Chuck Hillig's Travel Blog

Well, I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling over the next 6-7 months so I thought that I'd better re-activate my travel blog. The last time I posted anything here was way back in 2006 when I was traveling through SE Asia. Feel free to read my entries back then about my earlier adventures through India,Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines and Hong Kong. This time (at least for the next six weeks), I'll be traveling through Greece and Turkey.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Temples of Angkor...

Last night, I strolled through the downtown area of Siem Reap. In the last few years, hundreds of new businesses have opened here...mostly catering to the influx of tourists who have come to marvel at the nearby temples. There are even several 3,4, and 5 star resorts that have opened their doors, too. Many ordinary expats have also set up restaurants and bars downtown and every nationality of food is offered at very reasonable prices. For example, you can get a beer for about US$0.75 and "Happy Hour" usually goes from 2 P.M. to closing. A full meal will set you back about US$3.00. The US dollar is king here, and our currency is easily intermixed with the Cambodian Riel which has a steady 4000:1 exchange rate. Some observations: 1) Although they drive on the right side of the road here like they do in Vietnam and Laos (thanks to their earlier association with the French), the cars still have their steering wheels mounted on the right side of the car instead of on the left. 2) The main canal in town has the same kind of white Christmas tree lights dangling down near the water that I had first seen at the lake near the Old Quarter in Hanoi. Very pretty at night. 3) Cambodia is a poorer country than Thailand and there are a lot more beggars and street children hawking the usual stuff: (e.g. knock-off versions of the Lonely Planet travel books, pirated DVDs and audio CDs, etc.) Obviously, the western Farangs (foreigners) totally stand out and, consequently, are immediately targeted. The kids are notoriously persistent in looking for your business and, as they did when I was in Shianouckville and Phnom Penh in the south, they quickly resort to guilt-tripping you if you don't buy from them. And, if they discover that you've bought something from one of their friends, then the gloves really come off. However, I've found that if you make it a kind of game and do a lot of smiling, you can usually get them to move on pretty quickly. 3) Around 4-5 P.M. every afternoon, there are tens of thousands of birds that rise up and flock above the city. It looked like a scene out of "The Birds." From the ground, they actually look like large bats, but I'm quite sure that they're not. Unfortunately, none of the locals that I asked on the street could tell me what they are. Quite an amazing sight.
This morning, I set my alarm for 4:30 A.M. I had arranged to have a tuk-tuk driver pick me up at the hotel at 5 A.M. to drive me out to the temples to see the sunrise behind Angkor Wat. It was truly breathtaking and everyone was moved by the experience. I had a quick breakfast at one of the many little open-air restaurants that have grown up around all of the temples to provide food and drink and souveniers to the busloads of tourists. There are many different temples that comprise Angkor and they're spread out over a lot of area. The temples are all linked by a recently-paved road that has been cut through the Cambodian jungle. It's impossible to imagine putting together such magnificent structures a thousand years ago without the use of modern machinery. The stone blocks are immense and were all fitted together with great precision. The bas-relief carvings on the walls are the work of master artisans. The most famous of the temples are, of course, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom...the latter of which served as a backdrop for Angelie Jolie's "Tomb Raider." One of the expat Brits that I had met shared some stories of the production company when they had stayed at his hotel during the filming. More later...

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