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The highlight of the second day was supposed to be the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We set out at about 5.30 to catch the sun coming out. Apparently no one had informed the sun, so after a few teasers, it went back to snuggle among the clouds. Cheapo. An on-demand sun has a huge market in this side of the world, I tell ya. Breakfast happened right opposite the temple complex and was nothing worth writing about.
We got back to walking mode as this was another huge temple complex that needed to be negotiated. We saw, for the first time, the version of Ravana in this part of the world – with a 4+4+2 head arrangement. (second pic – click to enlarge, you will see it towards the top right end)
As per standard procedure, a climb was next on the agenda as we set about exploring the Angkor Wat temple. The view was quite rewarding and we got back down on the other side. Compared to the front, this was a very peaceful area and one could walk languidly taking in the crumbling remains of ancient buildings. The next destination was Banteay Srei and because of time constraints, we chose to travel the 37 km distance by car, rather than walk.
Banteay Srei has an infrastructure built for tourists and we landed there in time to witness a Japanese invasion! The crowds were really bad, I remembered the Bong crowd in Sikkim, this was a 10x international version. Arrgh! But the place is worth a visit because it’s markedly different from the Angkor style.
On our way back, we dropped in at a couple of places – Pre-Rup and East Mebon. These two are quite similar and both involve climbs. From East Mebon, you can barely make out an Angkor Wat tower with your guide’s help. My suspicions were confirmed when the guide acknowledged that the king had bearers to carry him up and down these temples! Most of the royal names I heard sounded Indian, more specifically like the Travancore royalty – Jayavarman, Suryavarman…. Long before the gulf… you think?
Exhausted, all I wanted to do was drop anchor somewhere. We asked to be taken to Pub Street for lunch and hogged at Easy Listening – Rice Loc Lak and a Khmer fried fish, the latter proving to be quite an interesting dish. We then went window shopping at the Old Market, where D once again practiced her bargaining skills. They would start at some outrageous price and then do a countdown as we started walking away. We also scouted for dinner options, and then another tuk tuk ride took us to the hotel.
Our sunset plan from the previous day had been pushed by a day but we had time for a quick nap before the driver came to pick us up. We found a good place and settled down with the gin and sun. Sitting on the grass overlooking the reservoir, we waited for the sun to set as our tour guide spoke to us about his experiences during the Cambodian civil war, stories of the Killing Fields, and how his country was coping now. It fell in with my observations of the streets and life around. A country just beginning to find its feet after years of turmoil. I wondered whether this was how we were in the 50s and 60s, the big difference being technology. In the guide’s words “this is the age of scientists”. He had said this soon after he had met us and spoken about his desire to travel, and the opportunities these days but I figured this was what he had meant.
We bid goodbye to our tour guide and asked the driver to drop us off at the New Market. Finally D decided to buy a few things in response to the ‘Want sumseeng’ (want something?) chants. The new market is quite peaceful and definitely less crowded, though the prices were lower than at the Old market. After we got out, I saw Batman and Spiderman tuk tuks but they were too fast for my camera. I specially wanted one of the former to send to Batmania. As we walked around, we saw a couple of Indian restaurants and one which was definitely Mallu (though it offered North Indian cuisine too) with Kathakali and Ravi Varma paintings. After much deliberation, we chose Bopha Angkor over the Dead Fish Tower. An anniversary treat. Bopha Angkor is quite stylish and we tried many things -the Amok Fish in coconut shell, a Khmer chicken curry and coconut crepes.
Siem Reap is relatively a small place and four wheelers are few in number, but I could already see the beginning of tourism’s influence here, including the HRC tee our last tuk tuk driver wore. Past the river and the promenade and shops that were slowly closing down for the day, the tuk tuk took us back to our hotel, to spend our last night in the land of the Khmer.
Notes and budgets
Currency: All transactions are in $. Local currency is useful only for very low value transactions.
Travel: Flights one way, would cost anywhere between 10-25 for 2 people, basis various factors – duration, time of year, when you’re booking etc. From May, the rains begin and go on till October. You could enter via Thailand too, wiki (link below) gives you an idea.
Food: Plenty of interesting options, especially if you like seafood. Breakfast can be done within $5 and lunch/dinner for around $15.
Tour: We used AboutAsia who gave us options of hotels to suit various budgets, tour plans etc along with a detailed pdf about the places to visit. Our cost for the tour services came to $310 (inclusive of hotel, driver, guide, entry fees) and we were quite happy with the service. However, it would obviously be cheaper if you booked a hotel, reached there, hired a tuk tuk and saw places basis a plan you made.
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