3 - 4. March
Made for Westerners
Written by Alex
We are in Cambodia. We arrived in Siem Reap last night, the city that has grown because of its proximity to the temples of Angkor. We arrived at the airport, collected our 30-day visa and were reprimanded for not having enough unused pages in our passports for the entry visa. You see, the visa stamp is not small in size – we have learned that they can take up a whole page, and for someone travelling for 10 months, those pages get filled quite quickly. The problem was resolved with a $10US fine and with that we were on our way. We settled into our hotel, without much trouble, except that they could not find our reservation. No problem, it all gets solved eventually. We wondered the few blocks around the old market, only to find more massage shops, tour offices and eager tuk-tuk drivers wanting to shuttle us around to the temples the next day. We settled on Mexican cuisine and a foot massage at Dr. Foot – always a good way to celebrate arriving in a new country.
Not so thrilled with our hotel choice, we moved to the Golden Banana the next morning, on the other side of the river, behind the local barbecue stalls. The fact that it had a pool convinced us. We moved our things after breakfast. We knew today would be a day of planning and computer work. We had made the decision to purchase the 7-day pass for the temples and wanted to make sure that we would plan the days accordingly, and of course find out how to get an excellent guide. Between the white sofas at the ultra modern Blue Pumpkin café and the Internet café across the street, we planned and worked. My friend Carrie had been to Angkor a year or two before and had forwarded us the name of the guide she had used. Uncertain that his mobile would still be the same, I called and without much trouble, we planned to meet the next morning.
With a guide reserved the cost between $20-$30 there (depending on quality and source of reservation), computer work finished and excitement to see the temples growing, we negotiated a ride to Angkor Wat, for our first view of the temples in the light of the setting sun. With $60US each, plus one passport sized photo, we arrived at the ticket booth, which looked more like the entrance to a place like Disneyland than ancient temples. We stood for an instant photo, like at the DMV, and moments later had two laminated passes in our hand. Do not loose, do not sell, do not transfer – always carry it with you: these were our instructions. And with that, off we were.
As we rounded the corner, the first sight of Angkor Wat at sunset was indeed most inspiring. Seeing those 3 towers set against the glowing sky, you think “Wow, we are really here.” Of course sunset is one of the prime times for temple viewing, though actually being at Angkor Wat is not the most popular. As we approached the long gang way leading to the temples, the huge groups of tourists were heading toward us – probably on their way to a more picture worthy spot. That gave us a few moments inside to walk around without the heat of midday pounding down or the abundant amount of visitors. Taking in the immensity of this one temple made us realize that we had chosen wisely with our 7-day pass.
There is no way to take this all in – seeing that Angkor Wat is only one of the many sights to see here. Satisfied with our few pictures we found our tuk-tuk driver amongst the many others and puttered back into the city center.
Siem Reap is exploding with hotels in every price range, Western style restaurants and Cambodians hoping to make a living from the thousands of visiting tourists. It has been a while since we were at an international hot-spot like Angkor. Perhaps Machu Pichu was the last place we experienced the impact of package tours, bus loads of Korean and Japanese tourists and simply people on vacation for two weeks. The difference between backpackers (or other long distance and time travelers) and those on vacation becomes acutely obvious in their manner of dress, manner of dealing with touts (those selling you something) and their general behavior. Usually it is with a bit of envy that we look at their pressed clothes, jeans and nice shoes. There are all kinds here in Siem Reap and we have accepted the fact that any visit to any temple will be shared with these thousands of other visitors.