Ancient Angkor: Part 1

24 12 2008

Siem Reap, Cambodia

The fun started as soon as we pulled into the harbor. Gage and I looked up to the riverside and saw a horde of tuk-tuk drivers hauling in the direction of the dock. Before the boat was even tied off, drivers were jumping on board and quizzing people down about who needed a ride. Having made reservations we were unintimidated and safe. Or so we thought. Due to a slight miscommunication our hotel had failed to arrange a pickup at the docks. We looked for our name on a sign board but saw nothing. After a few minutes of pushing the drivers away and saying that we had arrangements for a ride with Mandalay Inn, a young driver magically appeared with a Mandalay business card saying he was there for us. Yeah right. Where is the sign with our name on it? Oh, he was late and decided to forgo the sign in order to get to us quicker. Being the scam-hardened travels we are, I plucked the business card from the boy’s hand and called Mandalay. No, that kid was not associated with him, but the manager of the hotel spoke with the kid and arranged for him to take us. When the kid got off the phone, he explained that he would take us to Mandalay…if we used him to take us around the temples. We told him we’d think about it. He said he didn’t believe us. The kid was surprisingly ashamed when we pointed out that he was the liar. A little more chatting with the manager and chastising from us and we were on our way. Welcome to Siem Reap, the heart of Cambodia.

It’s amazing how often Gage and I have to trust people who we don’t know and are generally unhappy with us. I always wonder if the bargaining we do will incense the person were riding with and they will pull off in the middle of nowhere and demand that we get off, leaving us stranded. I envisioned this scenario as Sii, our teenage black pot, drove us to Mandalay Inn. Luckily there was a light at the end of the tunnel, which was our hotel. The room was a bit cramped (though spotless) and the location was a bit out of the way, but to stay at a place where we were treated as appreciated guests instead of human ATM’s was beyond glorious. The owner of the hotel also won a special place in our hearts. After seeing and reading about so many broken families in Cambodia, it was nice to watch this guy fawn all over his kids. He even speaks to them in English so that they learn the language. Great guy and a great place.

While in Battambang, I picked up a quirky little guidebook called To Asia With Love, which was all about SE Asia. It wasn’t put together very well, but did have some suggestions about what temples to visit. One temple that was emphasized was a place called Beng Melea. It is 2 hours outside of Angkor, where the majority of the temples are, which means it is largely untouristed despite being quite large and photogenic. It had me at untouristed.

Our hotel arranged a tuk-tuk for us and two hours later we were wandering down an ancient path in the jungle towards our first temple. For anyone who has been following our blog, you may remember a city we visited in Thailand called Sukhothai where there was a city of ancient temples. Since many were Khmer style temples, we worried that we might be underwhelmed. Walking up to the main entrance of Beng Melea dispelled any of those fears.

This massive temple is in ruins and quite overgrown with tree roots and vegetation. In most places you have to climb over fallen temple walls and piles of rocks to get through the various tunnels and rooms. They’ve also built a boardwalk that sits on top of a bunch of the ruins like a rooftop and provides an awesome view of the courtyards and structure of this ancient wonder. This is no Americanized tourist site with guard rails and warning signs, Beng Melea requires a little bit of the Indiana Jones/Lara Croft spirit just to get around. It’s absolutely thrilling.

Of course the downside of this is that we went to Beng Melea first. Being in a jungle temple for 2 hours where we saw exactly 11 tourists the whole time, kind of made the pretty, clean cut, popular temples a bit bland. There were some highlights, though….

To be continued tomorrow. For more pictures from Beng Melea, click here.

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One response

25 12 2008
shannon bone

Merry Christmas to you all. We love the updates and think of you often. Jen, I wear my Whitewater Center Jacket all the time and love it when someone asks me about it. Hugs!

The Bones

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