Okay! I shall proceed to tell some tales from my trip before the details slipped from my head!
Unlike my travel companion and fellow blogger who painstakingly took notes along the journey.. (yeah, she's more like the reporter instead of me! hehe), i just absorbed whatever came along with this forgetful brain of mind. Aiya, its my holiday afterall and not an assignment. So Lynn, let me know if you spotted any factual mistakes. :p
I thought instead of giving a chronological account of the journey, which will take a lot of blogging space and not mentioning the time! I should jot down the more memorable bits of the trip.
1. Snail-like Immigration Counter. Landing at Siem Reap airport, I was acquainted with the slowest ever Immigration queue I have come across in my life! The immigration officers took ages, and I mean ages, to just clear one person. And it didn't help that some of the computers were not functioning properly. We were standing in a queue that didn't move at all for 15 minutes and I think for that little number of passengers there, it took way too long to get a chop into their country!
2. Open-air Travelling Experience on a `Tutuk'. We went round Siem Reap and its outskirt on a `tutut' or `tutuk' for three days - exposing ourselves to the dusty wind along the way. But we agreed it's the best way to go about as it gives a real leisurely and tourisy feel to it. Of course, it would be cheaper than taking a cab!
3. Communication Barrier. As most of the locals don't speak English, we were trying to converse in broken English and sign language to most of the people we came across - including hotel and restaurant staff! The worst part was trying to speak to our tutuk driver's elder brother who stood in one day for him, and we really had difficulties telling him things. It makes me realise the importance of language!
4. Getting Soaked in Angkor Wat! We were drenched by rain on the first day of our visit at Angkor Wat! It was monsoon season and we were told it would rain daily without fail around 4 in the afternoon. After spending an hour or so at Angkor Wat, as we were buying drinks, the sky opened and poured! We bought two disposable raincoat and sought solace at the terrace of a Buddhist temple nearby for close to half and hour.. Yeah, we looked so funny and pathetic that neither of us wanted to take a photo :p It also rained the next day but thankfully it didnt disrupt our plans too much and the last day we were blessed with clear sunny weather!
5. Being `Ambushed' by Hawking Children Everywhere. The street children who were selling souvenirs of all kinds would flog to you at all the tourist destination. In their rather polished and simple English, they tried to outwit one another for business. Because there were just so many of them and the things they sold didn't interest us, we didn't give them busines. Some of them would sulk. Then there were also quite a lot of beggers, usually young women carrying young children begging for money.
6. The Steep Steps Challenge. I managed to climbing up and down the steepest and largest steps I have ever seen at a few of the temples. The first and the `scariest' is at the grand tower of Angkor Wat. Normally I am rather afraid of heights but was motivated to go all the way up to the tower for a panaromic view. And it was quite an adventure really but coming down really took a toll on my thigh muscles. Since I've not exercised for 2 months, the thigh felt crampy and I was almost limping.. yes, the muscles ached throughout the journey!
7. Feasting with Local Khmer cuisine to Western meals. One thing we didn't stinge on was food. And with the energy we used up daily walking the temples, refueling ourselves with good nutrition was rather important. :p With some recommendation from our tutut driver and also from guide books, we sampled an array of pretty good food and enjoyed the ambience and atmosphere at the tourisy outlets..
8. Getting a Bargain from Shopping and Haggling. We went shopping at this old market with many stalls selling anything from clothings to accessories to decorative items and household stuff and of course all sorts of Cambodian souvenirs. The trick was to slash an item's price to half and slowly bargain from there.. and if you walk away, you will normally get the price you wished! So i think we each spent around USD20 and managed to buy a whole lot of stuff!
9. Vistas for Photography. The Angkor temples are the perfect setting for beautiful photography. Armed with my digital camera, I had fun searching for interesting angles to capture the memories of the ancient relics. Good thing I wasn't alone so we alone could take photos of each other with the scenes!
10. Visiting the Great Angkor Temples. The real highlight was of course visiting about six or seven of the Angkor Temples and marvelling at these magnificent ancient architecture and structures built about 1,000 years back. And there were so much to see as in them were the many different beautiful carvings and sculptures. Being in these ruins were like being in another world and civilization, and was quite an experience in itself. We visited the site of `Tomb Raiders' where there were some old trees with really huge roots. Then there were the huge face sculptures at Bayon and other temples of amazing structural designs..
One question that kept wondering in my head was how much of manpower and time and resources were being used to build these structures. And on top of that, someone actually thought of such intricate and amazing designs! And all those were done without any technology that we have today that we use to builld our sky scrapers..
and SOME OBSERVATIONS
1. The Stark Disparity between Modernity and Poverty. This is very apparently in Siem Reap and was something rather curious to me. We were greeted with a ultra modern and tastefully designed airport and parts of the town were definitely developed for tourists. There was even a Pub Street (is that the name?) where Westernised eateries and pubs were located. The road going to the Angkor temples were beautifully paved and adorned with rows of trees for shades. But when we travelled at other parts of the town and the outskirt, it was a totally different picture.
2. Hotel Overload! For a small town that has a population of only 90,000, Siem Reap has LOTS AND LOTS of hotels! I have never seen such density of hotels in one small area - from many existing and up-and-coming 5-star hotels to all forms of lower cost and budget hotels. Even many of the pubs and restaurants also run small accommodation. Just try google siem reap and accommodation and you know what I mean..
3. Quite Roads. At the same time, it was rather strange that most of the roads around Siem Reap were almost free of traffic! The only time there were a mini `jam' was at 5pm in this certain main street. Other than that, where ever our tutut went, it felt we were the `queens' of the roads!
4. Roaming Naked Children. The children were free to roam about and had fun playing in the outdoors on their own. Many of them were stark naked even! Their favourite pastime seemed to be swimming in the muddy river and lakes. And yes, swimming was second nature to walking to them.. All of them were so at home in the water!
5. Absence of Other Religions. Cambodia is a Buddhist country although the ancient culture was influenced by Hinduism. There were many Buddist temples and monastry everywhere but we didn't notice even one church or mosque. But fianlly we did spot two churches - one is a Catholic church on the floating village which we visited on the 3rd day.
6. A Laid-back Lifestyle. The people do live their life at a very s-l-o-w pace. People could just sit at one place and did nothing, idling time away. They also do things quite slowly, including in their work.