Cambodia – Siem Reap, 01 January 2005

Last day in Cambodia, and on the itinerary are Preah Khan and Ta Phrom.

Preah Khan is massive, so massive that I didn’t explore the whole of it. It seems to be a temple with a series of endless corridors, though different ‘rooms’ held different things, e.g. statues, linggas. But well, it was a hurried affair, as I had to get back to the guesthouse by around 14 00, and also because it was swamped by Korean tourists.

Ta Phrom makes for the classic photo, as it was left the way it was found, i.e. with nature exerting her strong presence amongst the ruins. Though with tiem being a huge factor, I didn’t venture far, as with Preah Khan, as I still had 10km of cycling on the return journey to Siem Reap.

Some quirky things observed on the road include signs for elephant crossing, and also a motorcycle with what must be 20 coconuts. (my fav is still the motorcycle with 5 pigs)

Ta Phrom.jpg

Ta Phrom

Bike with MANY Coconuts.jpg

Guy on bike with like 50 coconuts


Cambodia – Siem Reap, 31 December 2004

Long day ahead. Big plans for today include cycling 13km to the Roluos group of Angkorian ruins, and also having my last meal of the year at FCC Angkor.

Initially, I thought that reaching the Roluos group would be a relatively painless affair, after my experience of cycling 14km on the mini-tour yesterday. However, it turns out that cycling 13 km on a straight road under the hot sun can be a despairing affair, that after 1.5 hours, I started wondering if I had missed the sign leading me to Roluos. Thankfully, another Australian cyclist was also taking the same route. Together, we finally managed to get to Preah Ko of the Roluos group.

Preah Ko was undergoing much needed conservation, but I got to enjoy it away from the tour bus crowds, perhaps because it’s so out of the way, and doesn’t score so high on the splendour factor. One km south of Preah Ko was the Bakong that was surrounded by a moat. It was pretty ornate, with elephants guarding the 4 corners of the 5 terraces, and stupas (or what I call stupas) in between. And of course, I got to enjoy it in relative peace, since there weren’t many tourists, just a few others who were mad enough to make that 13km cycle from town. Though the Aussie and I planned to visit Prasat Prei Monti (we had to travel together as her bike lock malfunctioned), the plans were abandoned as we got lost due to the lack of a good road map on hand, and of course, hazardous sand paths.

The long ride back to Siem Reap was leisurely, with ample time to take in the surrounding countryside, punctuated by the friendly “hellos” of Cambodian kids on Highway 6.

No definite plans were in store for the late afternoon following the visit to the Roluos group, except for the hunt for lunch, since my ravenous hunger had to be satiated. Post lunch, and leg and sore butt break, I decided to cycle around Siem Reap town, hunting for CKS and the Golden Banana, Kyle’s favourite guesthouse. The Golden Banana is indeed central while obscure, as it was tucked in a little lane somewhere near Phras Chas, the old market. On my aimless journey, I also bumped into a Cambodian wedding, where the guest were decked out in their colourful dresses.

Eventually, I decided to return to my guesthouse for a refreshing shower before welcoming the new year. Though I initially planned to dine at FCC Angkor, I ended up having pasta at The Red Piano (yet again!) as FCC Angkor was having some special new year buffet which I didn’t exactly fancy. After dinner which ended at 21 00, left with lots of time to kill, I decided to go pub-hopping. After walking about, I settled on an Irish pub run by a friendly European who seemed to know his clientele. In order that I would not get sloshed before midnight, I decided to have a dessert (profiteros, a cream puff looking thing with ice cream sandwiched in between, and lots of chocolate sauce!) and some juice to ease into the night. After my failed attempt to order a beer from the waitress, I decided to move on, to FCC Angkor.

FCC Angkor was decked out for the occasion, with blocks of ice surrounding the dance floor that was perched near the pond. The music was groovy, and most people were having a swell time dancing the new year in. Thankfully, no one was overdressed, or I would have been out of place with my bermudas and T-shirt. Close to the new year, something amazing happened! I actually saw a Chinese lantern, the kind that you send into the sky by lighting a fire within it! Though I’ve seen it numerous times on TV serials, I’ve never seen a real one being lit and sent into the sky. But there they were, sending one lantern after another into the night! That was just amazing!

Bakong 2.jpg


Bakong 1.jpg


Cambodia – Siem Reap, 30 December 2004

I decided that the bike would be the mode of transport for the exploration of the Angkorian ruins, a rather enjoyable choice. First stop was obviously the world renowned Angkor Wat.

What can I say about Angkor Wat? It’s indeed monumental, scaling it is such an exercise that I’m beginning to wonder how did the Khmers manage to do it on a daily basis, not to mention in a dignified manner, since I had to climb on all fours. One also has to wonder at the amount of work put into buidling this 4 storey wonder, with its stones, and carvings telling the story of the Ramayana. (or is it the Mahabharata?) Apparently its spiritual function is still in use, as some of the more favoured gods are still objects of worship to this day.

Next stop was the Bayon found within the massive Angkor Thom complex (4km by 4km) guarded by statues that seem to be chained together. Bayon is a temple filled with faces of the Boddhisatva, rumoured to be modelled closely to Jayavarman 7’s face, the builder of the Bayon. (I guess it’s his way of gaining merit) facing the four cardinal points of the compass. As with anything famous, it was swamped with tourists bus-ed in by the loads, but well, one can’t miss it only because it’s crowded?

After visiting the Bayon, I decided to take a whirlwind tour of the marked 14km mini-tour of the temples which included the Chau Say Tevada, Ta Keo, Ta Phrom, and Banteay Kdei. Chau Say Tevada was under conservation; Ta Keo fits into my mental image of how the tower of Babylonia should be, with its pyramidal structure and its pinkish sandstone. While I didn’t get to peek into the Ta Phrom, its walls seemed to run on forever and ever as I was cycling, quite a massive complex!

Hunger pangs put my plans of going on the 26km grand tour on hold, and I went back to my usual fried rice stall for my one dollar fried rice. After lunch, a shower seemed to be a good idea, though of course, sleep overtook me, resulting in the shelving of the plans to go on the grand tour.

I decided to be more adventurous for dinner, and went to Siem Reap town to explore the options. In the end, I decided on The Red Piano (its claim to fame being the bar that Angelina Jolie patronised when she was filming Tomb Raider). The fish and chips were superb, with the fish fried in a light batter, and smothered in a creamy sauce with the slightest hint of lemon. Yummy!

As it seemed to be rather early as yet, I decided to go to the FCC (Foreign Correspondents’ Club) Angkor for a drink, just to soak in its colonial splendour. The FCC Angkor is housed in a massive French colonial mansion (I’m assuming here), complete with a large lawn, and it sits by the Siem Reap river. Due to the difference in standards of living, the FCC Angkor was affordable by my living standards. I can only imagine that the colonialists must have had a good life in the past! (not that this is not a relic of the past, with almost no Cambodians dining in this establishment)

Angkor Wat.jpg

Angkor Wat


Bayon – this was reportedly modeled after the king

Khmer Kids in Bayon.jpg

Kids at the Bayon

Cambodia – Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, 29 December 2004

Half the day was spent on the bus journey taking me from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. My guesthouse (Royal) booked me onto a local bus, with only 4 foreigners on the bus, with the rest of the seats packed with locals carying lots of barang-barang like food products. Sitting beside me was a pleasant Cambodian girl who offered me her sweet potato chips. It makes me feel rather ashamed that I didn’t bother to learn a word of Khmer or two to communicate with them, and to express my gratitude.

Between sleep and wake, I managed to take in the picture of the countryside, which involved fields upon fields of gold, with wooden houses on stilts lining the roadside, and the occasional heap of hay (okay, I don’t know what it is, it’s just yellow in colour) piled high. This is a totally new landscape, different from the green paid fields and concrete houses of Vietnam.

Arriving at Siem Reap was quite a shocking experience, because as the bus pulled into the ‘bus station’ (basically just a sandy open space), a swamp of Cambodians flocked to the bus and surrounded the bus. Was I thankful that the lady at the guesthouse called her affliate guesthouse in Siem Reap to pick me up!

Siem Reap is as ignoble as Phnom Penh, and what marks it as a town is probably the fact that the buildings here are made of concrete rather than wood. Also, Siem Reap is a tourist enclave, with bars, restaurants, guesthouses, supermarts etc. But well, it’s probably the safest town in the world with police guarding EVERY establishment with foreigners.

Deadfish Tower Pub.jpg


Some of the touristy restaurants in Siem Reap

Vietnam – Cambodia, 14 December 2004 – 01 January 2005


14 December 2004: Hanoi

15 December 2004: Hanoi

16 December 2004: Hanoi – Halong Bay – Cat Ba Island (Bus, Boat)

17 December 2004: Halong Bay – Hanoi – Sapa (Boat, Bus, Overnight train)

18 December 2004: Sapa

19 December 2004: Sapa

20 December 2004: Sapa – Hanoi (Overnight train)

21 December 2004: Hanoi – Hue (Overnight bus)

22 December 2004: Hue

23 December 2004: Hue – Hoi An (Bus)

24 December 2004: Hoi An – My Son – Hoi An (Bus, Boat)

25 December 2004: Hoi An – Nha Trang – Ho Chi Minh City (Bus)

26 December 2004: Ho Chi Minh City

27 December 2004: Ho Chi Minh City – Phnom Penh

28 December 2004: Phnom Penh

29 December 2004: Phnom Penh – Siem Reap

30 December 2004: Siem Reap

31 December 2004: Siem Reap

01 January 2004: Siem Reap