Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Siem Reap

Tonle Sap Lake

Day 10 Thursday 25 December 2014

Happy Christmas and for us a day of transition.  We leave Siem Reap by cruise boat to head south along the Tonle Sap lake and river with seven days of cruising ahead of us.

Although pre-warned the low level of water prevents the river cruiser – Mekong Prestige II – being able to negotiate the Tonle Sap lake and so we are  loaded into a motorboat which is not particularly comfortable (not enough knee room for tall western sized people) and told that we have a three hour or so journey to the river cruiser.

There are no pictures of our activities today – it was not quite what we wanted!  It took more like four and half hours to reach the cruiser and not far short of our destination those travelling on the small deck were forced indoors as we saw the first rain of the holiday.The lake is huge and for most of the journey land was only visible on either post or starboard at the horizon.  And the other horizon is water as far as the eye can see.

The commencement of our trip is enlivened by the party sitting in front of us (an apparently excitable Brazilian) and the ladies behind us have an entertaining discussion as both appear to have been allocated the same cabin.  After a while we decide nothing can be done until we get there.  I certainly get the impression that the Brazilian thinks she might be travelling on the Queen Mary rather than a river cruiser!

Eventually we have land on both sides again and we transfer from the motor boat to the cruiser.  She is a well appointed vessel as we had expected (she is less than a year old).  Whilst we might struggle to get across the crew have to get our huge suitcases on board as well – and nothing goes in the drink which is good news.  However due to the cabin mix up one of our cases goes astray so unpacking is a little slower than we might have liked.

Before long we are sat at dinner and the tensions relax.  There is a wide offering and four courses – and even cheese for the end of the meal for me.  We are going to eat well for the next week.   And I rather think we shall sleep well.

Siem Reap Day 2

Day 9 Wednesday 24 December 2014

Another early start and our guide whisks off to Tar Prohm temple.  This is famous as it was used for one of the Indiana Jones films and unlike some of the other sites we can see the impact of the jungle growth on the site.  Approaching the outside of the temple there is a tree which has managed to grow seemingly on the stone blocks – the roots run around the top of the blocks and then eventually dive into the cracks to find sustenance underground.

Elsewhere in the complex it looks like the Spong trees (Spong is a wonderful word bringing to mind the Goons) balanced on walls, look the other side and the roots run down the wall and then through cracks into the ground.

Photographs are here:

As with other temples the original gods were hindu related.  Some restoration continues but I believe there is an intention here to retain a nod to the overground state  as it is intended to reflect some of the lost nature of all of the temples.  They were lost until the mid-nineteenth century after the capital was moved elsewhere from Siem Reap; it is now thought after a 30 year drought followed by very heavy rains which overwhelmed the drainage system – sounds like global warming and then an inevitable correction.  And once the centre was weakened Cambodia as a whole changed.

Our next stop is further away – but worth the journey,  We go to Banteay Srei which is a very well served tourist point – parking, toilets and all organised very well to see a smaller sire which has been well preserved.  This is busy.  The carvings here in the stone are much deeper and have survived well.

There is one story of a carving we are told where the “good” god has to unravel a spell cast on a devil who cannot killed in daytime, or at night, by a man or a woman, nor by an animal, neither indoors, or outdoors (there may well be other conditions!).  So the good god becomes half man, half bull, and kills the devil in a doorway at day break; thereby finding a way around the curse!

When I look at the photos again I may find other points on which to comment.

Our return to the hotel (our least favourite of the trip) shows another odd event.  We have a third bed in our room.  So the hotel fails for a poor breakfast choice (hard boiled runny eggs have soft whites), a dirty sheet on our first night on Jackie’s side of the bed and now an unwanted extra bed, which we ask (and it is) promptly removed.

We spend the afternoon close to the pool in Siem Reap enjoying some sun as it is a awful lot warmer than our earlier locations.  We might even get a little browner.

And we have been promised a Christmas Eve extravaganza.  So cocktails in the normal outside restaurant – the staff have been busy creating a snow scene all around.  Then we head out and around the back of the swimming pool for the food and the entertainment.  The wife has a dislike of flying bugs – mainly because they always bite her and not me!  Anyway this area seems to be inundated with the most spectacular group of insects ever encountered.

Around us are numerous different food stations and this ranges from pasta being cooked in front of us, a charcoal grill which is so busy I cannot get near, bakery, salads.  The kitchen staff have been working flat out all day.  We move around gathering food and then sitting down – whereupon we become sitting ducks for the insects.  The wife nearly loses a glass of wine at one point!

The entertainment at this point is a little disappointing – a couple of girls singing to backing tracks and I could have done without Hotel California being murdered.  Poor.  We were also promised dancing and it became clear that this was where the moeny had been spent.  It was the same high quality team we had enjoyed the previous evening of Apsara dancers.  Yay, the coconut song again!

We decided an early retreat to bed was in order.

Siem Reap – Day 1

Day 8 Tuesday 23 December 2014

Siem Reap is a huge tourist place.  Much, much larger than Luang Prabang.  The draw here are the temples built in 11 – 14th centuries and which then were lost and became covered in overgrowth until rediscovered by the French when they were in power in the mid-nineteenth century.

At the time of construction Cambodia was a much larger country and covered much of what is now considered to be Vietnam to the south east, Laos to the north and Thailand to the west.  The borders have frequently moved as a result of invasions and disputes and the current borders largely derive from the French arrangements in the nineteenth century.

Our hotel has obviously been selected by the operators for convenience to the main attractions, Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat and not for the quality of the breakfast.  Hard boiled eggs which have solid yolks and runny whites (how do they do that I wonder?) and despite the French influence in the region the knack of good fresh bread (particularly croissants) seems to have been lost.

Never mind – hotels are secondary to the sites and our guide redeeems himself for the previous day and we are off to Angkor Thom where we stop outside the walls and indeed the moat.  The construction of these sites was (to my mind) amazingly well engineered.  The weight of water in the moat around the development holds it all in place,  all very clever.  The target for today is the Bayon temple which stood at the centre of the complex.  Originally the temple had 54 towers, each with four faces above – 216 smiling faces.  Not all survive but all were individual.  The photos also show the associated carving throughout the temple.  Again the work was amazing and given its age it is all based on the Hindu religion and Hindu stories.  There are several clever photos possible of people kissing the smiling face which others achieved!

Angkor Thom photographs are at

Outside the Bayon temple we are taken to the location of the Royal Palace, now long gone at the rear of which there were two swimming pools – and even now both contain water, although perhaps not as clean as they were once.

The engineers who designed the entire area used the main river flows into the lagoons / moats around the major Angkors but also to provide strength to the ground to ensure the building weight was held in place and also to ensure that water continued to flow and therefore provided good clean water downstream as well providing all that was required by what became in the mid-fifteenth century a huge city which controlled most of the entire indo-china peninsula.  These people were clever.

Outside is the elephant terrace – a partially enclosed area with elephants engraved along the walls which was probably used as a parade ground and at the end of the terrace another area known incorrectly as the Leper terrace.  Modern investigation has shown that the statue at the top of the area was a respresentation of the god of justice who decided on individual descent to hell or elevation to heaven!  His fingers were missing and so it was believed to be leprosy – but merely damage it seems!  Beneath the statue however were the remains of a creamtorium which has been partially reconstructed.  This elevated section is also opposite the drive to the fifth “Victory” gate where the King would sit to welcome troops returning from battle.

Following a little light shopping our excursion continues with a gondola trip around one corner of the moat.  This is a peaceful interlude but enables us to gain some idea of the scale of the construction.  The water is currently ten or so feet below the top of the surrounding banks showing that we are now in the dry season and the capacity to hold extra water without flooding the area.  On the inner side there is a high wall so the city must have been considered impregnable.  Once we pass the point at which the water flows into this moat from the network system our oarsman is obviously working much more easily.  We progress around the corner but do not stop to see the temple at the corner.

We turn around, so harder work against the current until we again pass the inlet and drift back to our starting point.  Calm and cooler in the heat of the day.

Time for a break to avoid the heat and we leave the hotel again at 3pm to hear for Angkor Wat the very famous temple.  We walk across the entrance bridge, again another huge moat and water supports the construction inside.  Buddhist monks occupied the temple throughout and these are still on site in more modern facilities close by.  Approaching the temple it looks as if there are only three towers but step to one side in front of a smalll lake and there are five – and if the reflections are working well then 10!  Monkeys abound – living on the droppings from the tourists.

Separate album for this:

The temple when originally built was for the hindu religion and therefore the carvings reflect Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and the associated stories.  However the influences came from India with Buddhism and the top of the temple had the Hindu features removed and replaced by a Buddha.  So there are close links to our visit to India last year.

The original steps to the top of the temple look to be impossible – they are steep and the each step is very narrow plus there are no handrails!  I suppose middle age feet (and I do not mean people younger than us) had smaller feet.  Never mind; the authorities have erected some slightly more modern steps, with handrails and we pull ourselves up the steps and into the top of the temple.  The views down make the people very small below.  We wander around the top taking photos (some of these appear on the Flickr page as usual) before we descend and regroup.  We head for the inevitable stalls and for the first time manage to get Angkor coffee – which is lovely and nutty as well as coffee.  For me without the sweetening of the condensed milk which I am told makes it even better.

We return to the viewing point across the lake as we are told that like the Taj Mahal the temple can change colour as we approach sunset and sometimes it gains a wonderful glint.  This obviously needs a completely clear sky (our lovely guide shows us some recent examples) and sadly there is a cloud in the wrong place at the wrong time.  OTOH on reviewing the pictures later the change in colour which I had not seen at the time does appear in one of my pictures.

With the evening settling in we return to the hotel – but there is further entertainment.  We head out to the Aspara dinner and dance.  There are pictures of the menu and the food at Flickr (I will add links when the technology allows), plus a couple of pictures of the dancers.

The food was excellent, in particular we recall the marinated fish.  The dancing was also excellent and we were treated to a number of dances – the fishermen, where boy gets girl (eventually), the coconut song and the dance of the Monkey king plus some others.  A talented troop and they deserve our approbation.

The music however plus our discussions with our guides overe language and the need for significant tonal inflection to distinguish similar words, leads me to be believe however that ears work differently here as the music may have recognisable time signatures but tonally the music always sounds “different”.

By the time we reach bed we are tired.  {This is the second version of this post; rewards will be offered for anyone who finds the original – it was much funnier}.

Luang Prabang to Siem Reap

Day 7 Monday 22 December 2014

Until now all of the holiday arrangements had run well; timetables had been observed, guides knowing well what they were doing and it all has gone very smoothly.

We get to the very nice small airport at Luang Prabang and check in.  Just as we complete this a notice is posted at the desk and we are going to be delayed by nearly two hours.  The guide offers to take us back into town – but we decline – who knows the flight might suddenly be right time again.  He does however notify his office and we hope the message reaches the other end.

So we head through the passport control – only to find that there is not much in the way of refreshment the other side.  Anyway I am a fat unfit b******, so missing a meal will not do me that much harm.  And the passenger information systems continue to tell us that the flight was leaving on time even when we were clearly nearly two hours past that time.

We see the arrival – it is the same plane as the one on which arrived from Hanoi a few days earlier.  It unloads and reloads rapidly so that departure is pretty rapid, recovering some of the lost time.

Consequently our flight arrives in Siem Reap nearly two hours down and thanks to ebola we have to fill in another form to say we have not recently been in West Africa – which means we take ages to exit the airport.  The passport control team are not particularly speedy either.  Once outside our guide is not in evidence and we carry out several checks before electing to get a taxi to our hotel.

The route to our hotel takes us along what seems to be the main drag from the aiport with numerous hotels, all of which have lots of glittering lights, snowmen, reindeers, Santa Claus and Xmas trees – here it seems there is some acknowledgment.

Our hotel is the Tara Angkor which is graded 4 star, but to our mind is perhaps a little lacking in some respects.  Dinner in the hotel and the prices are again unbelievably low.  The wife has a burger for about $4 whilst I stick with rather more local food.

Amazing how a day doing nothing is tiring.  So time for bed.