Cambodia - Angkor Wat Travelogue
- Submitted by: Paul Durham
- Website: None Available
- Submission Date: 04th Feb 2005
My flight left Bangkok shortly after noon on Dec. 9, 1992. Wishing to avoid delays, I had obtained a Cambodian visa in Canada for the outrageous sum of US $100. You can get one in Bangkok for about $40 but I didn't have time to wait. Flew Thai Airlines, $150. After about an hour flying through clear blue skies, the jet landed at a small, tatty airport sporting an enormous picture of an incredibly youthful looking Prince Sihanouk. Welcome to Cambodia.
The place to stay is the Hotel Capitol. This is not in the 1991 Lonely Planet VN, Laos & Cambodia book but is right next to the bicycle shop, #41 on their map. I obtained a single room for $10 a night and went for a stroll around the city. Phnom Penh is an incredible combination of broad boulevards, dirt streets, like-new hotels, delelict buildings, photo shops, garbage & dead rats, and the omnipresent white UN vehicles.
At the Capitol I talked to a woman who had just come down from Angkor on the boat. I had a bowl of something called "Happy Chicken Soup" which I was told later contained some "unusual" seasoning. Can't say it did anything for me, though.
Next day I went down to the Vietnamese Embassy to apply for my visa. Although the sign at the desk said $25, I was sent out the front door to a "travel agent" who conveniently had a table set up and charged me $60.
I had been told at the Capitol that the train to Battambang was leaving the next day so I went down to get a ticket - cost about $1.
Before dawn the next morning I hiked down to the station and met an American named Rob. We went out to the train and tried to find the passenger cars. There weren't any - this was an all boxcar special. We found a car that was not totally packed and took turns sitting on a huge bale of mats for the 13 hour trip to Battambang.
Arriving at Battambang we went to the Hotel Paris which had been recommended to Rob. We got a double room for $25 with hot water, and satellite colour TV. We heard a ruckus coming from the ground floor bar and went down to investigate. Inside were a group of rowdy UN soldiers having a toga party ! John Belushi would be proud.
Next morning we went down to the taxi depot to get a ride to Siem Reap (Angkor). After some negotiation we got a car for $23 and set off over the worst roads I have ever seen. These were actually paved highways under the French but since have seen decades of bombs, tank treads, and neglect. The UN is converting them to passable hard-packet dirt roads but we still had to negotiate many km of potholes and craters connected by decaying strips of pavement.
At Siem Reap I checked into a single room in a beautiful famliy run guest house for just $5 a night. The rest of the afternoon was spent taking in a kick boxing match before hundreds of fans.
The next day I went out to Angkor. The admission fee is supposed to be $13 for each of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, the Grand Circuit and the Petit Circuit, and a couple of outlying temples. In practice there is only one gate so you can get away with paying $13 for one. I felt that if the money was used properly it was well worth the $52 and that's what I paid.
The one thing that the books don't really get across is the monumental scale of it all. Angkor Wat alone is about 1km square, and the walls of Angkor Thom are about twice that. The best way to get around is by motorcycle. The first day I got a couple of "taxi" rides, but for the next 3 days I rented a mc for $5 a day. Fantastic ! It is all documented in many books but nothing compares with being face to face with the artwork with the jungle shrilling around you. I explored virutually all there is to see and took a side trip down to the Tonle Sap, the great lake in the centre of Cambodia.
If you are homesick for burgers and beer the place to go is the Minefield Bar, a favourite hangout of the UN crowd. It is decorated with regimental flags and various disarmed (I hope) explosive devices.
The warnings in the LP book about mines are to be taken seriously. Popping up from the landscape are red signs with a skull and crossbones warning of dangers for the footloose. The temples themselves are OK, though.
I had wanted to take the boat back but one was not going for several days, so I went down to the airline office to buy a plane ticket - $43. Next day it was time to say goodbye and head out to the airport. Here the passengers amused themselves watching giant UN helicopters take off while waiting for the Russian plane to rev up its turboprops. Then it was on to the plane and back to Phonom Penh.
I went back to the Capitol and found it full, so I went around the corner to another place which also had no rooms, but rented me a bed in the foyer for $3 a night. I walked out to the National Museum but it was too late in the day, so I just bought some peanuts on the riverbank and watched the boats for a while.
The next morning I went to the museum, and then to the travel agency to make sure they would have my visa ready later that day. Then I rented a motorcycle -$3 for a half day - from my "hotel" and headed out to the "killing fields" memorial. This is a pagoda containing hundreds of skulls found in the mass graves in the area. I then returned to town, and visited the palace complex, although unfortunately the Silver Pagoda was closed for repairs.
A visit to the travel agency found my visa ready but not valid until the day after tomorrow ! They said they could fix it for tomorrow morning, but not in time for the bus to Saigon, for which I had already paid $3. However there was alternate transportation.
My final destination of the day was Tuol Sleng Museum. This is the former prison where "enemies" of the Khmer Rouge were imprisoned and tortured. The walls are lined with photographs and other documentation found by the Vietnamese when they captured the city in early 1979. This is without a doubt the creepiest place I have ever been to and I think only a Nazi concentration camp could compare.
The next morning a picked up my visa and looked for a "share taxi" to the border, which I was told cost $5. After being laughed at by the cab drivers downtown I found the right location, which is over the bridge on the road out of town. For my $5 I got a ride in a Japanese car with 4 adults abreast front and rear, with the assorted child thrown in.
After a ferry across the Mekong, and stops in various towns, the border arches loomed up over the highway (the only decent one in the country, btw). After stopping at the last UN post to use the outhouse, I completed my paperwork and marched into Vietnam. After another set of formalities, I found an enterprising young motorcyclist to drive me to Saigon for $10. As night fell and my behind ached, I arrived at the Rex Hotel.
Dec 9 Leave Bangkok - Arrive Phnom Penh
Dec 11 Leave Phom Penh - Arrive Battambang
Dec 12 Leave Battambang - Arrive Siem Reap (Angkor)
Dec 17 Leave Siem Reap - Arrive Phnom Penh
Dec 19 Leave Phom Penh - Arrive Saigon
Note: The new LP book on Cambodia is already out of date. It is not worth buying if you already have the older VN/Laos/Cambodia book.
Thanks to David Fisher, who was there first. Hope you get to Angkor next time.
We now return you to the car rental and resort discussions.
Paul Durham | firstname.lastname@example.org
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