Kampungkayell

Food, life, and fun in my "kampung,"(village), KL (Kuala Lumpur). Did I mention "food?"

Siem Reap - Angkor Adventure - Day 1

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

“Two doh-lah, I geeve you peece and qui-ette” she said, with the cheekiest of grins. You knew she meant it, this little extortioner with the charming, toothy grin.

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Rewind to 12 hours earlier we had set foot in the LCCT, our Low Cost Carrier Terminal. I trail behind Allan and Keith, trusting them to lead me through the throngs of bodies to the right counter. After check in my feet automatically walk toward the nearest Starbucks/Coffee Bean (they're interchangeable aren't they? Sort of like Coke and Pepsi) and order my first cuppa of the day. The aroma of coffee alone begins to switch on my brain. One sip later and I feel human again. Enough to join in the conversation and survive the 2 hour flight.

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As we disembark at Siem Reap, I drink in the air. It's different. It's the same time at home, same Earth (though an hour later due to a time zone shift) but owing to a quirk in geography and modern air travel and a good dose of psychological delusion, it's different! The airport is nice and clean. Small but seemingly well run. The luggage is picked up in short order and the driver proceeds to drive us to Bopha Angkor along with a friendly Canadian family.

You can't help but draw parallels with other places you've visited before and the inevitable comparisons pop up. "Oooo it looks like some towns in Kedah with all the Padi Fields!" "It sorta reminds me a little like Bali" this as we pull into the town proper. And it does. Lots of tourists. The Cambodians are petite, tanned people with the most friendly demeanour and are apt to smile at you at the drop of a hat. The tourists all just looked "foreign!" They all looked like they were walking around with great big neon signs flashing "Tourist" on their foreheads. You know that pose that tourists automatically fall into. The curious, almost overly polite unctuousness that drips from them especially when they ask the locals in slooooowwww English. "Doo you-u-u-u kn-ow th-e wa-ay to-o..." Hello, Cambodians aren't stupid. They just don't understand YOUR language!

We drop off everything at the hotel and we set off on the beginning of our adventure. Don't you just love that feeling when you've got 4 long days stretching ahead of you and you know you're going to be experiencing things which are new and novel?

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The Bopha Angkor is situated right on the Banks of the Siem Reap River. The river itself is still undeveloped. By that I mean it's banks are still verdant and grassy and manicured and lacking in "riverwalk" cafes or a "riverside alfresco dining experience." In short, it looks like human beings have had a hand in keeping it tidy but (thank God) it doesn't look like Clarke Quay.

As a matter of fact, as we processed through into the town area you get a sense of the "frenchness" of Siem Reap. The grid system that the town is organised into, the beauty of the public spaces, and the abundance of colonial architecture in the main area of Psar Chaa, the Old Market, which was, for us, just across the Wat Preah Prom Rath Bridge.

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Massage Parlours jostle for space side by jowl with eateries, some quite flash and some distinctly like our old Chinese coffee shops. A sarong and textile shop marks our entry into a dim and dingy passageway and into Psar Chaa proper. With cries of "kam baaiii...Ai keef you goood price..." following us, I do my best not to catch their eye. Otherwise your side may grow an appendage that you never knew you had. And the appendage will be talking incessantly in your ear, trying to persuade you to buy...something.

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The clothing section opens out into a central area and immediately your nostrils are assaulted with the ripe, sweet, pungent smell of freshly killed fish and meat. "See hum" sit out on un-iced counters. Fish, meat, and seafood counters sit side by side with hawkers hawking their bowls of steaming hot soup noodles or friend mee hoon.

Then there they were. Two ladies sitting with their backs facing each other. One deboning fish and the other declawing and skinning frogs. Fresh padi frogs. They were doing it so fast that I'm not sure a trained chef would have kept up with them.

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The light is natural and it streams in through plastic sheets lining the roof. We pass through a dried foods section and just as I think we've seen all that Psar Chaa has to offer, we walk into a seamstresses area. A lady stands in front of a seamstress with her arms up to her sides, getting measured for a new dress. About 6 ladies sit in two neat rows busily guiding pieces of cloth into their eventual transformation to clothes. You walk through the whirring machines and the next section, the ammoniacal smell of perm lotion hits you. As you look up you realise that someone is getting their hair done. All this in one market.

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As we meandered our way out of Psar Chaa we happen upon Pub Street Alley and Pub Street. No prizes for guessing what is on Pub Street. After an earlyish lunch we made our way back to Bopha Angkor for a bit of a nap before heading out to the temple complex of Angkor. Now here's a little tip; if you go to the ticket counter at around 430 to 445pm you can buy your ticket and it will be dated for the following day but you can go into the temple complex and catch a sunset for free.

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Our tuk-tuk (a term obviously borrowed from the Thai's) driver, zips us into Angkor and as he slows down to stop in front of Phnom Bakheng, we met our cheerful little extortioner.

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Although Angkor Wat’s footprint only occupies a small amount of the space of the entire temple collection, the place is usually known by it’s name. It occupies such a huge space in the national Cambodian mindset that it’s even on their national Flag.

Slowly folding my pregnant middle into the rice paper thin plastic raincoat that I had just bought from one of the street urchins (unfortunately our little extortioner was 1 minute late or for her cheerful attempt at the most blatant blackmail with such a brass faced assertion, I would have certainly bought it from her) we splooshed down onto the street and prepared for an arduous climb up to Phnom Bakheng. Remember, words like “arduous” are all relative and for three lazy city boys who had woken up at 4 am that morning, the rain and the gentle, unpaved slope that lay ahead of us might as well have been Everest. I was more worried about wet shoes than I was about anything else. After all, I was wearing my most comfortable pair of New Balance. Not to mention my ONLY pair that I had with me.

It’s very easy to moan and groan about the rain being wet and how it makes everything rather mouldy feeling and looking, with that patina of grey that accompanies the big splatty drizzles we have in South East Asia. But while most may bemoan the fact that we’re not going to get one of those glorious, red, orange, purple hued, majestic, clichéd, visions from God, there is a soft mysterious beauty to greyness. Every line and edge which cuts like the sharpest of ceramic knives in bright sunlight becomes velvet coated like a cool, moist rose petal. The very greyness makes you look for the shadows which tell you what is there.

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As we trudge up the muddy slope we passed 3 temple kids begging and a little further on a "minder." We had been warned about the street kids and instead of money we had planned to give them crayons and colour pencils. For one thing, just handing out US dollar notes breeds a certain contempt for the value of the money and the other thing was we didn't exactly relish being swarmed by clouds of kids patheticking us into a handout. We had also been told that there were professional begging syndicates who basically put these kids to work begging and then taking all their money away at their end of the day. The "minder" standing idly by did not ease our minds one bit!

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You turn a bend, and over the next rise you're facing this ancient ruin. Facing steps which are almost as vertical as they are high you suddenly realise that you have to literally climb these steps on all fours. It's like crawling across the floor, only vertically.

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Off in the misty distance you glimpse Angkor and everywhere you step on the top of this ancient pyramid-like ruin you breathe in the weight of history.

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Slipping and sliding back down the hill and living in fear of my life Allan has an attack of the "good samaritans." My lovely other half decides it's time to pull out the crayons and show some of these wet, bedraggled kids some generosity. As we pass them Allan hands each of them a few crayons to play with. I happened to be dawdling behind fiddling with my camera when I happened to look up and catch the expression on one of the faces of this teensy tiny girl who had just received said crayons.

I guffawed. She started and proceeded to arrange her face into a more appropriate pathetic mien. Just as Allan had walked past she darted a glance at her companion across the way with a distinctly disappointed sneer of "what the f**k am I going to do with a few crayons?"

My kind hearted white knight had his heart dashed against the rocks of a street wizened professional. We decided not to be as giving and awaited a moment when we would be able to hand our little gifts to more appreciative recipients.

(Food adventures are going to be written separately).

8 Comments

Hooray! Finally a NEW post after so many months! :D

... and I can imagine more than a few uses for colourful crayons... ;)

OK, noted to not be giving! :P Or maybe we'll bring sweets then should we do Angkor one day!

hahaha sorry lah...it's beena tough few months. ;-) Anyways, here it is :-) Thanks for dropping by and sticking with me

It's alive! It's alive! Your blog, that is.

Hahaha on the less than appreciative recipients of crayons experience. Around the town, a few of the kids asked us for pencils and pens.

Oh I remember the trek uphill for a dusty non-sunset show too well. My poor legs and hope.

YAY!!!!! Updates! Finally! :)

he he ... goodness sounds like fun this Siam Reap ... must go one day.

More more more updates!!!!

Janvier; its really worth it. We sorta splurged on the hotel and our 4 night 5 day sojourn cost us only about RM1100 each. Inclusive of flight and and a great hotel.

tummy; sorry lah...as I told kenny, it's been a tough few months...and then before I knew it, a couple of months had passed by. sigh...

kenneth; comin' right up :-)

Certainly can't take the church out of the altar boy! A pity the lil street urchin wasn't impressed with the crayons.

But it has given me an urge to visit! Looks amazing. Especially your shot of the hair salon!

Dr Paul; very worthwhile going lah :-)

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