8/09/2013

Siam Reap Escape - Day 1

My first trip abroad was to Europe 2 years ago. So I was meticulous about this trip to Siam Reap because it's been a long time since I planned a trip overseas and this time there's 6 of us traveling together. So here's the article I finally got to writing about one of the best holidays of my life!

Day 1
We met at LCCT around 6am because the AirAsia flight was super early at 7.35am. Web check-in made registration really easy and after dropping off our check-in luggage, we chilled until we boarded. The flight was i eventful and we'd to fill up a form regarding details of our trip. The airport was charming, it was dotted with beautiful stone sculptures (later I would recognize them as Apsara dancers). 

Then the first drama hit: one of my friend's suitcase was missing. We immediately lodged a report with the airport staff who was friendly and very helpful. There was genuine warmth in his pledge to help retrieve my friend's luggage and his apology included discount vouchers at a spa centre in town. The hotel transfer van then took us to the Golden Banana Hotel. We checked in and rested in the rooms before engaging the tuk-tuk drivers to take us to the first attraction, Wat Thmey. The hotel staff are very knowledgeable about Siam Reap; they listened to what we want and advised us on the itinerary.
Tuk-tuk is a popular mode of transport; the motorbike pulls a carriage. Some tuk-tuks are endorsed with decorative patterns and almost all have a hammock tied up for the driver to pull out when he wants a nap. 

Wat Thmey is called the Killing Fields of Siam Reap. It's smaller than the one in Phnom Penh but it's nonetheless significant to the local community. There was a peaceful silence in the courtyard and our driver (please email me if you would like to contact him) became our guide, his English was good enough to explain the sad history of Cambodia under the Khmer Rogue reign. There was a signboard with the victims' names and a tall glass case with skulls of the victims, with clothing items that were with the bodies. We then visited the mini mausoleum which was similar to traditional Chinese burial sites with white paper stuck to the walls. We entered the temple which was a huge hall and murals depict the life of Buddha from birth to death. 
We then hopped back to the tuk-tuk and it was a 45-min ride from small town to village to the Tonle Sap lake. The ride was an eye-opener as we could see various forms of poverty and wealth in the houses and the quality of the road. The boat ride costs $ per person and it headed to the middle of the lake where a floating village greeted us. Tip: visit the lake during the wet season as the lake would be more impressive due to surge of clean water from the Himalayas. The lake is still impressive in the dry season; the massive size of this huge water body makes you wonder what a sight it must be at its peak. Approaching the village, we were hustled by beggars; young children and mothers with babies in smaller boats gripped the edges of our boat. They left quickly when we gave them a bag of chips. 
We stepped onto a two-storey platform and had a quick look at the small crocodile captivity and the lower deck. Crocodiles are bred for their hide and meat. They looked huge and hungr so we quickly made our way to the center where posters explain the water cycle of the lake and a map of Cambodia. We went up another floor to have a better view of the surrounding lake; there was a floating church and school. A beggar kid came up and followed us until he decided a lone American tourist would make a better victim. Get this: the kid had a python around his shoulders. I guess he thought tourists would find the python exotic and he could make a couple of bucks but it was downright creepy
Tip: don't interact with beggars because once they see your compassion, they'll latch on and $1 ones not cut it. Though under certain circumstances, $1 is a small price to pay for comfort. The boat driver's son (about 9 yrs old) went around massaging (chopping) our shoulders. Initially I thought "oh nice!" Then he says "1 dollar". Fine. One friend refused to pay but the boy didn't stop and eventually hit my friend harder until the boat driver asked him to stop. My friend's shoulder was bruised and ached later.

Back to the boat and on to the shore, we returned to the hotel for a nap before dinner at Angkor Mondial. The hotel staff, Hat helped me to reserve the best seats in the house (literally), right at front and next to the stage where we were treated to a fabulous performance of Apsara dancing. The music and the dance was enchanting and enriching. The buffet had a wide spread of local food and it was a splendid experience for only $12 per pax. 
The tuk-tuk took us to Pub Street and we walked around this colorful venue, with beer selling for 50 cents a glass and street side foot massages for $5. We stopped by Angkor Soup Restaurant; service was good, we had some fries and some beer while watching busy tourists and local walk up and down the street outside.
We walked back to the hotel from Pub Street in 15 min, and settled in for a good rest ahead of the next day's excursion at the highlight of this trip: Angkor Wat :)

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