02.04.2009 - 04.04.2009 36 °C
We got out of Kampot as soon as possible, catching the morning bus back to Phnom Penh, and we arrived there around lunch time. We grabbed some BBQ pork baguettes, and spent most of the day wandering around the city, trying to find a reliable dirt bike rental agency where we could get some information about routes through the rugged roads leading to the wilderness of Eastern Cambodia, a trip Nate had been talking about excitedly from our first day in Cambodia. Ultimately, it ended up being a waste of time, as things just didn't pan out. We found a few dirt bike shops, but we discovered that the staff at the shops were extremely unhelpful in providing us with any information as to where we could go, many of the bikes looked sketchy, and the they stated that there was no insurance or support for trips outside of the city of Phnom Penh (which seemed absurd, as what is the purpose of renting a dirt bike to ride on paved roads in a city?), all the while they obnoxiously pushed us to just sign a contract and take the bike away the same day. Frustrated and disappointed, we gave up (although honestly speaking, I have to admit that after seeing the size of those dirt bikes, I was secretly a bit relieved to find that we wouldn't be doing such an adventurous trip on our own). We ended up redeeming the day by visiting Wat Phnom, which is a small temple resting on the only hill in the city. There we saw some of the fattest, overfed monkeys we had ever seen in our life. Some of the older monkeys seemed barely able to waddle around, and it was a pretty funny sight to be seen. After the visit to the wat, we finished the day off with a couple beers as we watched the sun go down over Boeng Kak Lake. The crowd in the guest house was pretty subdued that night, and they were all silently zoned out while watching the super lame Adam Sandler movie "Zoran", so we opted to go to bed early that night rather than join the "party".
The next morning we got up bright and early to catch the bus to Siem Reap, home of the world-famous and archaeologically significant temples of Angkor. This bus was full of mostly locals, and we were happy to feel that we were traveling more like the locals for a change, rather than trapped in one of those isolated tourist bubbles that most of the tourist buses end up feeling like. However, the bus turned out to have some problems, as the air conditioning worked only half of the time, and the radiator was leaking water bad. We had to make several stops to fill the radiator tank with water, and one of the bus attendants eventually hauled a large reserve bucket to the back of the bus. After many frequent stops, we finally reached our destination a full hour and a half late. We were nonetheless happy to find that a tuk-tuk driver was there waiting to cheerfully greet us and bring us from the bus stop to the guest house of our choice. We simply told him to bring us to a cheap and clean place, and we were there after a few minutes drive. The tuk-tuk guy seemed really nice, so we agreed to let him give us a tour of the ruins of Angkor the next day. After the day spent on the road, we didn't have much daylight left, so we spent the evening wandering around town a bit, and got some street food at one of the many stalls that line the street around the pub street in the tourist center of town. The food wasn't very good, and Nate got food poisoning from it. So far a streak of three awesome days in a row, and counting...
We woke up the following day, and got what we needed--a break in the streak of disappointing days, as we really enjoyed touring the ruined temples and royal buildings that had once been the grand capital of the Angkor empire. Some of the highlights were as follows:
Ankor Wat - the most recognized symbol and icon of Cambodia (it's even proudly featured on their national flag!). This massive temple complex, set on a square kilometer of land surrounded by a wide moat, was the center of religious activities in the Angkor days, and was a really impressive sight. We took our time to explore the largely intact structures, which features detailed bas reliefs and carvings. The rear of the temple complex even contained an high stage designed as a docking station for elephants, which were the main mode of transportation for the king in those days.
Angkor Thom - an ancient royal citadel, which contained several interesting structures. The most impressive was Bayon, a very cool temple, and although it was not quite as well preserved and reconstructed as some of the other temples, it had a really unique (and eerie) feel to it, as there are hundreds of giant, slightly smiling, buddha-like faces carved into the exterior surfaces of the temple. Archaeologists are still uncertain as to the symbolic significance of the faces. Phimeanakas was also an interesting structure, shaped much like a Mayan-style pyramid, which we climbed up to and from the vantage point we watched monks wander around the area. In front of the citadel were a couple of terraces, the Terrace of Elephants and the Terrance of the Leper King which contained some interesting carvings.
Ta Prohm - this was one of the most atmospheric temples, as it was located in the jungle and could be reached by following a small dirt path. An example of nature overcoming obstacles, large trees have grown through various sections of this temple, accompanied by thick roots twisting over and through the walls. Mossy growth and moisture also gave the stone structures an exotic look, and even though this temple was well on the tourist trail, we couldn't help but feel a little bit like adventurers.
After exploring the temples of Angkor for several hours, we took a break and rested for a bit before heading back out to Pub Street where we got some good Khmer food (this time amok, a special Khmer curry). We then hit up the Temple Club, a cool bar that was decorated like the temples of Angkor, and sucked down a couple of cocktail buckets before turning in for the night.
The next day we went down to a small Chinese restaurant and got some OK Chinese food there. It was run by a nice Chinese guy and his Cambodian wife, and there was another Chinese couple dining there, which Nate enjoyed, as it gave him another chance to practice speaking Chinese. After lunch we wandered around the city, hoping to find a dirt bike shop, and although we were again unsuccessful, we had a really nice time taking in the sights of the city. The city is divided by a narrow river; and, like many places we had seen in Vietnam and Cambodia thus far, was full of kids splashing in the water at various points. In a place that is as hot and dusty as Cambodia, we can't blame them for appreciating the water. As we walked around the city, we were again struck by how quickly the city transformed from the highly developed tourist center, to very basic housing and narrow dirt roads. You could literally walk 10 minutes from a four- or five-star hotel to a dirt road containing simple stilt homes. We spent time walking along the river and the alleys outside of town before getting some Mexican food for dinner, which although still wasn't as good as the stuff back home, was probably the best Mexican we'd had in two years. We ended the night just hanging around the guest house and went to bed early, as we prepared to move on to Thailand the following day.