Hi Life and Limn followers! After my last post about Phnom Penh and the dark subject that is genocide :0/ I feel we all need a pick-me-up now. So let’s roll onto our next stop in Cambodia, Siem Reap and the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat.
We had booked onto a flash looking coach for the 6 hour trek to Siem Reap which included a croissant on arrival (oh bonjour!), a wet wipe each, water throughout the trip and…wait for it… free wifi onboard!!!! Yep, you can cruise through rice fields on a bus in Cambodia whilst checking out Facebook. Amazing! When we stopped off for lunch I skipped the tempting offer to try some fried tarantula. They were clustered together, all furry and mischievous looking with their multi-shifty eyes. They were alive and not moving in an old re-used sweet tub waiting for some nutter to choose one for a crunchy snack. No thanks! I’ll stick to my Chinese scorpion and Vietnamese crickets thank you very much 🙂
After passing miles and miles of green fields full of palm trees, rice and the odd temple or two, the roads turned dusty and small buildings appeared. We had arrived! Siem Reap was nothing like I had expected. Quiet dirt tracks weaved across town offering visitors accommodation, food and gifts. The centre of town was more built up with bigger roads, markets and an array of restaurants. If you wanted a Mexican, Italian or even a Parisian meal, you could have it. For party goers there was a street dedicated to drinking called ‘Pub Street’. Yep Siem Reap was pretty cool but for now Andy and I were sweating our asses off and couldn’t wait to check into our guesthouse and relax.
We walked into the ‘Siem Reap Rooms Guesthouse’, was told that they had overbooked so was instantly upgraded to the penthouse suite with a mini swimming pool. Nice! The space was awesome, two bathrooms, a lounge, a massive bedroom and a sun deck. Not bad for £10 a night eh! We went for a swim to cool down (well actually a dunk as it was pretty small) and watched the world beneath us. After a beer, some fajitas and a fun night walking around Pub Street, we woke the next day and hired a tuk tuk to take us round a section of the ruins called the ‘Grand Tour’. Angkor Wat believe it or not is not the only thing to see here. Amongst the acres and acres of forest, there are tons of temples and ancient palaces to see, some in my opinion are much more interesting than the famous tourist hotspot.
We were taken to a ticket booth and had our photos taken. Within seconds of paying for a 3 day pass into the ruins, our tickets were presented to us with our photos on them, Glastonbury music festival style! Our tuk tuk driver then took us through the cool green forest, past ancient walled lakes still full with water. We saw crumbling walls hidden amongst the trees and started to get very excited about seeing our first temple. We turned at one point and was faced with an old stone bridge lined with carvings of what looked like men holding a huge serpent. Our driver told us to get out and walk through the giant stone gate at the end, meeting him on the south side of the Preah Khan ruins we were about to enter. So off we went, walking through the entrance, slightly intimidated by the giant carved faces looking down on us.
Unfortunately the photos below just do not do the place any justice. It was absolutely awesome! Another world, transporting you back to a different time. You enter a number of doorways, walk down old corridors into different rooms, some occupied by the odd gold shrine (still in use) and most with carvings of curvaceous women called Apsaras (nymphs) dancing on the walls and pillars. You can completely get lost in the place. The rest of the day was spent much the same, visiting 5 other different ruins and exploring them, sometimes on our own as most of the tourists were at Angkor Wat. What a day! We booked our driver for the next morning, a 4.30am start to go to Angkor Wat to see the sun rise.
It was a bit of a shock when the alarm went off the next morning. We creeped down the wooden staircase of our guesthouse and saw that our tuk tuk driver was already outside waiting for us. Blasting through town was bizarre too. What was all hustle and bustle during the day time was now dark and silent. We were the only ones up it seemed. Bloody nutters 🙂 Driving through the dark forest was also an experience, I actually felt cold for once (it gets into the high 30’s when the sun’s out). I also realised that we had forgotten our head torches and were about to enter a huge maze of unlit corridors within an ancient palace. DOH! What douchebags!!! This should be interesting! We arrived by a flood lit car park to our left and a big moat with what looked like locals bathing in it to our right. In the middle of the moat, slightly out of the range of the flood lights was a bridge that seemed to span into the darkness. Our driver pointed and said ‘it’s there’ and we could only take his word for it as we couldn’t see anything. We started walking slowly, hands out in front of us and soon realised that we were absolute nobs for not remembering our torches. Every now and then a figure would jump out of the shadows, a local offering hot coffee for visitors… absolutely shat me up each time! Enough was enough, I got out our camera in desperation and started firing the flash to light our way. This was when we saw Angkor Wat for the first time, like a huge towering beast lurking in the dark.
We entered the giant stone door and were petrified! We were completely on our own yet still remained whispering and gripping onto each other. We walked for 10 mins, turning down random corridors and into courtyards that looked like old bathing pools. All revealed once every so many seconds by my camera flash. Otherwise it was pitch black. This place didn’t look like a ruin, it looked completely intact, like someone had decided to move all their belongings and sacred statues out one day. We found the east wing and decided it would be the best place to watch the sun come up and eat breakfast. We were the only ones there. Once the sun peaked above the horizon we could start to understand the scale of the place, it was immense! The wall surrounding the ruins was breathtaking let alone the iconic towers in the middle, which we looked around once we had eaten our breakfast (made up of French bakery patisseries bought in town and canned iced coffee, oh yea baby that’s how we like to roll!). We walked around till 6.30am and decided to move onto our next stop – Angkor Thom – since it had started to get a little bit crowded with tourists and the constant hounding of female hawkers selling sarongs, postcards and coconuts was starting to grate a little.
Angkor Wat might have been impressive with its scale and grandeur, but Angkor Throm was just magical. This tall mound of grey stone with carvings of smiling faces looking out at every direction was just amazing. Each level circled round to the next… just check out the photos, my novice writing cannot do it justice. After another few small temples, the royal palace and funny encounters with children trying to sell stuff (one girl tried selling me 10 postcards. She counted to 10 in about 5 different languages including German, Spanish and Italian, changing each time I said ‘no’ to her, but she continued in a constant monotonous drone, I swear she didn’t breathe!), we had started to get extremely overheated and templed out. That was until we got to our final stop – Ta Prohm – where they filmed the first Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie. OMG! Huge trees grew out from the old stone with their roots pouring down onto walkways like waterfalls. There were crumbled corridors and paths, beautiful carvings and moss growing everywhere. Butterflys flew around our heads landing now and then on the jasmine poking out of cracks in the stone. Now this felt old. This felt like a proper ancient ruin. This was my favourite one of them all 🙂
It was now 11.30am, around 37 degrees and we had been going for 7 hours. Time to say our farewells to all the ruins hidden within the forest, return to the 21st century back in town and say hello to our little plunge pool on our roof. We spent that evening drinking cheap beer down Pub Street, catching up with our Canadian friends Shahan and Donna-Lee we’d met back in China. They kindly invited us over to their hotel the next day too, for vodka by their pool which was soooo nice (thanks so much guys) coz after 2 days of tomb raiding, this Lara Croft was pooped! But our adventure of course was not over, oh no, we had to get back into Thailand via the notorious land border of Poipet which we had heard and read so much about.
Apparently Poipet is the hell hole of the earth with every scam under the sun going down. The thought of it was making me nervous and I hardly slept the night before. The plan was to get to the border via a coach (already booked) which would take 3hrs, to safely get through passport control under 2hrs without anyone taking our bags or police scamming money from us, and then finally catching a train to Bangkok, taking 5hrs (cheap and direct without the scare of being taken elsewhere in a minibus). All in all we were prepared for a 10hr trip and some extra grey hairs on our heads. To cut a long story short (coz lets face it, this post is turning into a novel and you fancy a cuppa tea), the coach at Siem Reap was full when we arrived so they shoved us into a taxi instead with an Italian couple. We got to Poipet within an hour and a half as taxis are quicker than coaches. Wey hey! People did try to take our bags when we got out of the taxi (a swift ‘thank you but fuck off’ helped that situation). It did take over an hour to cross passport control but chatting to the Italians (who did like to talk a lot) helped pass the time and no one wanted to steal my money. Happy days. We also decided to join the Italians in their pre-booked minivan to Bangkok since our train didn’t leave for another 3hrs. Yes the driver drove over 100 miles an hour on bald tires the whole way there. Yes he was falling asleep at the wheel and yes we all thought we were going to die. But hey, we got to Bangkok in an amazing 3hrs, ALIVE.
Now go and put a brew on, you deserve it after reading all of that.