Ang Kor Who?

Nearly two weeks in Thailand and our “visa-on-arrival” is expiring. A while back the Thai government changed the immigration laws so that foreigners entering over land borders only get a 14-day visa (actually it’s just a visa exemption entry stamp) and the 30 days exemption is only granted if arriving by air port. It’s a pain in the arse and I don’t know if the policy is achieving any objectives – somebody told me it was an attempt to try and curb the sex trade – aside from alienating backpackers.

Anyway, the long and short of it is we have to get out of the country. We’ve been in Bangkok for a few days and established that flights are way too expensive at the moment so we will have to go by land border again and that makes our closest exit point Poi Pet, Cambodia. We’ve always intended to go there and see Wat’s Wat in the pot and who’s who in the zoo, so we go to a travel agent ear Khaosan Road and organize another bus->border->bus deal, and at 7AM we’re on a minibus heading for Siem Reap. It’s all very straight forward – sticker on your T-shirt and all that, as with the Lao-Thailand crossing. A good Mexican hangover ensures that I have a good nap all the way to the border (see our Bangkok article).

People have some scary stories to tell about Cambodia; not just regarding its history but also about poverty and crime, so of course we were a little nervous crossing over. This is not helped by the travel agent escorting us as he’s telling us about all sorts of dangers across the border, starting with begging children flocking to pickpocket you and so on. Well, having crossed over the border, we see a few children, maybe one or two come by asking for a dollar but nothing further. In fact almost immediately after we get a sense that people are very genuine and friendly over here.

In Siem Reap the tour bus tries to herd us all into their own “Popular Guest House” but we walk off and stay in the Mandala Inn (9$US/night): clean, great staff and all beautiful massive wood inside. There we organize a tuk tuk for the next day (600THB) to take us around the temple complex, starting at 5AM until 6PM.

Note: Thai Baht (and US$ of course) are readily accepted around here so no real need to exchange cash at the border.

It’s an early start the next morning. Our rickshaw driver seems to have the oldest machine in town as it struggles to get us moving and others are passing us by with ease. But we’re not in a hurry.

Within the Ang Kor Wat complex, everybody has come to see sunrise and most people are waiting in front of the pond where the local hawkers allege that you will get the best photo shots – those with the temple reflecting on the water with the sun behind.

I’m not to keen on wrestling with the crowds at 6AM for the same snap, so we walk around and get some shots from other angles.

Besides, this way I get to enjoy the sunrise in silence than with a hundred people talking and cameras beeping around me. After sunrise, 007 serves us a nice strong coffee at his stall and we’re ready for the day.

Needless to say, it’s spectacular! 

Ancient temples, massive trees…

I really don’t know what more to say than, come and see for yourself!

They certainly don’t build stuff like they used to.

(Spot the Buddha!)

And the way that nature has gone about reclaiming its territory is awesome.

There have been various archeological delegations from Germany, India and elsewhere working on restoration projects here. There is currently a team from India working on one of the sites. The work they do is absolutely amazing: there are some placards showing pictures of some of the collapsed ruins they have managed to restore into buildings and it’s unimaginable how they managed to do it. We go to check out a couple of the guys working on one of the ruins with the Indian reconstruction team; they’re sitting there, meticulously sketching out the view of a collapsed building in every detail, from various angles, carefully numbering every piece. Really impressive!

It is heartbreaking to see how they’ve felled several ancient trees to avoid further damage to the temples, but I guess that’s the price to pay if we want anything to be left in a few decades time.

Before sunset we pick up a can of beer from one of the local hawkers for us and our driver to revitalize us from a day of active walking and sightseeing and drink it at a lookout point on a nearby hill.

We leave back to Thailand the next morning, this time we take a taxi to the border for roughly the same price as bus additional inconvenience would cost us (US$25). On the Thai side we get a minibus for about 300THB to Bangkok.

As for Cambodia, we’re sad to have spent so little time exploring. We really liked it here. Sure, you can see that many people are struggling – the poverty is extreme and history has been terribly bitter. However people seem very friendly and welcoming. On top of that things are inexpensive and food and beer are good, so you have a definite winner. May we find our way here again some day!