Tag Archives: Siem Reap

Battambang to Siem Reap via the Sangkar River.

It’s as if a spring has sprung. From the doldrums of Battambang to the glories of Angkor Wat I am on sensory overload. There has been so much to see, so much to do I can’t help but feel I will leave something out.

First there was the B and B in Battambang, such a joy after the “resort”. I don’t think I do resorts very well, you are expected to stay within the compound and enjoy what they have to offer. I didn’t. The B and B was small, intimate and they really seemed to care that I was enjoying myself. So thanks Sangkar Villa. Up early one morning to catch the 7am boat down river to Siem Reap. What a heap the boat was, it looked like it might sink of its own accord even before the fifty plus passengers embarked. We all squeezed into the cabin with seating four across and an aisle in the middle, very narrow, bags, shopping, backpacks and cargo stacked around us and made our way out into the stream. Sitting, crammed all together in the cabin, reminiscent of a small plane, was more than I could endure with six or seven hours ahead so I clambered up onto the roof. With the now famous hat and scarf I was well protected from the sun and the hours sped by. I wanted it to never end. I made mental notes of my feelings along the way, all of which I have forgotten but I do remember that “there is something timeless about river travel”. The banks were alive with bird life, the jungle coming right up to the edge. Numerous dwellings, river traffic, fisher folk, everybody waved as we passed and then to the floating villages. What a concept. All the houses float and can be towed around by row boat (great if you don’t like the neighbors!). Everything was there, grocery stores, restaurants, schools, churches, Temples and they were all floating. Everyone went about their business as if they were on land but they weren’t, they were afloat, in boats. What a life. The river varied, sometimes hugely wide, maybe three quarters of a mile and then the driver would dart off into a side alley where the stream was as wide as the boat. People got scratched by the tree branches. We had to push our way through massive growths of Water Hyacinths growing on the surface. Then a most peculiar thing occurred.

Others, escaping the claustrophobia of the cabin, made their way up onto the roof and a lady sat next to me taking photos as if her life depended on it. She obviously heard me chatting to two Khmers when I mentioned that I was from California. I made some trite remark and we got to chatting. From California she asked, where? San Francisco says I, oh, where? Well Marin actually, oh where? San Anselmo says I. Ha ha says she, I live in Larkspur. There we were, on the roof of a boat, floating down the Sangkar river, miles from anywhere and we are neighbors. I might have sat somewhere else, caught the boat on a different day, chosen not to make a trite remark. But it all came together and oh my how we laughed. Sabine, travelling with her friend Bernadette, also from SF, have continued the journey, but mostly by tuk tuk.

Arriving at Siem Reap we negotiated the river bank and its mud and went to our various hotels. I had booked a standard room in a place downtown and when I was ushered into a poolside suite I raised an eyebrow. Jacuzzi, super shower all wood carved, sofas, armchairs, four poster bed, the works. BUT, it had windows facing away from the pool and without there was a most enormous construction site. Diggers, cranes, dozers, you name it they were all there. The noise was incredible. This did not last long and I left the next morning. They were pouring concrete at midnight and started work again at 7am. Now I am ensconced in what I think is a tour group hotel, never the same guests from one day to the next, lots of people for lunch and dinner but very few for breakfast. On the Western tourist circuit I think Siem Reap qualifies for one day, bus tour to Angkor Wat and that’s it, off to the next place.

The Bopha Ankor Hotel does have one major benefit, undiscovered by the people passing through. Down the dusty alley beside the hotel is this quite amazing restaurant, the Square 24, not one hundred yards away. The dishes served here are well up to Marin, San Francisco even London standards. I am now on my fifth visit and all the staff greets me with the usual bows and hand clasping, which I am now confident enough to return. Not only is the food absolutely delicious (organic ,locally sourced,  etc), the presentation brilliantly performed, the ambience perfect, cool and airy, the décor understated Khmer, but the place is often packed. The price is notable, I have not paid more than $12, though I now seem to qualify for complimentary ice cream and green tea. Even though reservations are recommended they have always seem able to find a corner table for me and here I am today, scribbling away, watching the upscale diners from Belgium, I think, drinking my lemonade.

Oh dear, I have reached nine hundred words and have yet to start on the wonders nearby. Angkor Wat, Tah Promh, Sokh Sang, Tonle Sap Lake, pub street. Lets see if I can make this a two post day.

The river was narrow.

The river was narrow.

The river was wide.

The river was wide.

There were shops.

There were shops.

A new take on "moving house".

A new take on “moving house”.

Wash day maybe.

Wash day maybe.

Life goes on.

Life goes on.

Off to school.

Off to school.

Monk in a hurry.

Monk in a hurry.

Waves!

Waves!

A lady picking up supplies from our boat.

A lady picking up supplies from our boat.

Through the flooded forest.

Through the flooded forest.

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A Trip down the Tonle Sap River

Ploughing our way at quite a rate of knots over what looks like a big inland sea, no sign of the banks on either side. We chugged along through a somewhat stagnant waterway after leaving the dock, houses on stilts, some donated by Americans. Saw one with a large placard outside thanking a family in Philly. It was narrow and the boat, slow. We have a film crew aboard, French, ladies, who set up their cameras on the bows, amateurs followed until there was quite a crowd up on the pointed end. Others situated themselves on the top, luggage deck, where they had a great uninterrupted view all around. We chugged on. Got to thinking that at this rate we will be in Phnom Penh by sometime next week, not the claimed six to seven hours. Eventually the stagnant river emptied out into a wider waterway and the thrum of the engines increased. There was a floating village with the inhabitants going about their daily business by boat. A large Catholic Church. Fisherfolk with their nets and lines, baskets and pots. A school donated by the Australian Government. All of a sudden we were out in the middle of this lake, the engines roared up to full power and we were off to the races. Spray everywhere, cameras protected, photographers retreated to the sanctum of the cabin. Film crew dismantled equipment, tripods, mikes, booms, cameras all packed up and retreated back to the dry. Should I mention the catastrophic wardrobe malfunctions as we pounded along faster and faster, no, better not. On we zoom, no sign of land, no sign of much of anything, so will pause and read book, well, Kindle app. Patrick O’Brian, still, of course. Treasons Harbour. (go away American spell checker).
Time passed (four hours) and we continued to roar on downstream towards the capital. The banks have changed their look, not the rather barren of further upstream, but now lusher, greener, more verdant. Different species of tree, not just the occasional palm, deciduous perhaps, certainly a mangrove here and there. There is the floating wild hyacinth again remembered from the Delta in great clumps, islands almost, I did mention that didn’t I, back in HCMC? More river folk activity too, bigger cargo boats, some cruise boats out of Phnom Penh. We slowed as we came to a stilted town, slowed right down so people could disembark. We didn’t stop, they jumped, bags and all into small boats alongside. There was a great collection of house boats as well as the houses on stilts, I had a quick pine for the houseboats of Sausalito. Then back up to warp speed for what is presumably the end run to Phnom Penh. Back to POB.
I love the universality of the wave. All down the river whenever we pass some boat or other with people in, or pass folk attending to their business on shore there is always a pause from whatever activity is being attended to and they all stand and wave wave wave. I am fortunate in my choice of fellow passengers, this is not a oh so cool crowd, and we all wave wave wave back. It’s really most delightful.
We are pulling into PP, there is an unexpectedly large Mosque. The houses have red roofs, were the Italians here, no, must be the French influence. If this town is as much fun as Vientiane then I am really going to enjoy being here, even for just a few days. Despite now being into hour seven of our progress I still have a happy stupid grin, what a great way to journey. None of the discomfort of plane or bus, free to move about at will, walk about, photograph points of interest. Marvelous. We dock.
A quick tuk tuk ride to the hotel and all checked in for three nights. Off to investigate the Foreign Correspondents Club which sounds intriguing for a late lunch then exploring this new City.
Thanks for riding the river with me.
Oh and btw, thanks for all the ATM comments and concerns. To answer the question, yes, I do have more than one ATM card, and from more than one country. Should take care of things.

Angkor Wat.

I did it. I answered the 4.45am alarm call and was present, correct and sober in the lobby at 5.15. Jumped into car, driven by hotel employee, and sped off into the darkness. Not many people around at that time of the morning, in fact it was obvious that the only ones around were making the same pilgrimage, couples in tuk tuks, couples on bicycles, others in cars. It’s not far to the main gate where I bought a three day pass, $20.00, then on again, into the darkness. Parked in massive lot, will I ever find this white Camry again, and clutching water, camera, flashlight and ticket joined the silent throng moving to who knows where. Across what looked like a bridge, upstairs, downstairs and then it seemed we were in a massive theater like field. The flashes from cameras, the flashlight beams, the low chatter was vaguely reminiscent of waiting for the main act at an outdoor music festival. The best viewing area appeared to be in front of some sort of pond but not wishing to fall in I took a spot on the edge of the crowd and began the wait.
Dawn broke, a light pink, tried a couple of shots with the flash but all I got were photos of the grass in front of me! Waited a little bit longer and suddenly, there it was, that iconic view, the three towers, all clearly visible. I waited for the roar of the crowd, didn’t happen, this was not a rock festival even if it felt like one. Took lots of pictures of other people who asked me to, as one does, someone took my photo with my camera but I haven’t put it up for you to see. (family pressure may change that) Hey, we are talking 5.30am here, not looking my best, also I looked at my three day pass photo, not flattering.
I made my way to the Temple not entirely sure what to expect. It is so tremendously vast that even if all the dawn watchers had descended en mass there might be one person per acre. Actually they didn’t, I wonder where they all went. It had an eerie deserted feel, not at all spooky, but just this huge feeling of space, massive space. Sitting in a corner observing the central area, with the towers, I could take it all in without being disturbed by people, I moved to each of the four corners and the feeling was the same, tranquility springs to mind. Quite inspirational.
Angkor Wat is old, very old, even to a jaded Euro like me, we are talking eleventh/twelfth century here, these rocks have seen a lot. I was amazed, fascinated, impressed, overwhelmed, enchanted, charmed.
I did find the white Camry again and fell into the seat somewhat stunned, speechless, and just a little bit dazed. A reviving cup of tea and we were off, there are many many temples around Siem Reap, all related to Angkor, built at a similar time. More of those later.
Hope you like the photos.

Image

Angkor Wat at Dawn.

First view

There it was, that iconic sight in the pink dawn.

Would love to edit out the bottom of this photo. Just ignore it.

That is not my tablet !

The light got brighter, the subject clearer.

Daylight now.

Quite a lot of people gathered to watch the dawn

Look at that, a hot air balloon rising over the main gate.

I was getting carried away with camera angles. Like it ?

Definitely what I came for.

Managed to get all four towers but lost the light.

A very big and long Bas Relief

A tiny detail from very long Bas Relief

There were many Bas Reliefs. Don't worry I am not going to get all Bas Relief nerdy on you.

There were monkeys around and about.

There is a very big moat all the way round Angkor Wat.

Another view of the moat.

The main Gate into Angkor Wat complex, well one of four. Not designed for today's traffic.

Arrival in Siem Reap

To Cambodia we go, me and all the other holiday-makers from all round the World. So many different languages in the departure lounge at Luang Prabang it was a veritable Tower of Babel. Now we are on a prop plane 20,000 feet over the border with about thirty minutes to go.
I took the opportunity to revisit the alms giving/receiving ceremony at dawn this morning and discovered the cunning plan behind the chaos I beheld that first morning. Now that I know my way around town better I got off the bus at an earlier point than previously and cut down the back alleys to a street that parallels the great seething mass. Ha ha, local residents lined the sidewalk complete with rice baskets, ready for the procession and not a camera in sight. This then is the secret, avoid the chaos on Sisavangvong Road, this is presumably where the City Fathers want the cameras to go, and go one street over, towards the Mekong. You will have the street to yourself, well apart from the residents and the monks. I hope some photos come out (do we still say that?) as the sight of that Saffron ribbon heading down the street, unhindered, was mesmerizing.
Onward to Siem Reap, the gateway to the largest religious building in the World, Angkor Wat. I was greeted on arrival at the airport by the hotel’s tuk tuk driver and we headed off on the 7 km drive into town. First impressions, it’s hot, it’s wet, it’s dusty, it’s noisy, it bustles, there is food, everywhere, it is amazingly inexpensive, it looks like it just fell down and is being rebuilt. I absolutely love it. Oh,and holiday makers sitting with their feet in fish tanks!

This seems to be the thing to do, a fish pedicure.

A fish pedicure. A tuk tuk ride from the hotel to the restaurant area is a dollar, after which you would be hard pressed to spend more than ten dollars for a meal. There is great shopping, I saw some very attractive silk pashminas. I want a hat and a bag to carry stuff around, like a shopping bag. So back to the market after completing this.
Up again before dawn tomorrow and spend the day with a tuk tuk driver and a guide book. See the sun come up, walk about, take photos, hope to understand why the complex was built and how it has survived all these centuries. It is the chronological twin of Chartres, Winchester, and other European cathedrals.
Sorry if I sounded a bit blue last evening but it was Valentine’s day and I had hardly spoke to a soul all day.
Better now.
Thanks.