11 January, 2014

Temple Time! (Week 2 in Cambodia)

Siem Reap 

Our 8 hour bus trip to Siem Reap was quite horrible. 8 hours is a long time. And being trapped on a bus with over 20 high school girls was not fun. We seemed to have had the loudest girls behind us as well. They were laughing and chatting at very high volumes, screaming to each other across the bus. I can now see how frustrating it would have been for teachers and the general public to be around me and my friends when we were in junior high school.

The constant swaying, bobbing, and rattling of the bus was not nearly as disruptive as the bus' horn. It seemed to be an internal sounding horn. By that I mean it seemed louder being inside then bus then what I imagined it would sound outside. Every time the bus driver spontaneously beeped the horn to warn other drivers he was going to overtake, it violently jolted me awake. It was loud. And since there is nothing to do on a bus for 8 hours but to sleep, it was a frustrating experience.

After all the bumps and jittering, I was beginning to think the bus was invincible. Until… we reached a unexpected stop. Our tire popped. And by popped I mean it was destroyed, slashed, mangled. And if you look at the photo of the tire, you can probably see that we were not working with great conditions to start with. This prolonged the journey, which made the day roll on very slowly.

The popped tire.
Kate and I were pleasantly surprised at the quality of our accommodation. Later on we found out that the guest house we were meant to stay in was over booked, so they upgraded us!
This was my first meal in Siem Reap. One of the biggest mistakes I made while on the trip was ordering fried chicken in a completely empty hotel restaurant in Cambodia. But what can I say? I was craving chicken. This meal cost me a whopping $4.50. This is a big jump from the low prices in Phnom Penh. 
Features around the place we were staying at - Angkor Spirit Palace. 
We even had a pool!
Breakfast was included with accommodation. It looks much nicer than it actually was. Let's just say we bought our own breakfast after I had this one. Trying black coffee for the first time. I'm not going to pretend that I enjoyed it.
Temples, Temples, Temples! 

There is not much that I will mention about the temples. I will simply let you look at the images to appreciate on your own. Using one word to describe my experience with the temples would be - "exhausting". Yes I have used that word too many times in the past couple of posts, but it really just takes so much out of you. The hot humid weather, the overly crowded areas, the repetitive nature of the days; was just not that enjoyable. I loved being amongst the ancient architecture, but it was just so difficult to stay interested and alert when our tour guide stopped at every second relief to explain the story behind it for 10 minutes each.   

The number of temples that remain in Siem Reap is immense, and the intricate details at each site are breathtaking. So do not get me wrong, despite all my complaining there were some amazing temples we visited. If I was able to take my time at temples that blew me away and quicken the pace at ones that were less interesting it would have made the experience more enjoyable. To be not pressed for time knowing that I needed to visit 3 or 4 more temples afterwards, and also having the choice to skip a site. 
And so it begins… at the South Gate of Angkor Phrom. 
Angkor Thom.
Overly excited and unaware of the day that was ahead of me.
Slabs and fragments collected to be used when it is time for reconstruction. 
The gang. Me, Kate, Deborah, Khanh, and Tara (left to right, top to bottom.) The face I am pulling was actually how I was feeling... and this was only the first temple we visited.
My new favourite thing - mango smoothie, yum!
"Fresh spring rolls"
Temple Baphuon. 
Ta Prom - a location where the film Tomb Raider was shot in. 
Diamonds and gems would have filled the holes in these walls.
Angkor Wat. 
Angkor Wat is so fundamental that the temple is displayed on the national flag. It is considered the heart of Cambodia.
Kate and I putting on pleasant smiles outside Angkor War. We were so keen to get back home!
Had a tofu red curry at The Singing Tree Cafe for $3.50.
Fresh carrot and orange juice for $2.
At The Blue Pumpkin treating ourselves to ice cream. I got two scoops for $2.75. I loved being in this air-conditioned clean place. They had massive sofas you could lounge on to enjoy your dessert and perhaps fall asleep on. 
Mid way through the week, the weather hit lows of 20 degrees. This made the other ladies and I very excited. To finally escape from the heat! It was pretty funny seeing the locals react to the weather that morning. Our tuk-tuk drivers were shivering and wore big parkers. However, we soon understood why they needed it. Our ride to Kbal Spean was almost 2 hours long. So sitting at the back of the tuk-tuk while the wind hit our faces for that long was freezing! We actually had to stop by at a small village to warm ourselves by a fire.
Kbal Spean was supposedly a "climb" that would be "well worth the effort." This gave me the impression that it was going to be a treacherous uphill battle to get to the top of  a mountain. It wasn't. It didn't take us long at all to reach the top. It was perfect. The weather had cooled down and this very pleasant walk ended up being one of the highlights of my trip. I got my shorts on and powered through the walk. Having a solitary, breezy, stomp through nature was just the break I needed. 
It was mainly a solid, moist sandy terrain, with tree roots outstretched where they pleased. Occasionally we had to climb up some rocks, but it is a very beautiful walk.
Having overwhelming excitement after Kate told me to try and swing on the vine. 
Remains of reliefs and structures that had been broken down by nature. It was pretty awesome seeing the images amongst the moving stream. 
A very basic stir fry vegetable noodles we had for lunch - $5. Eating close to the temples, you can expect that the prices will be higher. 

Tip 7. Never purchase items off begging children around the temples. It encourages that behaviour and gives the adults the impression that exploiting children this way is acceptable. There will usually be a couple of children at each entrance who seek out tourists. Do not give in. 

Banteay Srei Temple.
 Pre Rup temple - a popular place to watch the sunset. Even though we were not there late enough to see the sunset, there were still amazing views.
On our way to the "docks" to get to the Floating Village.
Floating village.
Boy in small cylindrical tub.
Once you travel long enough, and go through the floating village, you get to a place where you can be dropped off  to have refreshments, and walk along the boardwalk. The walk started off with full fencing on both sides as seen in the image above, and got more and more sparse as you walked along. It was quite scary (for me.) 
Kids coming home from day school. 
We then took the boat out into the open, this would have also been an amazing spot to watch a sunset. 
Even out at here where the sky seems to touch the sea, they still attempt to sell you things via boat!
Bahong. This was the last temple we visited on our trip and was one of my favourites. It wasn't necessarily an immense complex, but I enjoyed running around and absorbing everything in quickly. Being able to get away from our guide for once and enjoy the temple on our own was great. We ended up sitting at the top of the steep steps and enjoying the view.
What remains of the elephant.
Pretending to ride the lion of whatever animal it was.

Phare (The Cambodian Circus)

"I went to an extremely entertaining and authentic small outdoor circus. Presented by students from the performing arts school run by Phare Ponleu Spelpak - an non-profit Cambodian organisation. Taking children and young adults off the streets and away from their difficult backgrounds to give them an avenue of expression. I was absolutely taken away by the talent and passion I saw on stage. Bravo!" Directly from the caption I wrote on my Instagram - c_mjung. 

The show that we watched was a very simple yet beautiful performance. About a boy who comes from an abusive home, who ends up running away and joins a group of circus performers who are traveling to Phnom Penh. There was live music, subtitles on a small screen to the side, hilarious slapstick comedy, audience involvement and high energy all throughout the performance. Reading through my travel journal I can't believe I actually wrote "I am a happy chappy" after describing my experience. 

Having something quick to eat before the performance. 
Artisans d'Angkor. This was not the most exciting place to visit, but it helped give me perspective of the enormity and work that would have been completed at all the temples we had visited earlier on in the week. The Artisan village is a place where you walk through different workshops, where locals are working on replicating images, statues etc from the temples. 

Last Day at Siem Reap

The last day at Siem Reap was similar to my last day in Phnom Penh. Relaxing and making the most out of the town. Kate and I spent the morning with Khanh and Deborah at the Artisan Workshop, then Kate and I separated ways from the others and came back to our accommodation. We spent an amazingly relaxing time by the pool just sunbathing, reading and swimming for most of the afternoon. We even ended up getting lunch brought down to us from the hotel restaurant. The vegetable red curry was surprisingly very delicious! And you can't do much wrong with a mango smoothie. 

After 3 pm we retired back into our room and had showers before heading back out to town for the night. We met up with Tara and got cheap manicure and pedicures together. It was the first time that I had gotten this done before. And you do pay for what you get I suppose, when you pay $7. After the very awkward and uncomfortable experience of a pedicure, my nails failed to dry. Even after a substantial amount of time everything started to smudge. So I gave up and ended up taking all the nail polish off my nails because it was hard to look at. 

We met up with Khanh and Deborah again for our last dinner together. We ended up going to a cheap local place, which did not have very good food at all. I ordered a vegetable Amok that had a very bland taste. After dinner we went to Blue Pumpkin again and had ice cream. While we were here I salivated over the breakfast and lunch menu. So I decided to come back the next day before getting on my flight to have a decent lunch. I had quite an early night. 

Kate left early in the morning. I got out of bed and gave her a very sleepy good bye. I spent the rest of the morning in the room watching TV. When I got too hungry I left the room and took a tuk-tuk to town with Deborah, who was staying one more night before she moved on with her plans. I ended up going back to The Blue Pumpkin for brunch. And I went all out. I ordered spring rolls and pho. It was pretty yummy, and I was so full afterwards! Not only did I attempt to scoff down all the food I also had a watermelon crush, which was amazing. 

The spring rolls, pho, and watermelon crush cost me around $10.50 (from the top of my head.)

I got to the airport really early at 4:15pm because I didn't want to risk being late. However, when I got to the airport the check in desk wasn't even opened yet, and I realised I didn't have to rush to get to the airport. On top being at the airport super early, the flight got delayed an hour more. So that was now a 3 hour wait in a small place. It wasn't too bad waiting though, it was nicely air-conditioned and I spent the time reading my book and getting a complimentary meal from the airline because of the delay.

Totally empty restaurant at the airport receiving my free meal.
Ordered tom yum soup. It was not what I was expecting. It actually tasted quite awful. 
All in all, Cambodia was good for me. A great way to end the year. To realise that I was more than capable to travel alone, and didn't mind admitting that I enjoyed doing it by myself. I got to meet some amazing people and I loved being able to be responsible for myself. I unraveled my desire to experience different and new cultures, and now have such a passion to travel more. Fantasying over and over in my head where my next destination would be...

But sitting in that empty restaurant, writing away in my travel journal, I was ready to leave. I was content thinking of heading back home. Until next time...

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