Saturday, May 2, 2009

Day 3 - Travelogues - Saigon to Siem Reap (Cambodia)

Cambodia is known as Kampuchia.... did you know that?

So Day 3 at 5 AM our Polish friend landed up at Xinh Hotel... she's quite the traveller and pretty cool... Cambodia was calling and we had a 7 AM bus to take us there from Sinh Cafe (by far the best tour operator I came across).

The ride to Cambodia was really comfortable.. even tho it was 12 hours... the buses are really comfy... I'm one of the worst 'traveller's coz when in transit I usually doze off... so obviously I kept dozing off during this trip but obviously I'm not Kumbhakaran's daughter (Kumbhakaran being a mythical half demon, half human brother of the evil Ravana of the Ramayana fame). The scenery enroute wasa gorgeous... lush green paddy fields... good roads... very cute, quaint eateries which also sold beer...

Altho since I'm a vegetarian I survived on plain rice, some boiled vegetables, loads of chilli sauce and soy sauce... my mates survived on chicken fried rice or baguetes and ommelette!

When we rolled into Kampuchia, I was hit by how similar to Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India it looked... the architecture looked pretty Ahmedabadi... altho don't take my word for it... im no architecture expert... so i stepped out of the bus, at a stop of course... I'm not a whimsical, bus delaying freak, and went looking for cafes... found lots of them... but we reached at about 2 PM and that was their ahem TV watching time... so cafe's dint serve food... they brought out their siesta chairs, arranged them like theatre seats and watched tv - community style... when i went asking for food.. coz it was a cafe.. they gave me blank stares! it was really amusing.

anyway so we went on to Siem Reap and reached by nightfall... Wan be street i thin... the place was really really nice.. . the buses usually drop travellers to the backpackers area and this place did not disappoint. We found a decent hotel called Rhythrin Hotel on street 22 I think (i could be wrong since it's been a while) but really decent place.. $12 per night for 4 people.. so $ 3 a head..! with hot water etc.. quite a steal after the $5 we paid at Saigon...

But Cambodia was really hot...

I forgot to mention the visa regulations... they have visa on arrival... costin about $25 and the bus guys take your passport, the money and take yuo to the visa office... its pretty smooth... and then you walk on a strip of road, on the Cambodia side, which is the casino strip.. its so amusing to watch hordes of women on scooters crossing from Vietnam into Cambodia in the evnings and making the trip back the next morning... walking their scooters along the road! descending on that road from different sides, following a singular path to their 'office'!

And off we went again... after a while to catch a barge to take us across some kinda water body.

Coming back to Siem Reap, the next morning we set out to goto Angkor Wat, the largest temple complex in the world... measuring 10 Kms X 10 kms... the whole complex has loads of stone temples, monuments... the ones i visited are the main temple whcih took almost 600 years to build. Surpringly it was a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the Holy Trinity. Then while Buddhism was gaining popularity, the temple was dedicated to Buddism.. and 700 years later, it is still an awesome site, duly nominated to be one of the 7 wonders of the world.

After the temple complex we went to Bayon which when it was found (I think in the early nineteenth century by a French explorer... but I could be wrong, don't remember where I picked up these snippets from), was covered in wilderness... Bayon basically is a formation of gigantic stone sentinels which were constructed by Jayvarman VII to frighten invaders. Can you imagine stumbling upon the outskirts of a fertile kingdom only to find huge-ass human faces made out of stone, smirking down at you... covered by wilderness... imagining the scene takes me to a film depicting South East Asia... typical setting consists of somebody gettnig lost in the wilderness and coming across gigantic tribal totems which fill him with awe!

After Bayon we set off for Ta Phrom which waas by far my favouritest spot. It too was a temple constructed in the forest centuries ago and today to restore the balance, the forest is reclaiming its original land.. so you have impressive, strong stone structures, getting pulverized by gigantic trees which almost look alien-esque... with silver barks and roots which look like thuosand tentacled feet crushing the stone temples under their feet....

while I was at Ta Phrom, I realized that give me a regular natural setting and a stupendous man-made creation and I would be blown away by nature's wild beauty!

We could've stayed in teh Angkor Wat complex for a while but decided to try and explore other parts of Siem Reap. Unfortunately nothing seemed interesting enough.... but John, our rickshaw driver, really nice guy, took us to a river from where you gotta catch a boat to go onto the lake for boating et al... when we reached there we found the $20 fee too high and decided to skip it.. but the almost hour long ride taking you through authentic Cambodian scenery was fantastic... and 4 carefree students had a blast on the road!

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