August 16, 2008

Trip to Siem Reap

It has been a year since our trip to Siem Reap. I had written several posts of the trip, all of which were sitting in my Draft box. The queen procrastinator in me had just managed to sort out the photos, which explains why the posts are only coming up now. It's been a long time I know, but I'd like to still post them anyhow, for posterity sake. So be warned, very very outdated posts ahead.

Wednesday, August 8

We woke up at about 6.30am to a sms from Air Asia informing us that our flight has been retimed. It was supposed to take off at about 10.10am, but it's now it's delayed by one hour. Since we already woke up, hubby went out to buy breakfast, instead of having it at the LCCT. The taxi driver came at about 8.15am, and we arrived at the LCCT just before 9am. Checking in was quick, and we had almost two hours to our flight. We killed time by hanging out the Coffee Bean. I even managed to dial in for my t-con from 9 – 10am.

We arrived in Siem Reap at about 12.15noon. Siem Reap, literally "Siam Defeated", commemorates a Khmer victory over the neighboring kingdom of Thailand. The airport was impressive. It looked as if it's a resort by itself. We cleared immigration and collected our luggage, to find our driver waiting outside at the arrival hall. It was a short 20 minutes drive to our hotel, Angkor Star Hotel. We got the VIP treatment at check-in, as the reservation was done by hubby's friend, a Malaysian who's a big shot in the local Angkor Beer brewery. Turned out the owner of the hotel is also Malaysian, and a friend of hubby's friend. The General Manager himself, also a Malaysian, came out to say hello and informed us of the itinerary that his staff has helped arranged for our 3 nights stay there.

After checking into our room, we went out for lunch at a local restaurant, Happy Special Pizza. Lest the name deceives you, it serves a variety of Cambodian food, in addition to pizza and pasta. Mum ordered rice with chicken stir fried in young ginger, sis ordered fried rice, hubby ordered rice with sweet and sour beef, and I ordered fried noodles. Cambodian food is very similar to Chinese. I also ordered mango juice and it was heavenly. It was thick and very sweet, the natural mango sweetness. The person who took our order was also apparently the cook so we waited a while before our food arrived. It was worth the wait, as the foods were delicious. They were not cheap though, each costing between USD2.50 – 3.50. We found out subsequently that that's the normal price range.

After lunch, we traveled about 30 minutes to Chong Khneas, a floating village at the edge of Tonle Sap (Great Lake), the closest and most accessible to Siem Reap. Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. During the rainy season from June – October, the vast lake swells from around 3000 sq km to almost 13,000 sq km. It is one of the world's richest sources of freshwater fish. Many Vietnamese live on the lake, as they are not allowed to build their homes on land. They are somewhat like illegal immigrants in Cambodia. Their living conditions are poor, with a small hut built atop a boat, and 2 – 3 generations eat, live and sleep in that cramped space. The water of Tonle Sap is filthy, as it's a busy waterway with tourist and local boats alike. The water also serves as toilet for the boat people. What's distressing is that they use very same water for all their living needs: cooking, drinking, bathing, cleaning and washing. The reality of the boat people hits you hard, and makes one appreciate all that you have. Cambodians living along the road leading to Tonle Sap isn't much better. Surrounded by patches of rice fields, they live in small huts with palm leaves as the roof and walls. Again, 2 – 3 generations live under the same roof with very sparse necessities.

The road to Tonle Sap

The blue buildings are the village's school and on the right is the basketball court

We then visited Wat Thmey (New Wat), a simple pagoda which claim to fame is a unique glass-walled stupa containing the bones of victims of the Khmer Rouge. Some of the bones were recovered from a nearby well while others are the remains of soldiers who died on a nearby battlefield.

Next, we climbed Phnom Bakheng or Bakheng Mountain to watch sunset. Phnom Bakheng is within the Angkor Wat Archaeological Complex, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, which encompasses dozens of temple ruins. Atop the mountain is the first of temples of Angkor. Built during the reign of Yasovarman (889 – 910), it is designed to represent the Hindu's mythical Mount Meru, home of the Hindu gods. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day and we didn't manage to catch the supposedly spectacular evening glow.

Top right: People gathered at Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset (below right) which was less than spectacular due to the thick clouds

We then made our way back to the hotel to refresh ourselves before dinner. Dinner was at Kulen II Restaurant. The restaurant has the same concept as our Restoran Seri Melayu in Jalan Conlay. There's a buffet spread of Cambodian food with the local Apsara Dance being performed nightly from 8.00 – 9.00pm.

We took a slow stroll to the night market which was about 20 minutes walk away. It was a disappointment. The night market comprises only about 20 stalls and was very quiet. As we were all tired, we decided to call it night and headed back to the hotel.

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