Sunday, 22 March 2015

Sleepless in Siem Reap

Number one child and the Scouser 
are getting towards the end of their
amazing trip. Can't wait to have them
home! In the meantime...

Cupcakes, pancakes and fruit 
shakes. Batman Tuk Tuks, Jianzi, 
dollar massages. Baby Alligators. 

Welcome to Siem Reap.

Known as the gateway to Angkor 
Wat, Siem Reap is a big tourist 
destination. With treelined streets, 
a river and you know it's coming - 
French colonial buildings, it's a handsome
town filled to the brim with great
little cafes and the more schlocky Pub
Street for the younger, drink-fuelled

We arrived by the notorious night bus, in spite of having been warned of how 
dangerous it is by every single travel guide and blog I had found on the internet.

Why then, you ask, did you go on it?

Because someone convinced me that I was being a... cluck cluck. And I'm too 
easily riled.

Having been promised a spacious double bed, air con, free water and all the 
perks (am I sounding incredibly naive at this point?) we found ourselves in a 
vehicle which could have masqueraded as a sex parlour. And probably did. 
Dark red curtains and tiny cells not fit for a life-term convict, we found our bed 
directly under the engine at the very back of the bus. Air-con out of action. 
Hairs on the pillow. Shady stains on the mattress.

Relatively claustrophobic, having once had a complete paddy climbing the 
staircase to the Whispering Gallery at St Paul's Cathedral, I found myself 
breathing pretty short breaths in muggy air convinced that the mephitic 
fumes of the engine would probably kill me overnight. The corridor reaching 
our budget boudoir was so narrow, all passengers had to walk crablike. One 
escape route, with us at the back of the bus.

Currently agnostic, I cannot say I 'found God' on this journey but I did pray 
multiple times overnight when I was suspended in air or spooning the wall 
when the driver slammed the brakes down. (Being at the back, we were 
sideways on).

The Remedy
Sleep deprived with a rats nest on my head and desperate for a wee, we arrived at a sunny 6am in Siem Reap. At this point with no placable sarcasm apparent, Alex said:

"Well that was much better than the night bus in Laos!"

Genuinely. I wanted to kill him.

At least he didn't say 'What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger".

But food always cheers me up and two pancakes with berry compote, creme fraiche, maple syrup and bacon at Cafe Central did a grand job.

You know that I can't write a blog about Siem Reap and not talk about 
Angkor Wat. And whilst we took some incredible photos, they will probably 
look just like everybody else's - no matter how much time is spent editing 
them. So I will attempt to not to go into minute detail about every temple 
we saw but share the more entertaining bits. But prepare yourself for lots 
of photos, tough luck on that side of things.

At 4.30am, my favourite time of day to wake up, we took a tuk-tuk which 
we had negotiated down (good cop/bad cop routine is still working) to 15 
dollars for the day. We had decided to leave the best til last, so we 
maturely turned our heads to the left whilst passing Angkor Wat on the right.

First stop 5.30am

Baksei Chamkrong was our choice for the sunrise, an early 10th century 
Hindu temple which looked a little like an Apocalypto head-rolling 
sacrifical slide. Our driver got out his hammock and hanging it on his 
tuk-tuk, went back to sleep whilst we peered blankly into the dark at the 
very steep stairs we were standing in front of.

Having climbed to the top, whilst murmuring about health and safety 
hazards in a very British way, we sat and ate our breakfast of 
pineapple and mango whilst Alex listened to the bats that were 
chirping in the temple. I protected my hair with a sarong.

Breakfast time in the dark.
Having been to Petra in Jordan, the capabilities of what 
humans can do never ceases to amaze and when you 
stand amongst the faces of Bayon that awe and splendour really 
hits you. What was all the more special was that because all the 
tourists had flocked home after sunrise for breakfast, we were 
pretty much the only people there. Passing it a couple of hours 
later, it was like a sea of faces.

I pride myself with having a good vocabulary, but after seeing 
a couple of temples you do struggle for words to describe them. 
Rock. Stone. Carved. Sculptures. Buildings. Temples. Meh.

Alex bitterly disappointed me at Ta Prohm for refusing to be 
videoed pretending to be Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. He was 
never going to be Angelina Jolie but he could have been a very 
believable young Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones.

Later that day, we discovered the best cupcakes we had ever 
tasted at Blossom Cafe, so we ate lots of them. Though my 
sister is not a bridezilla, I still have to watch what I eat 
apparently so I am not a fat bridesmaid so I won't mention 
how many we had or how many times we visited in our 
week in Siem Reap.

Two of .... many!
Wednesday was a good day as it was a chance to 
see a face from the past - David and his wife Vina. 
Both his daughters are close friends of mine. They 
were both staying at a hotel a considerable upgrade 
from ours - the Victoria Angkor Resort which boasted 
a very nice swimming pool, those seriously cool old-
school elevators which you have to slide the door to 
close and a baby alligator pond. We had a bizarre 
moment when discussing my failure to break Hollywood 
and it materialised out that one of the few people I had 
met was his best friend from school. (The only person 
he knew in LA). It's a small world.

Another day at the Angkor Wat Archeological Site 
involved riding 'the Grand Loop' - 30km on mountain 
bikes. The ride was brisk as Scouser Wiggins likes a 
good pace. I almost crashed into several bins that 
were waiting to be recycled on the road. Then 
almost did it again on the way back.

Trusty Steeds
Neak Pean was an island temple accessed by 
a long causeway and the views were reminiscent 
of the end of the second Lord of the Rings, when 
Isengard is destroyed.

"Some of my kin look just like trees now, and 
need something great to rouse them; and they 
only speak in whispers." (Treebeard)

Spooky stuff.
Isengard /Neak Pean
Alex's birthday falls on Valentine's Day and 
we were in Siem Reap to celebrate it. We 
spent the day doing most of his favourite 
things. We started with a pancake breakfast 
then watched a film in the Green Leaf Book 
Cafe (An Extraordinary Theory of Everything - 
is it only me who bawled their eyes out the 
whole film?) We then had a brunch of more 
pancakes with Alex's favourite Mango Shake. 
Lunch and the early afternoon was spent with 
Alex watching the cricket and rugby on two 
screens at the same time. Then we went for a 
Dollar Massage.

Massage parlours are everywhere in Siem Reap 
- to relieve the weary loins of tourists traversing 
Angkor Wat. Most of them have the same deal - 
a dollar for a ten minute foot massage. Being 
generous, we decided to go for three dollars.

It was not a pleasant experience.

The man who was lathering globs of unlabelled 
cream on my feet and legs had elongated molars - 
aka vampire fang dentistry and was giggling 
tonelessly in a high pitched voice to his neighbour. 
His idea of massage was to smack my feet and legs 
then place his pudgy gargantuan hands on my little 
toes and pull them out of their sockets as if he was 
having a tug of war with the entire Japanese Sumo 
Wrestling Team. This he then repeated two other 
times, once every ten minutes.

1$ foot massage. You get what you pay for.
Insanely after our dinner at 'Genevieve's 
Restaurant' - for where else were we going 
to go for Alex's birthday (it's also the number 
2 restaurant in Siem Reap), we decided to 
go for another massage. This time I broke 
into hysterical giggles when both of them got 
into the downward dog position and put their 
hands on our groins, rubbing us in circular 
motion. The Khmer massage techniques are 
really not to be missed.

Then we watched Six Nations rugby well into 
the night with a few beers to help us along.

The Angkor Wat sunset was our last experience 
in Siem Reap before we took a bus and crossed 
the border to Bangkok. It was a marvel, worth 
waiting for. Alex took lots of pictures of the 
reflection of Angkor Wat in the lake whilst I made 
some friends.

Sunset at Angkor Wat

Making friends
Six weeks of travelling around Laos and Cambodia 
and it comes to the final thing we see to know that the 
crazy experiences we have been through have been 
worthwhile. That sitting under a bat-infested temple in 
the pitch black and watching the sun rise over Angkor 
Wat Archological Site made the entire trip worthwhile. 
There have been some incredibly unremarkable places. 
There have been some horrible, horrible bus journeys. 
There have been some gruesome, harrowing sights. 
There has been a lot of the views of the Mekong. That's 
all part and parcel of being a backpacker. But the 
majesty of being at Angkor Wat - and it only takes one 
time - leaves you feeling pretty special. That you've seen 
something that that old cliche 'once in a lifetime' truly 

A representation of 80% of photos taken.

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