta Som, a fairly indescript temple in the Angkor scheme of things, and then to Neak Pean. This is one central tower in the middle of four large and four small pools, the waters of which were thought to have healing properties! However, the only property the water seems to have now is to breed mosquitos by the million, so after some quick photo taking we moved on!

Next we headed to a small temple called Bantaey Prei, which is about 100m off the tourist track, so naturally there was nobody there. Oh no, I lie, there were 2 small boys herding cattle, who had great fun calling at us and then hiding behind bits of temple! We played around a bit and took some photos of the "curiously small doors and windows", which was why we went, and then left, but not before being scared by a huge hornet!

We then went to Preah Khan, which is a stupidly massive, sprawling temple/monastery, with beautiful carvings all over the place and some ridiculous trees growing up through the temple. We then biked back through Angkor Thom, where we'd been the day before, to Angkor Wat.

Although we'd both been slightly disappointed by Angkor Wat the day before, we felt it redeemed itself somewhat when we explored it properly! The carvings all around the outside are just exquisite, and go on forever, and the towers are very impressive. Unfortunately the top section is having some work done on it at the moment, so we couldn't go right up but walking around under the towers is lovely.

We then went out to bike home, only to find that Susie's bike had a completely flat tyre. Boo! A friendly policeman directed us down a little dirt track to a guy who charged us 300riel (7p) to put some air into it. Unfortunately, less than a km later it was totally flat again, and we had to walk the rest of the way home. Susie sent John off to bike into town to find a pizza company that would deliver us our tea - after the boring rice the night before and all the biking, we felt we deserved a treat! - while she walked home. We got back, collapsed for a while, got our lovely security guard to order us pizza, and then pigged out and ate a whole large pizza, a serving of chips and a garlic baguette between us. Yum!!

On our third and final day of temples, we treated ourselves and got a tuk-tuk. First we went into town and had a tasty omelet for breakfast, and then we headed 13km east out of town (this is why we got a tuk-tuk!) to the Roluous group of temples. These are the older temples that are where the capital was before it moved to Angkor. The tuk-tuk journey out there was lovely, through a section of Siem Reap that isn't nearly as touristy as the central section, and then further out through some beautiful countryside. As we went along, we saw lots of trucks that had the tailgates down so as to fit as many people on as possible - there must have been 50+ people on some of these little trucks!!!

When we got to the temples, we first went to Bakong, the largest of the group, which was another massive temple, with a moat around it. It was another brick built temple mountain with lots of steps to the top, but again with some lovely views. We then went to ____ and Lolei (John liked the name!), which were two smaller temples in the same area. They were all interesting, but I think by this third day we were both a bit temple-d out! We enjoyed looking at an active pagoda that was next to Lolei, and we did like looking around the temples, but after an hour or so, we headed back.

We absolutely loved our three days of temples, and they are completely incredible, but I think we still both think it's sad that so many people come to Siem Reap and spend 3 days at the temples and then leave again. There's so much other stuff here, and the people are just so lovely, and you don't get any of that if you only come here for the temples. But I guess we're going to travelling like that everywhere else we go, and you can't spend a long time everywhere you go, but I'm just really glad that we're having the chance to really get to know somewhere we're travelling.

Anyway, this is a stupidly long post, so we'll write more about Siem Reap another time!

Posted by John_713 01:18 Archived in Cambodia Tagged siem_reap angkor_wat angkor_thom angkor bayon ta_prohm ta_keo pre_rup Comments (1)

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