July 19, 2010

Angkor What?


Cambodian farmer tending to his water buffalo on the way to Siem Reap 

Siem Reap is a small town outside of the official Angkor Wat City and it seems as though Siem Reap’s lifeline is the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the temples every year. 

There are hotels to suit every budget; luxurious chains, boutique hotels, guest houses, etc. and then there’s where we stayed. The Garden Village was Lonely Planet’s “Top Pick” for Siem Reap and with beds starting at US$1 we figured we’d give it a try!

We soon discovered that by beds they meant just that. You can opt to sleep in an outside area with a roof, mattresses spread out over a bamboo structure with a pillow, a sheet and a mosquito net. There was actually an old, emaciated French man sleeping there who looked like he’d been there for months without a bath. A week after the World Cup Final he stumbled into the reception area and demanded to know who won the Cup and was shocked to hear that France didn’t do very well. He was obviously making the most of his $1 bed all that time… We decided to treat ourselves to a US$4 room instead which had a double bed, shared shower/toilet and free bed bugs. It was disgusting but I was told off for being a “flash packer” and too fussy so I grinned and bared it. The room was on the top floor of a three story building which had divided the floors into individual ‘rooms’ using sheets of palm raffia. So it was like being in a hut but inside! The hostel itself was great though and the food is what kept me there for 3 days :) US$0.75 for a warm baguette with nutella and amazing local dishes like “Amok” - a curry with shrimp!

The temples themselves were incredible, not as big as I imagine (usually the case!) But amazing none the less! To think that they were built hundreds of years ago is mind blowing and the attention to detail is exquisite. I think the pictures speak for themselves this time, I can’t really go on the describe buildings without sounding boring but I’ll give it a try…

The Angkor Temples were built by the Cambodian people between the 9th and 15th century. The temples were the centres of individual cities and the majority were Buddhist with a few Hindu temples in between. Angkor Thom was the capital during this time but this changed to the current day capital of Phom Penh. The Angkor Temples were abandoned by the Cambodians when this happened and some ran to ruin. They were later discovered by the French (so they claim) and some have been left as they were when discovered; covered in foliage with massive trees dominating the structures. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge/ Pol Pot regime, the heads of every Buddha and statue were broken off as a sign of disrespect, to be sold on the black market in Thailand. 

That’s the history in a nutshell, there’s so much more to it. 

Besides being one of the Wonders of the World, the Temples of Angkor were stunningly beautiful and a jungle book playground. 

Speaking of which, apparently the original Jungle Book was inspired by the Angkor Wat buildings and Lara Croft : Tomb Raider was also filmed here.

Little boy playing with a tarantula @ a market!

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