We left Phnom Penh at 10.45 p.m. and travelled overnight on a night bus. Apart from many of the roads being atrocious and therefore bumpy, it was comfortable and I slept quite well. The bus had almost lie flat ‘beds’ – just the shoulders & head were raised, so that the person behind could tuck their feet or bags into that area. A small blanket and pillow was provided and it was lights out all the way. We arrived in Siem Reap at 6.30 a.m. and it had been arranged that we could check into our rooms at that time. Again, we have a lovely little oasis of a hotel with a swimming pool and nice rooms. Ours has a little courtyard with a huge stone bath with shower overhead, and Francesca has the bath & shower on her rooftop courtyard. All made private by either large leafy plants or bamboo doors.
The morning was free to sleep, swim, or just relax and we headed out at 12.00 to a floating village on the Tonle Sap lake. It’s the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia and houses several of these floating villages. In the rainy season the lake swells to more than five times its size in the dry season, and the residents move their homes from one location to another. The entire village moves – the new location is dependent on the water levels, and of course they get around each other’s homes and ‘shops’ by boat – usually a very low wooden canoe. There are children everywhere and by necessity from toddler age upwards they are all water babies and excellent swimmers.
Our second day in S.R was spent exploring some temple ruins that are off the beaten track and with no other tourists there. Some locals came and watched us shooting for a while and the occasional monk passed by on his way up to a temple.
The afternoon was spent wandering around another fishing village – this time the houses were on stilts either side of a narrow track and quite a few had been painted lovely bright colours. Chickens, ducks and cockerels roamed freely and there were a few pigs in pens too. Walking back I noticed( water streaming out of one of the houses, and a man was hosing down his pigs to cool them off and ensure they had fresh water. (Although ‘fresh’ is hardly the right description!) Nobody seems to mind being photographed as they go about their daily business, and the children are all very eager to say hello and pose for photos.
Third day was our visits to the main attractions here in Siem Reap. Angkor Wat was first on the list, and I have to say it was surprisingly underwhelming. Thousands of tourists, and whilst it’s certainly extremely impressive in its sheer scale (it covers 200 hectares) and how well it’s preserved, it does get a bit boring. I’m glad I’ve seen it, but much prefer a couple of others.
My favourite is Bayon Temple, with its massive faces carved into the stone.
Then of course there’s the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed – Ta Phrom. This temple has the tree trunks wrapping themselves around the stonework and it’s fascinating. I think that if the places weren’t swarming with tourists then I’d have enjoyed them a lot more.
That’s our time done in Siem Reap. The heat and humidity is punishing, especially when you’re out for a few hours with nowhere to dive into for a blast of air conditioning. They say that men sweat and women glow – well I’ve been glowing enough to light up the whole of Siem Reap!!
Next and final stop – Kep – on the coast. A flight back to Phnom Pehn, then a 4 hour drive.