Monday, June 4, 2012

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat -- Day 1 (21 FEB)

The flight from Hanoi to Siem Reap (on Cambodian Angkor Air) was uneventful, and as usual, the plane and service were better than in the US.  It was after dark when I arrived and thankfully my guide was waiting after I negotiated customs.  As has been the case in all current or former Communist dictatorships that I have visited, the immigration folks were relatively friendly, or at least not unfriendly.  On the ride into town (about 6 miles) from the airport, it sort of looked like the Las Vegas strip, with huge hotels on either side of the road.  Arrival at the hotel was uneventful, and I was pleased to discover that Cambodia, unlike Vietnam, doesn't limit access to any web sites (that I use, anyway).

There is one Yellow Pages book for the entire country of Cambodia

Angkor Holiday Hotel, my home in Siem Reap

The next day, I had a scheduled tour of Angkor Wat, but before we left, I took a stroll down the main street of Siem Reap and got a few photos.  As you can see, Siem Reap is pretty modern and westernized, but it is a big tourist town, so I suppose that's to be expected.

Across the street from my hotel

Another view of the main street (Sivatha Rd.)
During my walk, I tried to get some Cambodian currency, but I discovered that although there is no shortage of ATMs, they only dispense US dollars.  Pol Pot is no doubt spinning in his grave.
I survived my walk through town and we took off for Angkor Wat, about 5 miles outside town.

On the way to Angkor Wat

Just outside Angkor Wat

Eventually, we made it to the entrance of Angkor Wat, which is the largest Hindu (then Buddhist) temple in the world and has been in use continuously since the 12th century.  I could bore you with detailed descriptions of every part of Angkor Wat, but I'll let the pictures do the talking.  Click on the link in the first sentence of this paragraph for more historical info.

My guide in Cambodia
In front of the Western Entrance to Angkor Wat. 

Inside Angkor Wat.

Almost all of the interior walls had intricate carvings.

Some wall carvings.  As far as I know, these are from the original construction.

After Angkor Wat (where we would return the next day for sunset), we headed to Angkor Thom, which is a couple of miles from Angkor Wat.  "Angkor Thom" means "great city" and was the capital of the Khmer empire.  It also has two important roles in modern culture:
  1. Parts of "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" were filmed there (look for buildings completely engulfed by tree roots).  
  2. It inspired a famous David Bowie song ("Ground control to Angkor Thom"), whose lyrics were eventually changed to what we now know.  (Don't try to look this up).

Musicians who lost their legs in land mine explosions

We left Angkor Thom around noon and headed back for Siem Reap.

The Angkor National Museum, which I somehow never made it into
 I was dropped off for lunch at a very nice restaurant in the center of town.  For most of my lunches I was dropped off and and the guide came back after lunch.

How 'bout them Heels?

First course of my lunch.  It was as good as it looked.
Although I could have gone back for more temple viewing, I told my guide that I just wanted to wander around town and then hit the hotel pool, so he got the rest of the day off.

Central Siem Reap

Another intersection in central Siem Reap. 
The open motorized carts (tuk-tuks) were what was used for taxis.

Along the Siem Reap River

Another shot along the river

Back in the center of town

Pub Street, the center of Siem Reap nightlife and home of the Cambodian Power Line Festival

This is one of those places where you stick your feet in a fish tank and
the fish eat all of the dead skin off your feet.  I passed on this one.

I also passed on the opportunity to purchase crocodile wear.

I continued to pass on the fish massage, even for a free beer.

I finally made it back to the hotel, where I immediately jumped into the (very cold) pool.  Although the temperatures were in the mid-80s, it was very humid, and I was pretty sweaty after an hour of walking.

The hotel pool
After my visit to the pool, I went out for another walk and dinner.  My first stop was a supermarket near the hotel.  It was pretty much like any American market, except stuff was cheaper.

Cambodian beer selection.  Brands included Heineken (which is everywhere), San Miguel,
Tiger, Singha, Chang, Everest, Leo, Kingdom, Cambodia, Angkor, Bayon,
ABC, Tsingtao, and, of course, Budweiser.

Cambodian laundry detergent selection

The frozen food and produce departments

A street in the non-touristy part of town

More in the non-touristy part of town

Angkor is the most popular beer in town.  Anchor is another brand that appears to be trying to
rip off the Angkor brand.

Pub Street at night--a bit more crowded than during the day.

Food stalls near the night market

Main drag in Siem Reap, near the night market

Greetings from the Colonel
 Even after dark, walking around was too damn hot, so for a whole dollar, I took a Tuk-tuk back to the hotel.

Tomorrow: Siem Reap and Angkor Wat: Day 2

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