Enjoyed our week in Siem Reap

Mar 6th, 2018, 12:39 PM
  #1  
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Enjoyed our week in Siem Reap

I realize that it looks on this board like we headed off to the Grand Canyon or Siem Reap, never to return. Suffice it to say that we made both trips in Dec and Jan, but life conspired to keep me away from sharing our experiences. So I am here to pay back all the kind assistance I received through a trip report for our week in late Jan/early Feb in Siem Reap.

Background recap: 2 60-year-olds, budget to moderate tastes, first time to Cambodia, outdoor lovers. Also a recurrent back problem that I re-injured walking on the beach in St Augustine just before the trip and a husband who became quite ill in Peru a couple of years ago (probably from food), so wanted to not push as much on this trip as we usually do. Are we sounding old?

We flew coach on Korean and Bangkok Airways. KA has more leg room in coach and my status in Skyteam can get aisle, exit seats as well as a change in our itinerary when we saw we could make an earlier connection. We did a short nighttime layover at the hotel inside transit at BKK (just a place to lie down; you can hear all the announcements out on the concourse throughout the night so no real sleep) and paid to have our hotel room for early check in upon arrival in Siem Reap at 9am to nap before first afternoon temple tour.

I liked the SR hotel's location on the north side of town along the road to the temples--quiet, shorter ride to temples, convenience store and restaurants nearby, walkable to edge of town early or late when not too hot or cheap tuk-tuk ride. Cannot recommend the hotel--Reveal Courtyard. Some nice staff, OK bed and furnishings, OK restaurant, OK pool, but the water pump for the hotel would stop every day or two, so no water until I walked down to the desk to complain, staff goes to equipment room and (according to the staff) hits the machine, and we have water. Couldn't phone the front desk because number not on phone and new front clerk didn't know what the number was. Price US$40 per night with breakfast, but we left early every morning except one, so only ate one breakfast. Did eat lunch a couple of days. I complained to the manager and we negotiated a very late checkout for our trouble.

As I said, we are nature lovers, so we wanted to do more than visit the temples. We had 5.5 days. I thought we would visit temples at least some days on our own and hire a guide for nature excursions. My niece, an archaeologist, put us in touch with Mardy Sean www.facebook.com/mardy.sean , a young guide with the Sam Veasna Center (samveasna.org). Mardy stays booked with birding trips during the high season, but also will return to his roots and guide temples for referrals from friends like us. In the end, we agreed to 4.5 days of guided trips to temples, Tonle Sap, and the countryside, mostly in an air conditioned SUV, but one countryside trip in a jeep. We hired a tuk-tuk from the hotel when we wanted to go into town on our last day and picked one up at Artisans d’Angkor when we wanted to return. Did we need Mardy everywhere in the temples? No, but he made the visits very efficient to see what we wanted, took us at good times, was informative without being boring, and was great company, sharing lots about his life and country. We were also always bird and wildlife watching. He also took us to a grocery for shopping and a French bakery every day for us to pick up picnic supplies and pastries for the hotel room. I’m sure he would have helped us with anywhere else we wanted to go and any questions we might have had. Higher cost than on our own with a tuk-tuk, but my husband wanted an easy trip and was pleased.

Planning for the trip, I found the Michel Petrotchenko book Focusing on the Angkor Temples more accessible, if not as professional, than the Dawn Rooney. Still, it was difficult to choose what to see without overload. I knew I wanted to see temples that were unrestored, some with trees still growing, bas reliefs, maybe one from each period, but beyond that it was overwhelming. Mardy and I worked out a plan via email that we adjusted some each day depending on crowds, energy, and time. It is easy for the temples to blur in memory, but I retain the highlights even if I might misattribute them.

I also now understand the detailed advice in the books about certain reliefs in one temple best seen in the morning and other areas best seen in the afternoon light. The sun’s intensity and the haze made seeing the detail in some reliefs almost impossible at times. But there is not enough time to see each area in the best light unless one plans to move to Siem Reap! I also understand the “usual” schedule of arriving at opening, going back to hotel at 10:30am or so, then back out around 2:30pm or else taking refuge in an air conditioned restaurant. Morning and evening temperatures were very pleasant and we lucked into some unseasonal rain and cloud cover for 2 days. Otherwise, by around 11:00am it was if a switch were flipped, the sun blazed and the temperature soared.

Cash suggestions were spot on with $US accepted, Cambodian change, which we then used as change to pay. My husband and I each used a credit card just a few times. He used his at Artisans d’Angkor and Hardrock Café (a friend collects their pins). I used mine at the same locations for separate transactions plus at a grocery and the hotel. Two weeks after our return, his bank flagged a new $10 transaction in Cambodia as fraud (and blocked his credit card while we were dining at a restaurant near home—was he embarrassed). So, we got too complacent—we should be using only one card while traveling and it should not be one that is tied to any recurrent bill payments to make canceling easier.

Crowds were not as bad as I expected and only a problem at Ta Prohm, and in a few places in Angkor Wat and Bayon.

Only a few mosquitoes. A lot of litter. Expected level of assertive vendors. A lot of dust (I felt sorry for people who rode tuk-tuks on dirt roads in the countryside). Hammocks are ubiquitous.

Next time I would consider volunteering for a day or half. I saw a sign asking for English speakers to converse with teachers in a school to help them improve, for example.
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Mar 6th, 2018, 01:23 PM
  #2  
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What temples did we visit? As I warned, I have problem forgotten some as they merged in my mind and I likely have some out of order. I also noticed differences in spelling, so mine may not match yours.

We started the afternoon with an air conditioned SUV ride to huge ticket office next to the museum built by the North Koreans. Tickets in hand, we headed to Banteay Srei, a small temple that was a pleasant introduction even though we got rainsoaked on the way back to the vehicle. Then it was on to Banteay Samre for some quiet time. Along the road, I loved seeing the local markets in the small towns, tractors being used to haul anything, and school children in their uniforms walking home. We made a short stop at Pre Rup to see a pyramid style temple. People were sitting on top waiting for the sunset, but we didn’t see the attraction, so we headed back and observed a bright sunset as we drove along a baray.
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Mar 6th, 2018, 01:24 PM
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After reading others’ trip report, I prodded Mardy to get us to Angkor Thom early to be the first inside on our second day. We passed monkeys and pigs enroute and saw the tuk-tuks gathered just beyond the old ticket office waiting to pick up passengers from the large buses that would arrive later. The faces at Bayon were as amazing as I expected. Even after reading, I didn’t realize how many they were. Loved the reliefs. Again, despite the reading, I was overwhelmed by their detail and condition. I fell in love with asparas and devatas. I was probably grinning ear to ear. We visited many other parts (Preah Palilay, terraces).

We visited Preah Khan and I was wowed again, this time by the trees. I’d seen the photos, but they are amazing in person.

Mardy took us to Neak Prean, but I would have skipped it. Most interesting was a bride and groom sitting on the walkway having photos taken. An assistant stood in the water with a light, then screamed and jumped (everyone wondered if the leeches found him). Eventually they cleared the bride’s long red dress from the walkway to allow the tourists to pass.

We were ready to call it a day, but Mardy wanted us to see East Mebon because my original list had said Pre Rup and/or East Mebon. He thought I would like the elephant statues.
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Mar 6th, 2018, 01:25 PM
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We planned a day out of town for birding at temples. So we started early for Beng Melea to be first inside again. We sat in the parking area eating the packed breakfast Mardy provided watching a couple and their cow pass through, buffalo in a rice field, children playing, and local shop owners setting out their coconuts, souvenirs, and gasoline in bottles. We were the only people in the temple in a light rain, so the atmosphere of the partially restored temple was perfect. Birding was limited due to the weather.

We stopped near a monastery to birdwatch and did see some colorful songbirds and large raptors. (We are not serious birders; we enjoy any nature and birding is a quiet way to enjoy the outdoors.) We looked at several traditional farm houses from the road and asked lots of questions about their design as well as the crops being raised. We passed an area where the women and children were chopping cassava to dry on the shoulder of the road and a truck being loaded with bags of cassava to be hauled off and sold. They make more money per pound if they chop it rather than selling it whole. Somewhere along a road a mongoose crossed slowly enough that I got a good look.

Our other main destination that day was Koh Ker for more birding and temples. Saw a HUGE spider on a web. We lunched at Koh Ker where the thatched roof restaurants all boast solar panels. My husband doesn’t like heights and it was hot, so we didn’t climb to the top of Koh Ker to see the view over the forest.
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Mar 6th, 2018, 01:35 PM
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We started early again for Angkor Wat, but seeing the reliefs was difficult in the early light, so we employed flashlights. After walking through the structures and circling around front to see the reflection in the water, we returned to wait in line 30 minutes to climb to the upper level. (His choice was to climb up with me or go to a puppet show that evening.) My distraction was a little boy sitting engrossed in his video game despite his father’s best efforts to get him up to pose for photos and continue touring. I enjoyed seeing more detail on the towers and the carvings, so I guess it was worth the wait. We went back through the galleries more quickly a second time so I could take a few photos in the light, but go around those slowly viewing them for the first time.

The crowd at Ta Prohm was what I had feared we would encounter everywhere—people lined up waiting to take a selfie in several places, having to wait to pass through doorways, people trying to run through and just see one or two specific carvings. Mardy was carrying the spotting scope because we were looking at parakeets and other birds. I lost count of how many people asked him what movie he was shooting. When he offered to let them look at the birds through the scope, they quickly left.

Mardy had suggested the best way to get out in the countryside was in a colleague’s old US Army jeep, so we agreed to look like true tourists and spend the afternoon wherever they took us. It turned into a city sightseeing tour + countryside birding. We drove THROUGH the Phsar Leu Thom Thmey market, stopping when blocked by egg trucks, maneuvering around parked motorbikes. It was an interesting way to see the market. We headed out of town to where a row of thatch roofed platforms served as restaurants, grilling snails and fish from the surrounding water. Men were standing in the water casting nets to catch fish. We walked along the rice paddies looking for birds. During the bumpy ride over dirt roads back to town, we stopped for photos of buffalo, houses, rice being dried in yards, etc. It was fun, but I was glad that we used the SUV for the other rides out of town because of the dust.

This trip report is getting long! We did see and do a lot during the week and it is enjoyable to relive the highlights. I am cheating in that I did label a lot of photos to share with family upon our return, so I can use the date stamp on them to remind me where we went each day. I'll finish soon.
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Mar 6th, 2018, 05:42 PM
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Another pre-dawn start for one of the Center's standard tours to Tonle Sap. We boarded a large boat for the trip to Prek Toal floating village where we changed to a smaller boat for the ride to bird sanctuary. A couple from another boat joined ours at the ranger platform for the final leg. From there we climbed a ladder to a treetop observation platform from which we could see the nesting area and with the scope felt like we could reach out and touch the baby spot-billed pelicans and nesting painted storks. We spent a long time watching groups of storks fly over, butterflies flutter around, and just listening to the sounds of thousands of birds. Our serious birding guide was thrilled to see the greater adjutants, milky storks, and grey-headed fish-eagle. Our departure coincided with flocks of storks riding the thermals to leave the nest, many following us along the waterways.

We stopped for lunch in Prek Toal at the community restaurant and bought a craft souvenir from the community shop. We picked up the boat operator's son from school and he rode on the bow. The young skipper of the larger boat took us back across the lake (he should be in school) and deftly pushed boats this way and that to be able to moor his in just the right spot.
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Mar 6th, 2018, 05:50 PM
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I'm so glad you enjoyed your trip to Angkor!
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Mar 6th, 2018, 05:52 PM
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Our last day in Siem Reap was unremarkable. We took a tuk-tuk to Artisans d'Angkor for the tour and shopping. Even my husband wanted to buy a souvenir. We walked over to Hard Rock Cafe to buy pins for a friend and shopped at the market next door. We used a tuk-tuk to return to the hotel and the hotel's tuk-tuk with our bags propped behind the driver to go to the airport.

We arrived at the airport too early to check in for our flight--mistake. The air conditioned lobby was packed with bus loads of Chinese tour groups. The outdoor restaurant was packed. There were open seats outside where the buses unloaded and a quiet small restaurant outside the arrivals building. Once our desk opened and everyone checked in and made it through security boarding time was just 15 minutes away, so not much time to enjoy Bangkok Airways lounge or do any last minute shopping.
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Mar 7th, 2018, 07:15 AM
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Another good memory--in one of the quiet temples, a guard wanted to share her bunch of bananas with us for a snack. Of course, we accepted.

A sad one--while we were there, an Environment Ministry ranger, a Military Police officer and an employee of a conservation organisation were killed in near the border with Vietnam. They had found Vietnamese illegally logging in the Cambodian Keo Seima Wildilife Sanctuary forest and confiscated their chainsaws. Cambodian border patrol was dispatched and the environmentalists were killed. It was still murky when we left whether the border patrol, soldiers, or the loggers killed them, but Mardy said that there are many corrupt members of the military who protect the loggers. The woods that generates this trade and violence include Thailand rosewood, Burma padauk also traded as rosewood, and ironwood. The wood is used for furniture, carts, and many other products in Vietnam and exported mainly within Asia and Australia, but Americans can watch out for these materials in furniture imported from Vietnam.
Three killed in jungle when patrol comes under fire; fellow authorities suspected, National, Phnom Penh Post
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