Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 7: Revisiting Siem Reap

The last time I came to Siem Reap was about 4 years ago. I remembered celebrating my birthday in Siem Reap after SIGA 2007 completed. I have always wanted to come back again to Siem Reap and see more.

Here I was, having breakfast at Oudum Angkor Villa after waking up from a good night sleep. A family friend is from Cambodia and he had given a name for me to contact while in Siem Reap – to arrange a tour. Funny, his name is Yusuf – same as the guide given by the guesthouse. Soon I found out that both Yusufs know each other and have been working together for quite some time.

Fascinated by geography subject while in high school, this time would really want to see the largest fresh water lake – Tonle Sap Lake. Although it is dry season, there are still people who make living from the lake. The journey from the guesthouse to the boat area was about 20 minutes. Along the way I cannot help from noticing the road which is highly elevated from the land and houses are built with high columns. Later I learnt that Cambodia is a country with huge (I mean huge) delta flat area. The houses are built with high columns because the land area will be flooded – many of the land area are part of the lake.

The boat rent including tour cost a standard US$20 rate. The area where you are to take the boats are still under construction – I am sure once it is done, it will be comfortable and highly convenient for many tourist.

Extremely low water level – about 1 meter in depth, made the maneuver of boats extremely slow and difficult. The water was too murky due to the dry season and low water level. Along the canal up to the vast lake area, there were many idle boats with people living inside them. Funny I could also see many naked children running or playing on the river banks while adults were mainly netting fish. After about 20 minutes ride, the boat entered the lake area. It was so wide and vast I felt like I was boating in sea. Not so far I could see hundreds of floating houses. These are floating villages whereby the people have been living on the lake for ages. During the flood season, these villages will move their houses near to the canal instead of being so far in the lake.

It was floating residential with shops, and even school are on water. One disturbing scene during my whole visit in Siem Reap, especially here at the floating village, was seeing small kids in dire state helping their parents selling on small boats. Although it was a clear poor condition, many of them still could smile and laugh happily; which made me wonder how life could have been for them if situation is different. The view from rooftop of a floating restaurant was mesmerizing.

On the way heading back to town, we made a stop at a Muslim Restaurant. It was next to a mosque somewhere in a small residential area. It is the area where, Yusuf, my guide, lives. Lunch was traditional chicken soup with fried eggs and some vegetables – total US$5. Then we headed to the newly built Angkor National Museum. Entrance with audio aid is charged at US$15, but the knowledge gained here is more than enough to understand about the great Angkor and Khmer civilization. The museum was very well organized starting with the basic of Hinduism influence to the establishment of Angkorian civilization and Cambodia in general. Many of the artifacts are from the ruins discovered from old temples all around Cambodia. Contrary to Thailand, Cambodia is an extremely great reflection of Hinduism – from the beginning of its empire. Walking and admiring the history and knowledge on my own awed me in many ways, especially how great the Khmer empire was.

After 2 hours touring the museum, my guide brought me to the Angkor historical area ticket booth. The prices are pretty much fixed. Take note that there are several types of entrance fees ranging from US$20 to US$60 and tourist are to buy ticket on their own (You are required to be photographed for the ticket).

The intention was to experience the beautiful sun set scene from Bakheng Hill. I wonder how it would be during the peak season. This old temple is located on a hill so you will have to push yourself up the hill. For those who do not have good stamina, a slow walk is possible for the climb – but you need to get there early. If you have additional cash, perhaps you would want to climb up the hill with elephant. There are several elephants available for tourist going up to the hill. It was a magnificent view from the above, minus the crowd. Also, many Angkorian temples have very steep stairs with narrow steps – be careful when you are climbing up and down.

I had to skip dinner – too much of rice since I arrived to Siem Reap. After a short rest, another Yusuf took me to the famous Pub Street. Here, you can see so many establishments of disco, pub and restaurants. As it is filled with entertainment so many tourists are seen here. All the shops here are refurbishment of the old French quarter building. The shop owners are only to do minor refurbishment, so you can still see the French architectural from the building blocks. After pub street, I wanted to see how the local spend time at night. So we headed to a similar place about 5 minutes motorcycle ride. In Malaysia we go to mamak for drinks and watch football. Here in Cambodia, people spend time in open bars – many now are built with modern western influence.

The day ended at about 1.30am. The ticket bought earlier will allow me to visit the Angkor area tomorrow. Check out Day 7 pictures here >> Day 7 – Siem Reap in Action

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