Fat Frogs and the Temple of Doom

The Side Walk Never Die Hotel is rather a nice place.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

It’s about 3 stories high with lots of columns and plants, is painted a sort of pinkish-strongish-marone colour and has a fantastic ornate teak ceiling on the inside of the lobby. It’s very spacious with lots of glass, the rooms are big and pleasant and the staff are really friendly. A nice oasis from the water-laden, pothole-strewn mess outside.

We had hired Sambo ahead of time to guide us around the Angkor Wat temples and local places of interest. This service, combined with a tuk-tuk and driver cost us $45US each for two days. Pretty reasonable, we thought. And it meant we could just flop into the tuk-tuk and be driven around, rather than go through the exhaustive process of researching how to get places, how much, and what was a fair price to pay each time, in a place that you don’t know from a bar of soap.

The water-laden, pothole-strewn mess outside Sidewalk Never Die Hotel.

The water-laden, pothole-strewn mess outside Sidewalk Never Die Hotel.

He took us to the Bayon and other temples first. We drove down a long driveway, edged on both sides with forest. This forest is protected from anyone having stalls, houses, shops, etc in it. The locals used to live here, but they were all moved out by local government to Siem Reap town/city in the last few years. That must have been hard on them after many generations of living in the trees, but from a tourism point of view it is a lot more beautiful, and tourism is what’s going to bring the main income to so many here. We drove past several termite mounds. Apparently the locals will break off a bit of the mound, put it in water and the termites will crawl out. The fish will come along to eat the termites and the locals will catch the fish.

Bayon is way cool – it’s the one with 100-and-something large stone faces on it. But it’s very hard to get a photo for all of the tourists milling around the place. Sambo knows a few good niches to stand in though, so we were able to get one or two good shots. Ta Prohm was my favourite temple. That’s the one with the ‘liquid trees’ dripping fat roots over the stone doorways – the one featured in the Temple of Doom movie. It’s a beautiful setting with forest all around. Old stone blocks tumble all around the temple in piles damned near up to neck height and vivid green moss grows on the pathways. We were lucky really to come here in this season – they don’t have the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets at this time of the year because of the rain, but that very rain makes the light much nicer for photography than bright sunlight would. Plus it cools the air down a bit, once the clouds have burst.

We had lunch at a fairly healthily-priced restaurant. I had fried rice, which was okay but I think I like the Thai fried rice better. Ursula went and spoke to the young girls touting postcards outside the door. She gave them a little bit of money but one of them said ‘We can’t use that!’ and seemed quite sulky. We had to wonder if they had some tout-pimps just around the corner that would give them trouble if they weren’t seen to be selling the cards. You never quite know what the story is in these situations.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat itself was pretty impressive, but to be honest I did prefer the ‘jungle’ atmosphere of the Ta Prohm one. Once again, too many people to get a clear picture. Plus there is a bit of scaffolding here and there, for reconstruction purposes I presume. We had a wonderful thunderstorm happen while we were up in the higher parts, so that gave the whole thing a nicely dramatic backdrop.

Yesterday we went out with Sambo once again to the Tonle Sap lake, where we rode around on a boat and looked at the Chong Kneas Floating Village. About 3 million people live around this lake, which is huge. Here’s a bit of info on it from Wikipedia:

“The Tonlé Sap (Khmer: ទន្លេសាប IPA: [tunleː saːp], “Large Fresh Water River”, but more commonly translated as “Great Lake”) is a combined lake and river system of major importance to Cambodia.
The Tonlé Sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and is an ecological hot spot that was designated as a UNESCO biosphere in 1997.[1]
The Tonlé Sap is unusual for two reasons: its flow changes direction twice a year, and the portion that forms the lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. From November to May, Cambodia’s dry season, the Tonlé Sap drains into the Mekong River at Phnom Penh. However, when the year’s heavy rains begin in June, the Tonlé Sap backs up to form an enormous lake.
For most of the year the lake is fairly small, around one meter deep and with an area of 2,700 square km. During the monsoon season, however, the Tonlé Sap river, which connects the lake with the Mekong river, reverses its flow. Water is pushed up from the Mekong into the lake, increasing its area to 16,000 square km and its depth to up to nine meters, flooding nearby fields and forests. The floodplain provides a great breeding ground for fish.”
This is a really cool place to visit. On the boat we went past families living on floating houses, ‘supermarkets’ on boats, a water treatment plant, men up to their chests in water fishing, water hyacinth – from which they weave hammocks, amongst other things – fish farms under boats and wee kids paddling about in their own wide, shallow buckets. We docked at a ‘cafe/tourist shop’ where we almost ran over a woman in a canoe who was holding a very young child with a python around his neck. The family pet I presume. ‘Photo, photo!’ Of course I took a couple – they’re just trying to make a living, and Sambo told us that the snakes are a particularly laid-back variety that are rather well fed, so the children are in no danger. The people doing this particular thing apparently originate from Vietnam. Ya gotta give them ten points originality.
Step up on the the platform and immediately to your right is a large pen full of crocodiles. Very inactive ones, I must add. Not a single one of them got up and did a dance or held out something for me to buy.
Inside were the usual items for sale – resin statues of Angkor Wat, clothing that would be far too cold to wear once we got back to normality in NZ, snakes and scorpions in bottles flooded with Whiskey, etc. I broke out big time and bought an Angkor Wat fridge magnet to add to the international collection I have decorating my white ware at home.
Back to Siem Reap an hour or so later. Our tuk-tuk took us past the river where large plots of clay and rubbish denoted where once again, the locals have been moved out to make ‘beautiful places’ for the tourists to see. We had lunch at a funky restaurant (yellow noodles – my favourite Cambodian dish), where the inside had a lovely atmosphere and staff. One of the waiters, decked out in a striped shirt and sporting an umbrella over his shoulder, carried a tray with some sort of fruit cocktail on it across the road in the rain, presenting a charming sight.  Bloom Bags happened to be across the road (“Sturdily made totes, messenger and and laptop bags made from recycled fish feed sacks. Though you can buy cheaper knock offs from the market, these are genuine and you can be assured that your money is going to woman who made you bag.”). So we popped over and supported their cause. The guys serving there told us that the shop helps single mothers and orphans support themselves. I bought one that holds several cans (though goodness knows what I will use it for at home – innocent look) and folds up in a most cunning manner.
After lunch Sambo took us to the ‘Killing Fields’ temple, where they have a noticeboard setup with old photos and newspaper clips of what happened to the Cambodian people during the Pol Pot regime. To underline that, close by was a large glass case filled with skulls and bones dug up from the surrounding area. Sambo was about 8 years old when this went down and remembers it well. His family was scattered, his sister-in-law killed and one of his sisters fled the country never to be seen by the family again. It must be so sad for him to visit this place, though he does it in a determined manner – he obviously doesn’t want it to be forgotten, what happened here. I couldn’t bring myself to take photos at this place, and I found my eyes were somewhat teary.
Next stop was the Sok Orphanage. This place is out of the way a little, down a very bumpy track, so it doesn’t receive as many tourist visits as other, more prominent ones here do. Here, the kids raced up to us immediately and took us into their outside classroom. I was finally able to unload the bubble mix, pop-balls, spinning tops and bouncing balls I’ve been carting around with me all this time. Bubbles filled the air and pop-balls bounced all over the place as we created mayhem and played with the kids for about 2 hours. As we left, 3 or 4 of them put notes and pictures into my hands. Reading them as we left was a little tear jerking – just like any kid would, they want a mummy and daddy of their own to love them. I wish I was filthy rich so I could make their dreams come true.  This is their website if  you want to visit or help in any way – http://www.sokorphanagetour.org/
Cambodian FrogsLast night Ursula went out to a dinner and traditional dance, while I stayed back at the Never Die, drinking one or two whiskeys, chatting with the staff, writing notes and most importantly of all – frog watching. The frogs here are coffee and cream coloured and quite chubby. They’re not at all frightened and will sit in front of you poking their tongues out to collect insects. One of the staff got a piece of leaf stalk and tickled one of them, making him blow himself up so as to look bigger. The result was he just looked more jovial and Buddha-like. But we stepped back and acted intimidated so as to help him save face.
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