|A chance meeting with my cousin Libby Hay, about 2 weeks before we left Queenstown gave us a top tip for accommodation in Siem Reap which I was relieved about as there was sooooo much choice it would have been daunting! Golden Temple Villas is an excellent hostal type accom, mid range but extremely customer focused with excellent staff, clean rooms and a great restaurant, all round a great choice, thanks Libby!
We arrived from Kampong Thom mid afternoon and we were happy to let the kids sit in front of Tom & Jerry for a while whilst Jem & I settled into the rooms and started planning our days here. We decided on a rest day for our first full day here and spent the entire afternoon at the pool of our sister hotel, an upmarket, luxurious hotel owned by the same people which didn’t mind the cheapies using their facilities! Amazing as it was really something that pool and we had it pretty much all to ourselves that day, just what the doctor ordered!
The next day, Wednesday, we arranged to visit the Temples and took the advise from a kiwi family who took their kids on an OE who said they forked out for English guides at the big tourist sites for their kids so the kids learnt more about the site that they otherwise would. Actually we find that we all get more out of the site this way not just the kids! Our guide today was a lovely man called Ray who told us from the age of 12 he’d been hanging around the temples, sometimes selling goods, often acting as a guide always watching out for the police who would chase him away if they caught him, he said it was just like the little kid from ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ who showed people around the Taj Mahal. At 29 he was an official guide with a wealth of information about these amazing temples, they really are quite incredible and so worth a visit at least once in your lifetime. Here are a few facts and figures which have stayed with me.
Angkor Wat is only one of many many temples which were all built around 900 or so years ago. Angkor Wat took 40 years to build but the project was worked on day and night, non-stop for 40 years. The stone they used to build the temple was brought in from a place 65 kilometers away and was brought in by elephant, oxen and cattle – I can’t imagine how many of these animals they would have needed or how long it took to bring the stone 65k’s. Every single stone has intricate carvings on them, in tiny delecate and perfectly symmetrical detail, it was really quite breathtaking. The main entrance to Angkor Wat had 5 entrances, the main one in the middle was for the King, the two either side of that were for the commoners and the furthest two beyond that were for the elephants! I liked that, even the elephants were thought of!! In front of the entrances there were two ponds which were created to provide a mirror for the builders as they were completing the towers of the temple. They referred to the lakes to make sure the towers were not leaning the wrong way. Honestly the detail would challenge the most skilled builders and architects of today and yet this is just one of so so many temples built 900 years ago. The civilization back then was just so advanced, we have no idea! I mean at it’s height the Angkor Temple area had a population of 1 million inhabitants all working in highly skilled building projects. At the same time in history London had a population of 30,000 inhapitants, was living in the depths of the dark ages and at some stage through this they signed the Magna Carta document, not very advanced stuff. Like I say, we have no idea!! It really was quite a priviledge to as Bianca has put it ‘walk in the steps of people who were here 900 years ago’. We went around two other temples, one called Ta Prom which the jungle has reclaimed and the tree roots are so intertwined in the temple that they now have a mutual existence as to take them down would destroy the temple. Another was Bayon which is the temple of the faces. The image is said to be a mix of Buddah and the king who build the temple. The face is put on every tower of the temple on all four sides of the tower, each side representing the four attributes of Buddah. There were 54 towers so there were a lot of faces and each face (so 4 x 54), 216 in all, represented the provinces under Cambodian / Angkor rule at that time. Today there are only 24 provinces.
We finished the day driving back through the jungle and saw elephants (tamed and commercial but still really cool!) and wild but tame monkeys on the side of the road approaching people who had stopped on the side of the road. All in all a magic day.
For anyone wanting a cultural travel experience without missing out on the trappings of western living then Siem Reap is the place for you. The choice of restaurants in this town puts Queenstown’s choice to shame!! And if you are game enough you shouldn’t leave town without putting your feet into a flesh eating fish tank!! Yes I know this sounds death-defying but believe me you have to try it. For those of us with tickly feet it is hard to keep your feet in the tank but if you can endure the painful pleasure your feet become mauled but swarms of fish who relish eating your dead skin – go figure!! The kids thought Christmas had come all at once, there we all were having our skin devoured and they were served their first can of coca cola we’ve ever allowed them to have. What could we do, for $1US we had 15 minutes of flesh eating thrills plus a beer or coke thrown in for good measure, we would have had to pay for water if we declined the coke! Thankfully all 3 ended the evening saying they didn’t like it and we won’t be buying that again.
On our final day in Siem Reap Jem and I enrolled in a Khmer cooking class which was held at the sister hotel with the pool so for the whole afternoon while Jem and I learnt the intricacies of chicken Amok or fish Khmer curry, the kids splashed around the pool like they owned the place. All in all a fabulous time was had by all in Siem Reap, delighted to have visited and would consider visiting again who knows when.