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    Friday, 24 July 2009

    When we thought we were gonners

    Bayon, Angkor [Enlarge & More]
    We are now in Siem Reap – the small town (but full of tourists) right next to the ancient city of Angkor, the area which holds the famous temple complex of Angkor Wat, amongst many others. Siem Reap is sort of like Phnom Penh, only it’s whole purpose is that it’s geared towards tourists – it has the restaurants, the bars, the markets, all geared towards tourists. There are hundreds of remorque-moto (tuk tuk) drivers patrolling the streets looking for your business, busy shops on the side of the road with owners calling out to you – it’s a busy place, but it’s not the real Cambodia. It’s an international destination.

    Boat to Siem Reap [Enlarge & More]
    We left Battambang at 7am a few mornings ago, by way of boat. The boat ride was very interesting – it started off in light rain which was not a huge problem, although as the boat did not have windows at some points the rain did drive in a little. There was a lot to see – thousands of people’s lives are centralised around the rivers in Cambodia and they’re a major transportation system in terms of getting from place to place. We passed countless small boats with people transporting goods from place to place, and in a few cases our boat stopped to pick up and drop off people who could afford to ride it. One woman had about two dozen bags of vegetables with her – I couldn’t help but wonder how much her ticket cost! Our tickets for the boat were $18US each for the seven hour trip – pretty expensive really when you consider a comfortable, air conditioned bus is about half that!

    Life on the River [Enlarge & More]
    Still, it was worth the money, although I did get a face-full of river water a couple of times – once when a smaller boat passed too closely to us and water went everywhere – everyone in the boat was soaked! Also, some of the corners on the river were quite sharp and we ended up with bushed poking in the windows a few times – usually only in my window I think. All sorts of precious little critters came in with the branches, and I had a jolly good time brushing the ants and grasshoppers off myself. Eventually I covered myself up with my rain jacket to keep the water and creatures off, and settled down. I had a cold, so was not feeling too good, but tried to enjoy the boat ride! There were a few interesting sights along the way, such as a crocodile farm which we parked right up next to.

    All was well until we got to the Tonlé Sap Lake – at which point we thought we might die. The trip had been long, and it was a relief to get to the lake as we knew that meant we were nearly there. Our driver navigated us out onto the lake, and off we went – however, within a quarter of an hour or so, we were surrounded by huge rolling waves driven by strong winds, which carried our little boat up and down, and threw us around. There was a couple of times where I thought we were going to at best take on water, and at worst capsize/die. The rule of thumb is to look to the locals who ride the boat regularly, and the driver who does the route daily and see how they feel – bad idea. We saw a local woman a couple of seats back leap for her lifejacket at one point, and the driver seemed extremely jumpy, throwing the steering wheel around like we were completely out of control! We did make it eventually, but it gave me a renewed appreciation for life!

    Tuc Tuc Drivers [Enlarge & More]
    We pulled in to Tonlé Sap Floating Village (all the houses float on the river, just off the lake), and pulled in to the dock. We were expecting another Battambang experience whereby the tuk tuk drivers swarm the boat for your business, and shout at you, and drag you away, but it wasn’t so bad. They did swarm the boat, but they were quite nice about it and friendly – and anyway, we had our hotel picking us up so we were no good to them! The conversation went something along the lines of:
    Them: “Hello, you want Tuk Tuk?”
    Us: “No thanks” (The most common phrase we use we’ve decided)
    Them: “You have someone picking you up?”
    Us: “Yes”
    After a dozen or so of these conversations, we found our driver who drove us to our guesthouse/boutique hotel combination (we’re in the guesthouse, but get to use the hotel WiFi and pool!).
    The hotel is nice enough – it’s called Golden Banana – although we had to move rooms a couple of times in order to get one which had a good wireless internet connection. We considered moving to the boutique part, but decided for the sake of our budget to stay where we are.

    Floating Village [Enlarge & More]
    Siem Reap is a proper foreigner’s town, and there are loads of places to eat/drink – from the very cheap (our meal last night combined cost $4.50 and was delicious) to the very expensive ($650 a night for a hotel up the river!). To give you a feel for it, most places have “Happy Hour” from open-close, where their draft beers cost $0.50! Siem Reap is a party all day! The main reason for being here is Angkor of course – something we’ve had our fair share of the last few days – we’ll write a separate entry on that though. It deserves all the credit!


    1. Wow, what a journey. But I did warn you about the boat trip? I must admit, I never actually thought it would happen... It's all good character building!!!

    2. It was ok until the end, fingers crossed the rest are not so eventful.


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