Siem Reap Apr 2007
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I wrote this on my personal blog last year. Decided to transfer it here to share it with fellow TravelBudds. Enjoy...
Written on May 04, 2007
I just came back from my backpacking trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Many were surprised that I actually went there on my own, not worrying about my own safety there. Others thought it was boring to go alone without company. Nonetheless, I think is this the most wonderful trip I had so far and there were many things that I would not have been able to do or experience had I traveled with company. I had to admit that at times I had put myself in some kind of dangerous situations, some of which could have lead to serious consequences. But at least I am back home safely now, with a whole new perception towards life and memories that can last a lifetime.
My trip to Cambodia started really bad as the driver at the airport brought me to a different guesthouse from what I had told him (I did not make any prior reservations for lodging). This was quite expected as some drivers were paid commission for their recommendations. The driver pretended to be really friendly and was chatting with me throughout the journey until he brought me to this unknown guesthouse. He then suggested that I should consider staying there as all his customers liked this place and he could get me a discount. I knew this might have been some kind of a scam as I had read about this on the internet. But been the usual gullible me and thinking that he was a nice friendly person throughout the journey and the guesthouse was near the town central, I decided to walk in to take a look. I was brought in to view a room that was in a mess, but the owner of the guesthouse promised to get it cleaned up. He quoted me US$20 dollars for the room which was a total ripoff!! Sensing that something was wrong, I told him that I was not interested and wanted to leave. He then counter-offered me US$15 for the room (without aircon) which was still a rip off because I checked the rates on the internet prior to the trip and the price for a non- aircon single room is only US$6 to US$8. I walked out of the place immediately and told the driver to bring me to the place I told me about. What really freaked me out then was that the driver said he had to go to the airport to pick up other passengers and told me to find another driver (they were in cahoots). No knowing where I was then and whether I could get another driver, I offered him US$5 (instead of the US$1) to get me out of the place to my desired destination. I could have threatened to complaint him to the authorities as he was an appointed driver by the tourism board, but I didn’t want to offend him and get into more serious trouble. He was even trying to recommend me some other guesthouse along the way pretending that he didn’t know that the previous one was trying to rip me off. I maintained my stand this time round and kept insisting that I only wanted to go one place. Finally I arrived safely in the guesthouse that my friend had recommended (he stayed there few months ago and the place is definitely safe, clean and reasonably priced). What a way to start the trip…
The guesthouse helped to make arrangements for a tuk-tuk driver to bring me around for the next 3 days at a price of US$10 a day and even suggested an itinerary which I can use for reference. My tuk-tuk driver was nice and friendly but his command of English wasn’t very good and there were times where I had problems trying to communicate with him. He was always waiting for me patiently outside the temples while I spent an hour and more exploring inside. I helped him to take a few photos and put it on a CD for him so that he can show it to his family and friends. Haha, looking back at the photos now, I suddenly realized that he looked very much like “Tay Pin Hui”!
The temple visits was fun and enriching, but at the same time, there were risks involved. I started off by visiting the famous Angkor Wat temple on Day 1. I was surprise that there weren’t many people that day which made it even better to take some nice decent photos. Angkor Wat is huge! The place was like a giant maze. Every turn reveals yet another place to explore. I think I spent 2 hrs or more looking at the carvings on the walls and walking through the entire compound. One thing I regretted not doing was to climb up the central tower which was about several stories high. The steps leading to the top was so narrow and there wasn’t any hand support at the sides. This made it almost impossible to climb. In addition, there was a signboard next to it saying “Warning!!! Climbing at your own risk”. Although there were many who climbed up despite the warnings, I decided to just stay put partly because of the fact that I was traveling alone and no one would be there to help should any mishap were to happen to me. Then again, I just could not resist the temptation of a view from the top and still did come climbing at the other temples eventually. Thankfully I am still alive! There was always a risk of tripping over and falling off from the edges if one is not careful. Thinking back now, I remember there were some occasions whereby I was standing less than 30 cm from the edges just to get a good shot on the camera.
The next site I visited was “Angkor Thom” (a compound even bigger than Angkor Wat), which consisted of several smaller temples and sites. The most interesting one was probably “Bayon”. This temple site has more than 200 giant faces carved on the towers and the view was just spectacular.
I visited about 15 or even more temple sites in 3 days and probably can write a book just by describing each temple I visited. Some sites were rather small and some were huge, some were in very bad condition while some were still well preserved. What was disappointing to see was the results of theft which left many temple with missing statues. Most of the statues had missing heads while some had only the feet left remaining. Thieves had scraped off the faces of gods, goddesses and other carving on walls. Mother nature did not spare the temples too as some of the structures were destroyed by the effects of the sun and rain.
The other thing that made me heartfelt was to see kids begging for food and money in temples. Some of these kids are just 3 years of age or even younger. They were dressed in dirty clothes and without any footwear. Some looked sick and under nutrition. But there were also other kids whom were trying to persuade the tourist to buy postcards and other souvenirs from them. I wasn’t surprised that some of the kids could speak good English and was all out to impress the tourist with their knowledge of the country the tourists were from. I tried hard to not to give money to most of the kids because I did not want to encourage them to continue begging in the temple when it becomes a good source of income for them. Like most people, I believe that education is the best way to fight poverty. I spoke to two or three of these kids, asking them about their age, family and why they are not going to school. All gave the same reason of not having enough money to survive let to say going to school. I ask a little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up and she told me that she wanted to be a tour guide! Some of these kids have great ambition but are just too poor to afford a proper education. I help this little girl to take a photograph and showed it to her on the screen. The delight on her face as she softly whispered “Thank you” melted my heart instantly. I gave her my water and biscuits.
I missed out something really interesting that happened in one of the temples I visited. There is always a person outside each temple who will ask for your temple pass before you can enter (Yes, its not free. A 3 days temple pass cost US$40). Most of these temple security personnel are friendly. They usually smile and ask where you are from when checking your temple pass. There was this guy in one of the temples who was checking my pass and asked where I was from. I told him I was from Singapore and carried on walking towards the entrance. To my surprise, I suddenly heard a familiar tune coming out from nowhere. It was Wu Ke Qun's song! I turn back and saw him holding on to his handphone smiling and me. I didn't know Wu Ke Qun is famous in Cambodia too! Haha, I should have sent him Sun Yan Zi's latest song "Ni Guang" and tell him to play it to other Singaporeans!
Traveling is all about seeing new things and meeting new people. Every trip is a lesson in life. During my trip to Cambodia, I chatted up with a number people from different backgrounds. Some were locals, some were tourists and each had a different story to tell. I got to know this group of young volunteers from the UK (3 gals and a guy) whose was staying in the same guesthouse as me. They had been in Cambodia for several months already and were teaching English to the kid in schools for some voluntary organization. I had a nice conversation with them over dinner one day and they were telling me about some of the social issue that teens are facing in the UK. It was also nice talking to other tourists I met in the temples, asking them where they were from, what they do etc. While having dinner in a Thai restaurant one day, I was served by this young lad whom chatted with me while preparing my food. He told me that he came from a poor family and his parents are farmers living in the rural village area. He didn’t want to live in poverty and left his family to come here so that he can work and support himself study. He only earns US$60 a month by working as a waiter at night. I was happy for him because he understood the importance of a good education and had great aspirations to become a successful person so that his family can have a better life. I spoke to several other locals and got to know that most of them earn very little each month. In fact, their one month salary is actually what I get in one day!
I am hoping to write more so that I can come back and read these entries in the years to come and be able to recall how much fun I had. But I do have to stop somewhere, else I would just go on and on forever. Guess I have wrote down enough about this trip. I will leave the rest in my brain and hope it doesn’t get overwritten. I am planning for my next trip already…Laos in Nov or Dec??