We’ve been in Cambodia a week now and it’s totally amazing. Today’s a good day to try and catch up on the blog as Sue’s a bit queasy (probably from heat sickness) and we’re in a slow moving agricultural (as opposed to touristic) town. Plus it’s kinda hot out there in the mid-afternoon (33 degrees) to be wandering around.
We flew into Siem Reap from Hanoi last Friday and were greeted at the airport by a tuk tuk driver from the Good Kind Guesthouse (next door to the Happy Guesthouse!). It was warm and the sun was just beginning to set when we stepped off the plane. But better yet the air quality was excellent. After checking-in we walked to the town center, which is very touristic, for dinner. We ate at a restaurant on the pedestrian-only Bar Street and chatted with a couple who gave us a few good tips.
After dinner we walked down the street where we saw our first fish massage tank (more on this interesting method of massage and skin cleansing later).
The next morning we started our exploration of Angkor, site of about 1000 ruins including Angkor Wat, the world’s largest single religious temple. We hired the guesthouse’s tuk tuk driver to take us out to some of the farthest temple ruins, ones that would be too far for us to bike to. Our tour would take us out to Banteay Srei, about 25km from Siem Reap, and back with stops at three temple sites.
The drive itself was very interesting as we saw the outskirts of Siem Reap and many villages along the way. The kids we passed always smiled and waved. The first temple complex we stopped at was Pre Rup, considered one of the best places for sunsets, as it’s so high.
Although we weren’t there for the sunset Pre Rup was a good introduction to the ruins of Angkor. Pre Rup is most impressive for its height; from it we had a good view out over the surrounding countryside. Although its an impressive structure it wasn’t highly decorated, like Banteay Srei, our next stop. As we walked into Banteay Srei we passed through a number of doorways with impressive relief carvings. Below is a series of photos to show the detail of the carving.
The entire structure was covered in beautiful carvings. Like many of the temples it is laid out in a cruciform shape, with an east/west axis. Surrounding the temple is a moat with lovely Lotus flowers. Many of the Angkor temples either have moats or pools, or the dried up vestiges of them.
We spent about an hour wandering around Banteay Srei. Although small, compared to the bigger sites, it’s an intricate jewel. We explored the inside then walked around the outside, stopping for a few minutes to listen to some musicians play traditional Cambodian music (we later found that bands of musicians play at most of the sites).
Around the sites many vendors swarm tourists, selling handicrafts and T-shirts. Quite often they’re children, selling for an adult who stays out of sight in the background. They’re persistent but sweet, and as we went along we developed strategies to deal with them without being rude. They do go to school, for half-days, and are obviously poor but there are organizations in Cambodia training and helping them alternatives. We really encountered our first swarm of vendors after viewing Banteay Srei. I ended up with a T-shirt and a guidebook, both of which were inexpensive, but we could see how it could be a problem. After a good lunch near the site we set off back towards Siem Reap and our last temple site of the day.
But on the way we made one other stop…
OK, this isn’t for real, it’s at the Landmine Museum. However, one does not wander off the paths around here. There are still many landmines in the countryside, and many victims of them. The Landmine Museum was small but made its point.
We asked our driver what all the small cooking fires were along the road so he stopped at one so we could take a look. They were making sugar. The above photo shows the wood fired baked earth cooker with its large metal bowl, cooking the sugar, and the young cook. We bought a tube of the sugar, wrapped in a banana leaf.
We drove to our last temple of the day: Banteay Samre. Isolated from many of the others it was very peaceful. Sue took a quiet moment to sit looking down one of the terraces with a pair of guardian lions.
By mid-afternoon we’d finished our tour. Despite it still being early we were tired from the heat and took a break at the guesthouse.
I eventually found myself in the hammock and had a little snooze as the sun went down.
Later we walked into town for dinner and then over to the Night Market. We found a few small items of interest to purchase but our best find was the Fish Massage!
We decided to give it a try and so dipped our feet in the tank of fish. Instantly they swarmed our tasty feet. At first it was very strange feeling, but soon it became kind of pleasurable, if still just a bit weird and sometimes ticklish.
Perhaps we had sandle-foot, but they loved our feet. We sat there for about half an hour until our feet appeared clean, felt massaged and the fish were beginning to move off to other folks’ feet.
And so we walked with freshly fish tingled feet into the night.