The next stop on the trip was the town of Siem Riep - North-west in Cambodia. Siem Riep in itself is not too interesting, but it is close to one of the 7 Wonders of the world, Angkor Wat - the ancient temple city. We rented bikes and cycled to the Angkor Wat Temple on the first evening, as the one-day ticket included entry from 17.00 the evening before.. We arrived at the great temple just in time to see the sunset. There were about 15000 other tourists that had arrived at the same time with the same plan. We went into the main temple and saw as much of it as we could before the darkness set in.
Stig and Torunn at Angkor Wat
Most of the tourists crowd together at a temple called Pnomh Bakheng at sunset. This is a relatively large temple on top of a small hill. We had heard that this temple turns into a complete circus every night at sunset. All the guide books advice people to go there.. Thousands upon thousands of tourists,all with big cameras around their necks - ready to capture the perfect sunset picture..
Such an experience has absolutely zero appeal to us. We did the crazy-crowded-sunset-experience when we were in Santorini, Greece. A repetition of this did not tempt us at all. All the romance and the "special experience" of a beautiful sunset feels cheap and commercialized .
We went back to Siam Reap, ate some Mexican food and had a margarita before we went to bed early. The next morning we got up before the morning sun at 04.00 to make the most out of the one day we had paid for at Angkor Wat. We tried to wipe the sleep out of our faces before we got on our bikes and started the ride towards the ruins in complete darkness. Even at that time in the morning there were hundreds of cars and tuk-tuks, all of them with the same goal: watching the sunrise by the majestic temples. I felt like I was on a pilgrimage,and it felt a bit like one of the scenes in lord of the rings .
Angkor Wat sunrise
Imagine the orcs marching to Minas Tirith, the scene where Frodo is climbing up the mountain-side, that is what I saw that morning at Angkor Wat. Thousands of orc-like creatures (tourists) marching in the darkness across the stone bridge to the Angkor Wat temple, not Minas Tirith,..
Cycling around the ruins
Most people choose to go into the actual Angkor Wat complex, but we decided to sit on the grass by the river just outside the ruins. From there we could see the sunrise at a distance, and without the crowds. It was a clever decision because we actually got the place to ourselves instead of standing like sardines in a barrel.
The Angkor temple complex is enormous. You can stay there a month without seeing everything there is to see,particularly for people who enjoy immersing themselves in the history and details. They sell 1,3 and 7 day tickets to the ruins.
Ruin with lots of faces on
The price of the tickets is incredibly high when compared to the prices of other things,and the wages in Cambodia. One day at Angkor Wat costs 20 dollars. In contrast one night in a bungalow with bathroom is about 3-5$. It takes about 2$ per person. That means that you can stay 10 nights in hotels for the same price as one day at Angkor . A cheap hotelroom in Norway, costs approximately 500 Norwegian kroner(14$) ", or 100$. Compararatively this attraction would cost about 2500 kroner (400$US) a day if it was in Norway.
The worst thing is that this money does not go to the preservation of the ruins, or to improve the lives of people in the local area. As abhorrent as it is 20% of the money goes to a local oil company(!), 70% in the pockets of corrupt(and rich) politicians in the Treasury department, while only 10% goes to the maintenance of the ruins. That in itself is reason enough to boycott the place, but on the other hand it is one of the world's seven ancient wonders,and has to be experienced when you're in Cambodia.
When we walked around the ruins we saw hundreds of beggars and poor people. Some mothers had children with serious deformations, and used them as a tool to get money off tourists. With all the money coming into this attraction every day, you should think they could use a little of it to better the poverty of the local people., It is quite despicable that they are unable to set aside some money to the local people, rather than put it in the pocket of rich oil executives. Greed rules..
Local kids and monkey
We made the most of the one day we had at the ruins. The area between all the different temples is enormous, so it was good that we had bikes. Very many other tourists were in groups that got around with big polluting buses. That day there was more exhaust in the jungle than in the middle of London.,There were thousands of cars on the road and noise everywhere. It felt more like we were in the middle of a big city than far out in the woods on a jungle-road.
The first thing we did after sunrise at Angkor Wat was to go up to the temple Pnomh Bakheng. We had it completely to ourselves. At that moment it was impossible to imagine how chaotic this place would become that very evening around sunset. It was beautiful and serene, Me and Torunn alone on an ancient temple. There were many wonderful sculptures of lions,elephants and other animals.
After that we went to see one of the most famous temples - Bayon. It is a massive structure that has 200 huge rock faces.
Face of the king
All of the faces are of the king at the time. A proper narcissist! .
There were many good photo opportunities, as all the faces have been renovated and looked very cool. There was a group of 200 orange-clad monks at the same time as us, which gave an authentic atmosphere to the experience.
There were many more temples on our journey through Angkor. We saw the elephant sculptures, and climbed to the top of a huge temple. We did not read about the whole history of each temple, but tried instead to live in the moment. When we found special statues and engravings inside the temples we visited it came as a nice suprise.
The Ta Promh temple was one of our favorites. It's pretty cool to see a building that has been taken over by nature.
Tree growing on ruin
The huge "silk cotton" trees have surrounded the stones with their enormous roots. Trees rising majestically above the ruins, and their roots have torn the stones out of the walls of the temple in an attempt to get down to the moist soil. This temple is best known as the "Tomb Raider Temple". It was here that ex-big-bossomed Angelina Jolie jumped around fighting with bad guys in the early 2000s.
There was an enormous amount of people wherever we went in the Angkor complex. This place is totally occupied by mass-tourism, especially after the Chinese have become richer and are travelling more. There were similar tendencies all across Asia - Chinese tourists were everywhere. The locals told us that only 2-3 years ago there were no Chinese tourists, but these days there are almost exclusively Chinese tourists - a sure sign that China is doing very well at the moment.
After 10-11 hours of temple exploration, we were pretty exhausted. There are only so many ruins we can see in a day. Some people call it "temple fatigue".. We were actually a little glad that we only had one day to spend there.. It wasn`t enough time to learn the unique history of all the temples, but we didn`t really want that. We just wanted to get a feeling of the place, and a general impression. What we are really interested in is cheap beer from the tap, and cheap frozen margaritas, and this was something that there was plenty of in Siam reap!
The simple pleasures are usually the best ones!. The following 3 days we remained in town just to relax. A pint of ice cold beer in chilled glasses cost the beautiful sum of 3 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". We had to pay 8 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". It was pretty amazing. Of all the 36 countries we have visited on this trip Cambodia was undoubtedly the cheapest country, and one of the countries I want to go back to, the beer prices in itself is reason enough.
Siam reap relaxation
One morning when we were looking for a place to eat breakfast we ended up at a hotel that was next door to where we stayed. It was a surreal experience. There were Norwegian flags everywhere, and Norwegian newspaper articles on the walls. There were 20 blonde 18-year old girls sitting around, all of them from Norway. We had not met any Norwegians for months, and suddenly we were in the midst of a Norwegian colony. It turned out that the hotel was owned by a Norwegian model who had started a tourism study there. The girls studied sustainable tourism (the best kind of tourism). When we met them they were heading out to pick garbage in the streets.
I imagine that it was an extremely unrealistic spectacle for the local people to see 30 blonde Norwegian girls picking garbage in the ditches. White people are considered upper class in Asia, so it is untypical to see them pick up the garbage of the poor people.
After a few days we went on to Thailand. Our plan for Thailand was to find a place where we could do as little as possible.
When we finally got to the border we were shocked when they only gave us 14 days worth of Visa. It was incredibly annoying as we were going to be there for 30 days. The last time I was in Thailand I got 30 days stay, but this is apparently only if you arrive at the airport. An idiotic rule, and a very bad start to our month in Thailand. This meant we had to spend a lot of time and money going out of the country at a time when we really should be relaxing on an island. Read more about the journey to Koh Lanta in the next article..