|Okay, so we’ve been to a lot of temples on this trip. Indonesia provided the first sighting of what is commonly referred to on the backpacking circuit as “temple fatigue”. It wasn’t that what we were seeing wasn’t impressive or steeped in a rich tapestry of history and cultural symbolism. Rather it was just a case of everything starting to look very similar and familiar. Thailand continued this trend with so many temples they might as well be trees. The Persian curse of “I’ll make all your dreams come true” seems somehow relevant in this scenario also. However, special mention in Bangkok should go to the Temple of Dawn – several cool temples on the river that you can climb up – the reclining Buddha, a huge Buddha statue made from gold that’s over a hundred foot long, and the Grand Palace- this is dripping with opulence and decadent treats with whole walls made of gold, statues encrusted with every jewel imaginable, priceless jade Buddha statues and much more. It is the most touristy, the most visited in Thailand and, to be fair to it, for good reason. Even more outrageous when you take a boat trip two minutes away and go to all the slum like buildings that dwell on the river – a contrast of night and day proportions.
Anyway, the real worry with this fatigue was Angkor Watt, probably the archaeological highlight of south East Asia. We were both mightily concerned that we would turn up and just shrug and say, “Yeah, big deal is that it?” Thankfully, we did not. Angkor is one of those places that manage to live up to hype and you can’t appreciate its true size, scale or magnificence until you get up close and personal. When we went to Cambodia we based ourselves mainly in Siem Reap. From here we spent several days exploring the temples. They cover a huge area, at least thirty miles and there are literally hundreds of temples to go and see. Some are impressive in size and scale. Some have amazing carvings and inscriptions, some have cool statues, there is lots of variety. Generally they are in good condition, but some are in need of repair. In some ways part of the charm of the place lies in this. Huge trees have started growing out of some of the temples with snake like roots crawling all over the walls. That is one of the reasons that it’s so much fun just walking around and exploring them.
The other tourists are a downside like most places, but the area is so huge that once you’ve done the central temples you can venture further afield and have the temples largely to yourself. Hawkers here are a bit of a nightmare. Whereas Thailand and Indonesia favour the Asian model of aggressive in your face don’t take no for an answer sales routine (which in basic psychology terms makes it easier to resist – the first rule of sales is that you make a connection so the victim is less likely or able to say no, long before you even say what it is you’re selling- when someone is just jumping down your throat saying “you buy this!” it is far more easy for a gentleman to, on brief reflection, reply, “Actually, my ruffian bandito, the goods that you are peddling reek of tat and are barely desirable to a sick baboon to use as items to hurl from treetops. Yes, you are indeed a proprietor of goods of the lowest stock and frankly, it is in extremely bad taste for you to even put them in my face let alone presume I would purchase them. Be off with you, scallywag, and take that bag of wooden dildos with bottle top openers attached, out of my face and away from here henceforth etc....”) in Cambodia, particularly at the temples they mainly use ridiculously cute kids who don’t seem to actually care whether you buy their (parents) goods, they’re just too busy been cute. Most of the time you still avoid them but I must confess that one of them pulled some Jedi mind trick on me and I told her I was from England and she rattled off \a very impressive list of facts about England that seem to have been compiled from a Richard Curtis film (i.e. all the good and idealised bits) that must have taken her most of her eight years of life to learn. Anyway, it impressed me and then she pulled it out the bag by asking where in England I was born and when I told her Devon she shook her head and said no you weren’t you were born in a hospital – well, after that I had no choice but to buy some wooden recorder flute type thing off her- I figured at the very least I could annoy Georgie with it at airports and bus rides. However, the hawkers were not all so cute and sharp and after several days we couldn’t wait to get away from the constant queue of people who just follow you around wherever you go trying to get your cash.
Other than that, we saw some of the countryside, went to visit an orphanage (although didn’t follow the Hollywood celebrity habit of actually buying a child), gave blood at the local children’s hospital and generally hung out. We really liked Cambodia. The people were very friendly and kind. Perhaps the only real test of a place regardless of what the guidebooks or anyone else says is what is the vibe you get when you walk around the place. Well in Cambodia everyone was smiling, would stop to talk to you and were generally very nice. That may or may not be a universal truth but we had a good experience there and when you compare it to the bandido vibe you get in some South American countries it was a very pleasant vibe indeed and, if it were a dude encrusted wave off some delicious beach, a gentleman surfer would take great pleasure in riding that vibe all day long, even pulling a few special tricks.
Next, we were heading for Vietnam...