|After 3 weeks traveling through Vietnam, we were excited at the prospect of a new country and meeting the Cambodians, who we had heard were as friendly as the Lao people.
We were met at the airport by a small Cambodian man who resembled Golum from Lord of the Rings. He even spoke like him! In our fascination, we didn't realize, until it was too late, that he had brought a moto-trailer to transport us from the airport to the guesthouse. A moto-trailer is literally a trailer seating 2 people attached to a normal motorbike....so imagine the confused looks on our faces as he attempted to load the two of us and our hernia-inducing backpacks into this contraption. We held onto the backpacks for dear life as he sped through the main street of plush hotels and towards the dusty streets of Siem Riep.
The town of Siem Riep consists of a small strip of restaurants and shops surrounding the market. It is really just a place to stay whilst visiting the temples at Angkor and as such has been transformed into a pricey haven for tourists. There's a bar round every corner, packed with travelers swapping stories, including hints and tips for visiting Angkor.
We discovered a place called Dead Fish tower for dinner one evening. This was the strangest restaurant in town with crocodile pits close to the tables and Cambodian dancers in alcoves. Not your average dinner experience, especially when one diner decided to feed the crocodiles just as we were served our dinner!
2 of the days in Siem Riep were spent wandering and climbing amongst the ruins, watching the sunrise and marveling at the intricate stone carvings. Our favorite places by far were Bayon and Ta Prohm.
Bayon is a massive structure with many faces, situated within the walled city of Angkor Thom. The smiling faces are serene, made even more spectacular by the differing ways in which the sunlight hits each of them.
Ta Prohm is a large, sprawling temple which has been left in the state in which it was found ... with trees and shrubs growing out of it. This enables you to imagine what it must have felt like for the people who discovered Angkor. Walking through the ruins, we could imagine the past grandeur of the buildings as we admired the carvings which had survived the years.
In our enthusiasm, we even made it to Angkor Wat at 5am to watch the sun rise over it. Torches in hand, we walked in complete darkness towards the chosen spot, guiding a lost, torchless Korean couple along the way. Everyone sat in silence as the sun rose, illuminating the sky around Angkor Wat in shades of orange and red.
The serene Angkor Wat encapsulates the ancient history and glory of the Khmer empire that ruled Cambodia and parts of Thailand and Vietnam centuries ago. The history and carved images are closely linked to Hindu myths and legends. There are many carvings of Apsaras: mystical, beautiful women from the heavens. As the carved stones have become shiny where hands have touched them repeatedly over the centuries, all of the Apsaras within reach have shiny breasts.
The roads within Angkor were not bad on the whole and it was only when we requested to go to a far away temple, along rocky roads, that we encountered a puncture on the trailer. No fear as the driver simply took us to a nearby house and we watched as the puncture was fixed in record time by a man who had lost his leg as a result of a landmine.
After 2 days at Angkor, we were starting to feel templed out. We got chatting to a friendly moto-trailer driver - Amo - who offered to show us the floating village of Chong Kneas and an unofficial Landmine museum.
The Landmine museum has been set up by Aki-Ra (an ex Khmer Rouge soldier who was brought up by the Khmer Rouge after they killed his parents) and is enlightening. Apparently there are more landmines in Cambodia than there are children! The museum has lots of paintings, detonated landmines gathered from the local area and stories by Aki-Ra about his time spent in the army. The museum also provides a home and education for young amputees, all of whom were injured by landmine or ordnance.
Amo told us his story at the landmine museum where he had learnt to speak English as a child. Along the same lines as many of the stories that we were privileged to hear whilst in Cambodia, Amo's parents had been killed by the Khmer Rouge for being intellectuals (his mother was a teacher and his father a doctor). He recounted his memories of the Genocide and explained to us how he was saving money to study medicine and become a doctor himself one day. He had managed to arrange lodging at a nearby Wat with the monks so as to save money when he eventually made it to college.
As most you already know, Neha has a large family and so it should come as no surprise that we bumped into a cousin of her's whilst in Siem Riep. They hadn't seen each other in at least 10 years but luckily managed to recognize each other and bond over a few beers!!
Whilst in Siem Riep, we were enchanted by the wonder of Angkor and won over by the smiles of the children within Angkor who can so easily be distracted from their hard sell by engaging them in conversation. Next stop on our short trip through Cambodia is Phnom Penh, the capital city.