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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Siem Reap- More than a Great Gate to Angkor

Siem Reap, a gate to Angkor region, which undoubtedly the biggest core of tourist magnet in Cambodia. Tourism is the lifeblood of Siem Reap and without careful management it could become Siem Lapse of Flunk. There are prominent signs that developers are learning from the mistakes blighted at other regional hot spots, restrictions on height of hotels and bus sizes; however the damage of development is inevitable, logging activities started to threaten certain parts of Siem Reap with flood. Angkor is center stage on the world travel map right now, there's no going back for its supply line.

More than just a Golden gate of Angkor.

++ Shot with Nikon D700 + Nikkor 50mm f1.2 occasionally Nikkor 20mm f2.8 ++

Entrance to Angkor Wat

Transportation from Siem Reap airport to town will take about 20 minutes by taxi (USD 7). Most of the taxi drivers in Siem Reap are professional, friendly and well verse in several languages. If you're in group, you can straight away arrange tours with the driver, but make sure you do some homework before you commit, check here.

We didn't pre-book accommodation, our taxi driver brought us around town for hotels, we settled-in Tan Kang Angkor Hotel- (USD 43/night) for 4 person, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Great location, great value and friendly staff; it is located right in the heart of town, stone-throw from Old Market, Night Market, Pub Street... 

Hostel price cost between 1-3 USD, guesthouse cost 3-8 USD
Budget hotel range from 10-20 USD for air-con, private bathroom

ANGKOR WAT


Settling down, breakfast at town, we head out to the wonder of the world, Angkor Archaeological Park, admission fee here. Before that, here are some facts about Cambodia, ethic Chinese consists of around 10% of Cambodia's total population, the number decreased from 425,000 in 1970 to 61,400 in 1984, this was due to Khmer Rouge genocide from 1975 to 1979, 4 years costed 2 millions lives, it is commonly known as the Cambodia Holocaust. A one-fifth of the country's population were killed, almost all educated people with their families were murdered, starved and tortured.

USD is widely used in Cambodia, only for notes and coins are not accepted. Cambodians earn very little on average, a university leaver earn not more than USD 250 a month; school leaver earns around USD 150 a month, construction labor earns USD 5-6 a day.

On the way from Siem Reap town to Angkor region.

Side-way of Angkor Wat, studying wonders of Khmer & Dravidian art.

Lady worker at Angkor Wat with her daugher.

Inside Angkor Wat.

Towards the heart of Angkor Wat.

Sandstone sculptured of female divinity. 

Angkor Wat from the side.

Gardener of the Angkor Wat.

At the end of Angkor Wat.

October is a rainy season for Siem Reap, it was pouring a day before our arrival, Siem Reap treated us good, it was all sunny during our 3 days trip, the heat built up.

From the heart of Angkor Wat.

A Hindu, then subsequently Buddhist temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world. It was built by Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century.

Monk at Angkor Wat.

Coconut to cool off the heat! 

Angkor Wat was amazing, i wouldn't say i feel the same sense of awe i felt during my encounters with Borobudur Temple, but it was still bloody thrill! I think the reason was due to the huge and long walk way to get to the temple, first gaze upon it still a long distance away, till i get up close only then appreciate its' beauty and immense size. It is impressive. 

TA PROHM


We continue our temples run towards Ta Prohm, a temple made famous by "Tomb Raider". It is undoubtedly the most photogenic ruin in Angkor, with trees growing out of ruins. Built from 1186, Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII. It is one of the few temples in Angkor where an inscription provides information about the temple's inhabitants. The inscription also notes that the temple contained gold, pearls and silks. 
  
After the fall of Khmer empire in 15th century, the temple was abandoned and swallowed by the jungle.

Ta Prohm backyard.

The equal power of nature.

Little boy at Ta Prohm.

Ta Prohm exit.


PHNOM BAKHENG


We should've continue our temples run to Bayon Temple, but we give it up for a late lunch. It was almost nightfall, sun sets in around 5.45pm here (October), we have less than an hour to run between several temples, we opt for romantic sunset at Phnom Bakheng. A Hindu temple in the form of a temple mountain. It was constructed at the end of 9th century, more than 2 centuries before Angkor Wat, during the reign of King Yasovarman.

The temple is wide open to all direction, main temple faces east and built in a pyramid form of six tiers. It boasted 108 small towers around temple at ground level and on several tiers.

But only a few towers remained, from here, you get to see Angkor Wat too.

Sunset over Phnom Bakheng.

SIEM REAP TOWN- NIGHTLIFE


It ends our temples run for the day, it was nightfall, we have to leave Angkor as it closes. We head back to Siem Reap town, the town turns alive at night! The slivers of alley at Old Market, Pub Street and Night Market all turn into liveliest nightlife! For both dining and drinking, there are varies of venue to choose from for a fun evening out. From intimate stylish places places of quiet cocktail to Khmer disco pace with loud music, there is something for everyone. 

Average meal cost in Siem Reap
Roadside stall will normally cost you 1-1.5 USD
Mid range restaurant cost from 6-8 USD

We opt for some genuine local food from roadside stall.

Noodle soup and fried noodle (USD 1 each)

Siem Reap Market established in 2012, here you find smoothly laid out huts built from natural materials and designed beautifully in Khmer style, there are around 240 souvenirs shops that sell Cambodian made crafts from silk, painting, jewelries, wood, stone, paper cravings. 

At the alley off pub street.

TONLE SAP


We hit the sack early since we had a long day planned. Ocean might defines most the South East Asia countries, but in Cambodia, it is dominated by another feature, a great massive lake of Tonle Sap.

Before Kampung Phluk.

Before Kampung Phluk.

House along Kampung Phluk entrance.

Before Kampung Phluk.

Study hour in national schools of Cambodia is 5 hours, 8am to 12pm. For those who has more spending power will send their children to after school at specific language schools. You can see why, most of the tour guides are well versed in several languages.

Entrance to Tonle Sap from Kampung Phluk.

Boat ride will cost you around USD 20 per person.

For most of the year the lake is fairy small but during this wet season, it swells to be one of the largest in all of Asia, spanning over 16,000 square km, with depth of 9 meters. 

It floods over houses, forests and paddy fields.

Here, there is a serious class of divine, for those in floating houses are the poorer family, those in stilted homes are family who tend to be more financially comfortable. Here a stilted house with aquatic farming.

We rest midway towards opening of Tonle Sap at a small restaurant, a visible English lesson on chalk board, teachers from NGO came regularly for home school. 

Little kids of Tonle Sap. 

At the vast opening of Tonle Sap, it is nothing like a lake but a massive ocean!

From Tonle Sap to country side- Ta Som Sustainability Project

COUNTRY SIDE OF SIEM REAP


Cambodia is more than just Angkor region, but the cultural magnet of country side as well. A walk through villages, we see sugar palm trees, water buffaloes, traditional wooden houses- where the influences and acculturation have not yet arrived.

Sugar palm leaves.

A beautiful scenic of country side surrounded by sugar palm trees.

Another pleasant surprise  This is not at all a touristy place, this is a place, homed to their culture before influences in its authentic way.

Don't get him wrong, he is not asking for 3 dollars, he was indicating "OKAY" when i was waving my camera at this little boy. 

Agriculture remains the main source of income for Cambodian. Most of the Cambodian living in rural are self-sustaining, having their own crops trading for money and livestock manure, slurry, effluent and eventually foods.

Countryside wooden houses are built in 2 story foot tall house, during high noon, villagers taking shelter from heat at the open area downstairs.

Countryside wooden houses front yard.

Villager weaving fishing trap.

Cleaning up livestock's excrement for manure.

Sugar palm wrapping.

Children of the Ta Som project.

Fishing at the paddy field.

Children take up responsibility at early age by taking care of their livestock. 

We dropped by Pre Rup on our way back from countryside to town. It was built as a state temple of Khmer king Rajendravarman and dedicated in 961 or early 962, a temple mountain of combined brick, laterite and sandstone construction.

Sunset view from the hotel room.

NIGHT AT PUB STREET 


Some might find this overwhelmed, but here is where everybody is. Lined with restaurants, bars with cheap beer and reasonable food. We had our dinner at Khmer Kitchen BBQ restaurant off the pub street lane, a classy Khmer restaurant offers good food at reasonable price. 

Khmer Kitchen. 

Little girl at the old market.

Chilling at the Red Piano. A big thumbs up for the perfect atmosphere at the corner entrance to Pub Street.

Snake for supper! 

Due to starvation during Khmer Rouge rule, Cambodians turned to spiders, crickets, grasshoppers and other insects for food. Even today these creepy crawlers are favorite snacks for local especially during rainy season.

Music starts thumping around Pub Street and often almost a party atmosphere. 
The X-Rooftop Bar, great atmosphere, strange music.

Here, probably the highest vantage point in the town where you get to see the night in light.

LOST IN SIEM REAP


I got up at 5 before sunrise, glimpse into the morning life of Siem Reap. Here a must do routine on my backpacking days, get lost and blend in the raw culture of locals. 

Islam is the religion of a majority of the Cham, due to the prosecution under Khmer Rouge eroded their numbers, and now there are estimated 1.6% of the population are Muslim. 

Female butcher at the old market.

Inside the old market, traders cleaning and getting their store ready.

Little kids at the Old Market frolicking on the cutting board.

Traders at Old Market.

At the random street of Siem Reap.

Students are queuing up for exam day.

Waffle maker by the field.

Sunrise at Taphul Village.

Getting ready for school.

An old temple at Taphul Village.

Villagers enjoying breakfast in front of the temple.

Monk at the temple.

Breakfast stall at roadside.

We had our best Khmer Fish Amok at Temple Club, if you tend to dine in, avoid dinner hour, go in by lunch or breakfast.

Unfortunately we went to the national museum on our last day, should've gone in the first day before temples run, it summarizes all the seeings in several exhibitions. No photography is allow at the museum, this i understand but demands to get my camera equipment stored on an open cabinet (because their security lockers are full), which they also will not be responsible for lost, this i am furious. Just don't bring bag for your museum visit. 

Next on, high tea! I was attracted by its Khmer wooden architectural design when i was lost in Siem Reap in the morning, luckily i manage to find it afterwards. It is an immediate sense of relaxation take off by its beautiful design and comfortable setting, the food and coffee were perfect. We spent hours here, chilling. 


Interior of Rohatt Cafe, it turns out, wasn't too far from Old Market.

Evening past-time at the river bank.

MUCH MORE NIGHTLIFE


We picked up some leaflet at the X Rooftop bar a day earlier, and found some highly recommended local cuisine called Sugar Palm, it took us a really long walk to find this place. 

Finding Sugar Palm.

To my surprise, Sugar Palm is on 4 stars on Trip Advisor, and a Certificate of Excellent 2013. Boy! That sucks! It was probably the worst food we ever tasted in the whole Siem Reap. Frankly, a dollar roadside noodle soup was a lot way better. The decoration is airy and beautifully surrounded by Sugar Palm trees. Too bad the food is poor, Amok, Beef, Satay are under standard. Such a hype on Trip Advisor!

Back to Pub Street, Triangle BBQ Bar for beers and live band.

LEAVING


We spent 3 full days in Siem Reap, it was amazing to see Angkor Wat, complex over such a vast area. We didn't have enough time to check out all the temples, heard that would take a week. Siem Reap is not the only gateway to Angkor, it also a golden gateway to Tonle Sap and cultural countryside. I'm glad i got to catch a glimpse on Cambodians culture and experience a new country. This is an experience of lifetime, as Angkor Wat's popularity on its rise, you should probably go before too late. Sooner or later, there will be too much tourist and it becomes touristy. 

The Hangover.

Regards,
JW.

2 comments:

Ez Vina said...

Great photos. Thanks for the info, very useful for my next trip.

HeeJW said...

Thanks, Enjoy your trip! :)