Siem Reap and the Angkor complex

While my previous comment on the niceness of Siem Rep was a little hyperbolic it was still considerably nicer than expected, another thing was that the town seems to have kept the airport road full of 5* hotels and not slum-like buildings that you generally manage to see somewhere en-route, even in Santiago or New York. I also managed to have some food for generally only US$3 or so, and in one case less than US$2 including a drink.

Anyhow so on Thursday after my last blog post I headed to the Angkor national museum, this was expensive at US$12, but was of a good western standard and had a lot of good presentation of some of the Angkor artifacts including high-tech audio-visual displays in about 5-6 languages. They even have a collection of 1000 Buddha statues but it was way less impressive than the collection I saw in Kyoto. Unfortunately I did manage to get given a dodgy dollar bill at the museum, I detected and refused it though, its annoying checking if the dollar is real as you have to check the paper quality and there is no watermark to check like most other currencies.

Then on Friday morning I headed out for the day to Angkor Wat. To get to Angkor Wat I decided to cycle (for US$1) the 7km on flat roads to the temple complex, it was quite interesting as I was by far the fastest cyclist on the road mostly due to my practice in Oxford. I would also say that it was fairly safe, the cars mostly behaved themselves and the cyclists probably cycle safer than they do in Oxford. On the way I also had to buy a US$40 ticket to get access to the Angkor site for the next 3 days, this apparently doesn’t apply to Cambodians for whom it is free. There are a lot of police around though, and with help from foreign governments including China, the US, India and Japan they are maintaining the sites, the Japanese seem to be contributing to the most sites however and they also seem to be doing a really good job of the maintenance and reconstruction.

Angkor Wat itself is seriously impressive, basically it is located in the Jungle inside a set of massive walls with a huge moat around the outside that is probably 1.5km across. The most interesting things to see are the view of the site from across the lake where it blends into the jungle and close up where you can see the elaborate carving of battle scenes that exist throughout Angkor Wat and the other temples and buildings in the complex. As I said before, Angkor Wat is a massive complex, firstly there is an outer wall, and then significantly further in there is a much smaller central temple which you can walk around inside, it is also built up higher than the surroundings.

After seeing Angkor Wat I headed up the road north towards the old town of Angkor Thom, I didn’t get there however as I got distracted by a hilltop temple on one side of the road, this was beautiful as well, and you could climb up the very steep steps at the side to get a view over the surrounding jungle and fields that stretch off very flatly into the distance.

The next day I met up with an English and Cambodian girl working for a Cambodian NGO at my hotel and we went off to spend the day relaxing and chatting by a nearby lake that was mostly visited by Cambodians rather than tourists. The Cambodians themselves are generally very nice and relaxed people and this was shown here (as well as their cycling :p). In the evening we went out to the night market which was relaxing and we also saw a local orphanage perform some traditional Cambodian dance which was excellent to see, unfortunately the orphanage was spending a lot of money on not really needed stuff like US$180 on monthly internet access, that is as much as it is in Tahiti and internet cafes are nowhere near that expensive here.

On Sunday I then cycled out to Angkor Thom and the temples there which also had lots of beautiful carving as well as large faces carved into the stone, as well as this I saw a couple of other temples which really seemed like cliched temples that blended into the jungle, though they weren’t complete ruins which was good to see and I really enjoyed it. After this I cycled back before having dinner and going to bed around 10pm.

To be honest the story of the temples is better told with pictures rather than words and I’ll try and get them online soon.