Cambodia 2003 Travelogue
4/27/03 Hello Cambodia!
Donna and one of the other riders in the pickup during the traffic jam
At around noon on April 27, we crossed into Cambodia
at Poipet. When we exited passport control, our new
Cambodian friend showed us where to catch a pickups to
Siem Reap. We tried to figure out how much they
should cost and we think we didn't bargain properly as
it cost a total of 500b for both of us to get to Siem
Reap. They wanted to be paid up front, but I didn't
agree to that; so, we negotiated to pay 200b now and
300b when we got there. We now think that the whole
ride to Siem Reap should have cost us around 80-100b
each. Oh well. Anyway this pickup is just that, a
pickup -- not like the songthaews in Thailand or Laos
that have benches on the side and a roof. This is a
bare bones pickup and you sit in the back on top of
whatever luggage or cargo was going along. We waited
a bit at the border, and then drove around the circle
a bit waiting for more people to climb on; then, we
were off. As we went along, people would flag the
truck down and hop on. When they wanted to get off,
they bang on the side of it and hop off. After we got
to Sisophon (about 1/3 of the way to Siem Reap), the
driver stopped and a bunch of guys jumped on the truck
and said we should get off and on to another truck. I
was a bit wary of this, and refused to do it until the
driver told us to. I was then to give the 300b to the
new driver when we reached Siem Reap.
A few kilometers outside of Sisophon, we ended up in
our first Cambodian Traffic Jam. We were on a dirt
road and apparently the bridge was out. Traffic was
at a standstill in both directions, on either side of
the bridge. Of course, this is the time that it
started to rain -- with us just sitting there in the
back of a pickup! Shortly after the traffic stopped
the vendors started magically showing up. They would
walk down the aisles of cars offering food and drinks
for sale! Everyone is an entrepreneur!
Eventually the vehicles started moving again, and the
rest of the way to Siem Reap was pretty uneventful,
bumpy but uneventful, or so we thought. Just outside
of Siem Reap they stopped the truck and asked for our
money. I didn't pay, however, until they brought us
to our ultimate destination. We had them bring us to
Dara Guesthouse, run by Mrs Ouk Sang (#10 Sivatha St,
Siem Reap, www.angkorhotels.org Tel:(855) 12 63 04 48)
where we planned to stay. They had a nice room for
$5/night with attached bath, TV, and Fan.
As we were settling in, we discovered that somewhere
on the pickup truck ride, Donna had been pickpocketed!
At times, there were many many people on board and
with nothing to hold on to for balance, people end up
holding on to each other. Somewhere along the way,
someone had stolen 6,000 baht out of Donna's zipped
and velcro-closed pocket! They even zipped and closed
the pocket after the removal! We had at least split
the money between us that we took out of the ATM, so
they didn't get all our money, but we will be a bit
more vigilant as to how much we have in our pockets,
and keep our attention on them more in the future.
Beyond that, we are in God's hands and He will
That evening we headed out and found a nice street
restaraunt just down the road and had dinner. The
owner's son was there who was very cute and nice. He
would coax people to sit down with the menus. Then he
took our order, item by item, relaying it to the
adults. Later, he watched us play cards and chatted
with us. He was maybe 5 years old!
After dinner we went back to the guest house and
booked a tuk tuk driver to take us around Angkor Wat
the next day.
4/28-30/03 Angkor Wat...Tomb Raider in real life!
On April 28, We met our driver Han at 8:00 AM. His
taxi was a regular motorbike, but he had a hitch on
the back and towed a trailer that had a bench seat
facing forward where we sat, and there was a canvas
roof overhead to protect us from sun and rain. We
headed off to Angkor and stopped along the way for
some baguettes for breakfast. The baguettes were
good, but not as good as the ones in Vietnam. At
least the French did leave these countries with some
Our first stop for the day was Angkor Wat itself. This
wat is the centerpiece and of the whole Angkor
complex. It was constructed as a funerary temple for
Suryavarman II in the 11th century to honor Vishnu,
the Hindu diety that the king preferred. It took
about 30 years to build. The whole wat is surrounded
by a moat. You enter the wat over a bridge on the
West side. Around the main temple inside there are
800 meters of bas reliefs on the walls. The reliefs
tell several of the Hindu stories of the day.
Angkor Wat as viewed from the Elephant Gate
The churning of the sea of milk bas relief in Angkor Wat
A carving in Angkor Wat
Monks inside Angkor Wat
The next stop was the Bayon inside of Angkor Thom.
Angkor Thom is a fortified city 10 sq km in size that
was built by Jayavarman VII (who reigned from 1181 to
1219). The city may have supported one million people
at its peak. The Bayon was also built by Jayavarman
VII. It has the wonderful gargantuan faces of
Avalokiteshvara. They have a really cool smile.
Similar to the Mona Lisa smile. There are some very
nice bas reliefs at the Bayon (1.2 kilometers worth!).
Some including depictions of everyday life during the
A bas relief on Bayon showing everyday life
Kirk and one of the carvings at Bayon
How many faces can you find?
These are easier to see.
Surely you can see this one.
Next was the Baphuon. This is a pyramidal
representation of mythical Mt Meru. This temple was
being reconstructed when we were there. On the
Western wall, they were working on what was supposed
to be a reclining buddha built into the wall, but it
was particularly hard to make out with the
Reclining buddha on western side of Baphuon under restoration
Next stop was the Phimeanakas which means "Celestial
Palace", they say it once had a golden spire on top of
it. Not so today. It is another pyramidal
representation of Mt Meru. I climbed up to the top
and looked around. As it was very hot and there were
kids to play with at the bottom, Donna stayed down and
Donna at Phimeanakas
Next was the Terrace of the Elephants. It is 350
meters long and was used as a reviewing stand for
parades and such. Along the wall of it are bas
reliefs with elephants. There are some elephants that
come out of the walls, too.
Kirk at the Elephant Terrace
Our next stop was Thommanon. This is a temple
dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu (Hindu gods). After
that, we went to Takeo. This one was unusual in that
it was never finished. All the blocks are undecorated
with no carving. It was built by Jayavarman V (who
reigned from 968 to 1001) and it was the first
Angkorian monument built entirely of sandstone.
Kirk in a doorway at Thommanon
The next temple was Ta Phrom, and was one of my
favorites. They call it the jungle temple. This one
was very cool. They have filmed part of Indiana Jones
and part of Tomb Raider here. It is unique in that
there has been no restoration here except to cut the
road out to the temple. It is the way the French
found it with the jungle trees all growing through the
buildings and such. It gives it a very good
atmosphere. To me, it felt like I was walking through
a real-life Tomb-Raider game while visiting this
One of the lichen/moss encrusted entrances
Kirk "opening" a door at Ta Prohm
Those trees are really taking over!
Aggg They are invading!
Our next stop was Banteay Kdei and Sras Srang.
Banteay Kdey is a Buddhist temple from the latter part
of the 12th century. Sras Srang "Pool of Ablutions"
is just East of the temple and made for a cool
Sras Srang "Pool of Ablutions"
After that, we went to Pre Rup, another
temple-mountain type of place built by Rajendravarman
II. They say it may have served as an early royal
crematorium. Since it is a pyramid, we, of course,
had to climb it!
Kirk climbing Pre Rup
Later, we went to Prasat Kravan. This one was
different in that it was not built by royalty. It
consisted of five brick towers in a line on the
North-South direction. Inside two of the towers were
interesting bas reliefs.
Our final stop of the day was Phnom Bakheng. This is
one of the best places to go at Angkor for sunset.
The approach to the temple is very, very steep. They
even have elephants that you can ride to the top. For
a price of course! We trudged up to the top and
waited for the sunset. Unfortunately, the sky was not
cooperating and the clouds obscured our sunset. So we
left a bit early and headed back down to our guide and
Sky over Phnom Bakheng
On the way back to Siem Reap, we saw another amazing
motorbike going down the road. This one was piled
high with what looked like bags and bags of charcoal.
It must have been at least 6 feet higher than the
seat. And to top it off, someone was sitting on top
of the load! It is AMAZING what they put on
motorbikes out here!
After we returned to the guest house I went to
exchange money so we could pay for the guide and our
accommodation. Donna meanwhile negotiated with the
guide to take us out again tomorrow to visit Banteay
Srei and some of the more distant locations for $11.
They seem to use US Dollars as the preferred currency
in Cambodia! It really surprised us, as we haven't
seen US Dollars in almost 7 months! The Cambodian
currency the Riel is quite devalued so generally, if
you owe $4.50, and you pay with a $5 bill, then,
you'll get your change in Riel (they don't use coins)
-- you'd get 2,000 Riel back. It's very strange.
We went back to the same place for dinner that night
with the adorable little boy. Neither of us could eat
all our meal, and as we were getting ready to leave
two other boys came up with plastic bags and wanted
our leftovers. We of course gave them to them, and
then wished we had stopped eating earlier so they
could have more.
On April 29th, we met Han at 7:00 AM since it would
take an hour to get to our first stop. We got
baguettes and water on the way out for breakfast. Our
first stop was Banteay Srei. This is a Hindu temple
dedicated to Shiva. It is cut from stone with a
pinkish hue and with very intricate carvings, making
it one of the more beautiful temples at Angkor. The
site isn't all that big, and the temple buildings
themselves don't even look full-sized -- maybe 2/3
sized to me. The name means "Citadel of the Women"
and it is said that it must have been built by a woman
as the elaborate carvings are too fine for the touch
of a man. It was built around 967 AD and is one of
the few temples at Angkor, NOT commissioned by a king,
but by a Brahmin wo may have been a tutor to
Jayavarman V. While we were there, we got to observe
some archaeologists at a dig at the site.
Entry to Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei Courtyard
Carvings at Banteay Srei
Nice door at Banteay Srei
The next stop was Banteay Samre. It dates from the
same period as Angkor Wat and was built by Suryavarman
II (reigned 1112-52). One unique feature of this
temple is that it had an interior moat.
Unfortunately, it was all dried up. But it does make
a unique perspective
in some of the pictures.
Can you see Kirk?
Donna in the courtyard
Our next stop was Ta Som built in the late 12th
century. The central part is pretty well devasted,
but the Eastern gate is neat in that it has a tree
that is enveloping the gate. They also had some of
the stonework stacked up that they were restoring.
Eastern gate of Ta Som
Donna and the Stonework
Next, we went to Preah Neak Pean, which was built in
the late 12th century. It was neat in that it was a
square pool (no
water now) that fed into four smaller square pools,
one on each side. The water flowed into the external
pools through spouts that had designs of various
heads; horse, elephant, lion and human. In the center
pool was a circular island encircled by two naga
(snakes). We walked around to all the pools and
examined the heads and remaining statues.
Circular island in central pool
The elephant head spout
Our next stop was Preah Khan (Sacred Sword). This one
is similar to Ta Prohm in that there is lots of jungle
encroaching it (though less than Ta Prohm) and lots of
it is in a jumbled ruined state. This has lots of
narrow hallways and lichen covered stonework. It is
quite a big site. It is dedicated to 515 divinities
and during the course of a year 18 festivals took
place here. We walked all around the place and at the
East end there is a strange European-looking building
that doesn't seem to match the rest of it.
Trees taking over Preah Khan
Kirk on the bridge leading into Preah Khan
Kirk in Preah Khan
Our next stop was the North gate of Angkor Thom. We
had seen it the previous day, but today we wanted
pictures of the statues outside the gate that depicted
the "Churning of the Ocean of Milk".
Then we went to the Terrace of the Leper Kings inside
Angkor Thom. This one has a platform that has a nude,
though sexless, statue. They don't know what it is
of. The front retaining walls of the terrace are
decorated with at least 5 tiers of very good carvings
figures. Behind this is another wall with more
carvings that was only recently discovered. It makes
sort of a winding narrow hallway through the mound.
Front wall of the Terrace of the Leper Kings
Next we were off to the South gate of Angkor Thom for
another picture and on to Baksei Chamkrong. This one
is just made out of brick, which is unusual for
Angkor. It was built in the 10th century and they
think it was originally covered with lime mortar.
South Gate of Angkor Thom
By this time we had seen all we wanted of Angkor so we
headed back to Siem Reap and thanked Han for his
wonderful service. If you get out to Siem Reap and
want to hire Han, here is his info:
Kirk Han and Donna
Mr. Han Mony
The Motorbike Trailer Transport Service
Excellent English and very knowledgeable
about Angkor temples
Mobile Phone: 012 759 683
From overseas call: 855 12 759 683
We had some lunch and then rested in the room as it
was terribly hot. We did buy a bus ticket back to
Bangkok that would leave the next morning. No more
pickup rides in Cambodia for us! We packed our bags
and went to bed early as it was going to be a long day
of travel the next day.
On April 30, we got up and got ready to go... and it's
a good thing...the bus picked us up early! It wasn't
a problem though as we were nearly ready when it got
here. It wasn't a full-sized bus, but sort of a
mini-bus. And just like all our other experiences
here in South East Asia, they filled it to the brim!
This bus had no space for luggage (no roof rack or
lower holds) and they had sold every seat to
backpackers, so all the floorspace was covered with
bags! You couldn't get out of the bus at the various
rest stops without moving bags out of the doorways and
such. Pretty unsafe, but we made it to the border
just fine. As we went across the border we were both
very cautious about or money and pockets and had no
problems. They did have us fill out a
SARS-questionnaire as we crossed into Thailand, but
that was no problem.
To be continued in Thailand!....
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