Siem Reap, Cambodia: Day 3

The Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom was a surreal experience for me…

Strangely, I held a stronger affinity for it than Angkor Wat

The faces of ancient kings and gods greet you with a smile on their lips, almost as if they’re the silent guardians of an ancient secret we seek

You can still feel the lingering ancient magic from the dark passage ways within the crumbling temple which was built in the 12th century…

These walls reveal hidden mysteries of the past…

Their beautiful, serene faces express a soothing peace and calm…

The Bayon’s a lot smaller than Angkor Wat but the steps are a lot more difficult to climb. Tall, steep and very narrow, it’d dangerous if you got careless or  aren’t wearing proper footwear. But it was worth to climb up to the top, absolutely so. It just humbles and inspires me… how these wonderful artisans created this magnificent temple out of limestone. All they had were simple tools, non of the hi-tech gadgets and things we have in this new millenium. Gosh.

There was a smaller temple near the Bayon but it was under restoration so we didn’t venture deep. There was a land mine victim begging near its entrance and it was only when I dropped money into her hat that I realised how beautiful she was. The girl was probably my age, blessed with a very pretty face but sadly, she had no limbs. An unfortunate tragic accident when she was a child, perhaps. It just saddens me, all the senseless things people do to each other – it really does. Whatever happened to world peace, and the adage – make love not war?

We headed to the old market for lunch, and took a walk through the local market after, just to have a look-see. There were the usual tourist souvenirs at the front corners of the area but deeper inside, there were stalls that catered to local Khmers. It was also deeper in that we found some exotic things like bottles of rice wine which had cobras and scorpions in it!

Yep, this is so not for the faint-hearted…

Dara took us to Tonle Sap lake afterwards and it was a pretty long (and bumpy) ride out on his trusty tuktuk but I enjoyed the sights. It’s a refreshing change of greenery… seeing wooden houses on stilts along paddy fields with smiling children innocently running around in their birthday suits and some even waving at you with a happy smile, as they walked barefoot and carefree.

It’s an entirely different way of life from where I come from and I felt a lurch in my heart. Seeing these kids just inevitably make me think of my darling Mongolia boy, Batsaikhan Gunbileg, who I ‘adopted’ through World Vision – an all inclusive charitable organisation though it’s got a Christian influence. My kiddo’s birthday is coming up in June, so I’ve got to start thinking of what’s best to send him soon 🙂

Anyways. Back to Cambodia. Amazingly, our ticket prices for Tonle Sap Lake cost US$40 – the very same price for our temple tour which spanned days. That’s pretty darn expensive for a mere boat ride and looking around, you could see that there weren’t as many tourists around. Inevitably so, really.

A super steep steel ramp leads us down to the await baits… uhm, boats… down below

We were ushered into a motorised sanpan so it was just the 2 of us girls with the gruff boat operator and our guide who was a slick talking teenager. I wondered how much these guys were paid, because I recognised the sales pitch all over again. It’s similiar to Thailand where tuktuk drivers bring you to gemstores because they get a comission from bringing tourists to these shops, regardless if they make purchases or not. As the popular express goes… "Same Same, but Different" *wry grin*

Pet, our guide, told us about a bunch of poor orphans who lived with their teacher on a boat on the lake. He asked if we’d be nice enough to purchase stationery for these less fortunate children who didn’t have parents, because that would mean a lot to them. The boat operator stopped us at a provision shop on a boat anyway, despite the fact that he was metres away from us and couldn’t have heard our reply.

I wouldn’t have minded really, because I always believe in charity. I guess if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing, I’d joined a NGO. But US$5 for 10 regular pencils was just daylight robbery… especially when you’re aware of the standard of living here in this developing country. Geez!

We didn’t fall prey for this tourist trap and the sullen faced men took us back, Pet didn’t talk much after and he moved to the back of the boat to sit with his stoic friend. Which was fine by us, because Pam & I took the time to take photos of some beautiful moments like these…

These kids are from the Vietnamese village, and it’s amazing how tough they are. They’re probably only knee high but they can certainly fend for themselves more so than any Singaporean kid I know can. I think Singaporean kids are mostly spoiled… I know so many who whine and whine because they don’t have the toys their classmates have. Plus they never appreciate the food and education – basic needs – that so easily come to them.

Anyways, as the boat approached the ferry, our young guide’s face did light up for a moment when Pam & I still tipped him and his friend US$2 for their efforts anyway. I don’t agree with the way they do things, but I understand why they do thhe things they do.

Dara brought us back to FCC and after freshing up, we left the hotel for dinner at Pub Street. Temple Pub (near D’s Books… which is a pretty decent bookshop that I spent time and money at) was highly rated by the Lonely Planet so us girls decided to check it out as they had traditional Khmer dancing upstairs, along with dinner.

Since it was catered to tourists and expats, the price for the local dishes were a lot more costly than that of the street food (which BF & I enjoyed on the first night) but that’s completely expected. There were tons of local kids hawking their wares, land-mine victims begging, and tuktuk drivers trying to get business… just outside the restaurant’s vicinity.

We were lucky that it started storming (big rain, lightning, the works!) only after we settled in at our table upstairs. It was a hearty crowd which consisted of only tourists – mostly Caucasians, as expected. In fact, we were the only Asians there… not counting the staff. The food was pretty decent, and so was the entertainment on stage.

The traditional Khmer dance reminded me of Thai traditional dance, in terms of costumes and music. But I suppose the influence is inevitable to a certain degree as they share a border. Same goes for some of their local food – their springrolls for instance, are very much like the popular Vietnamese ones.

Dinner came up to US$20 and we were totally stuffed – there was just so much food, we couldn’t finish everything. Heading down the stairs, we weren’t even out of the establishment when tuktuk drivers started hollering at us from where they were… standing in the rain. Pam’s right in saying these grown men behaved like children when they started bickering "I saw you first" and "I called you first" and what have yous.

Being cheeky, I told the BFF to make a choice and the typical Libra girl that she is, Pam was stumped. So I just went ahead with the guy who first caught my attention with his frantic wave and holler. He was also the one with the broken umbrella, so I reckon he probably needed the cash a tad bit more than the other guy.

Riding through the dimly lit, wet streets of Siem Reap is certainly an experience. I’m not good with words, but there’s something sad and poetic about it.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Siem Reap, Cambodia: Day 3

  1. Aaron

    what? US$40 for a boat ride? i’d rather swim.. :p

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