Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Raiding the Tombs

After the delights of Burma, both expected and unexpected, I hoped that Cambodia would live up to the hype for the last section of our trip as a three. And what do you know, it did! 

We flew to Siem Reap via Bangkok Don Mueang (the lame airport, which turned out to not be too shabby at all). Unfortunately I ate some "chicken" at a restaurant called Mr Chef on our last night in Yangon, which I'm pretty sure was street-dog, and I had a rather unpleasant couple of flights. 

The illness lasted until Phnom Penh, and rendered me unable to eat anything other than bread and steamed rice. I count myself lucky, because apart from a stomach bug I got a couple of months ago in Tokyo, I'd been illness free for my whole year away. 

So on an empty stomach we set off and spent two days exploring the wonders of Angkor. 

It's exactly what you imagine and what you've seen in photos. Crumbling sandstone decorated with intricate patterns, designs and depictions of ancient times, all against the dry, exotic backdrop of the Cambodian jungles. Many temples were fighting a losing battle with nature, some with tree roots thicker than me twisting round and crushing the stone. 

Not all the temples were amazing, but some highlights were Angkor Wat (unoriginal, maybe, but impressive all the same), Ta Phrom (where Tomb Raider was set), Banteay Sray (beautifully pink against the greens of the foliage), and the Bayon, the centrepiece of Angkor Thom. 

For me the one that blew me away was the Bayon, because I hadn't seen photos of it, so didn't know what to expect. But it's extremely impressive, and a maze to explore, which was great fun. We felt like Lara Croft, square breasts and all. 

Sometimes I wish I could un-see pictures of famous sights so I'd be more impressed when I see them in person. Some things are too mind-blowing in the flesh for it to matter, most notably Iguassu Falls. No pictures could prepare me to stand in front of that. 

Siem Reap itself is a really funky place. We all commented on how liveable it would be, and how surprisingly developed it was. That may have been in comparison to Burma though, where even Yangon  is several strides behind the other South-East Asian capitals. Still funny to see a Costa in Siem Reap though (and a Domino's in Phnom Penh). 

My dad saw Cambodia around 15 years ago, and said that Siem Reap was a small village hidden in the jungle, and Angkor was only just becoming a popular tourist destination. I don't think there was a Costa there back then. 

I wish we'd had more time in Siem Reap (and in Cambodia in general), but alas the girls had flights to catch from Phnom Penh, so we made our way there after just three nights. 

As an aside, the visa on arrival for Cambodia (arriving at Siem Reap airport at least) costs US$30, or $32 if you don't have a passport-sized photo for your application. 

And the immigration person giving our passports back was the most entertaining official I've ever come across. He took one look at my photo and insisted it wasn't me. 

I would have appreciated it more if I wasn't fighting the urge to run back to the toilet. 

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