Yesterday we did our last day at Angkor Wat, in the jungle in temperatures of about 38’C which is the hottest temperature ever recorded anywhere in the world, I expect.
This time we did the outer circle of temples, only three of them but we covered a distance of about a hundred and fifty km in a tuk tuk, which is very bad for your spine and very bad for your nerves.
Past villages of huts on stilts, water buffalo (someone told us why water buffalo is used in a disparaging way to describe white men – cos they’re big and stupid and easy to manipulate), anthills with a tree growing out of each one, coconut sellers, stalls selling hats, t shirts, trinkets, doo dahs and dangley things, and birds made of grass and painted. All kinds of stuff.
Lady’s Temple was first. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful, with some of the best preserved carving of all the temples, and an old old lady, the most wrinkled and gummy old lady I’ve ever seen sat singing so beautifully for a few Riel.
Me with my broke back pink Stetson
And then to the foot of a hill where we had to climb one and a half km in the hottest temperature ever recorded, through tangles of roots (watch yourself) and scrambling over rocks.
And every hundred meters there was a sign to tell you that it’s a lot further to the top than you were hoping it was.
The top was a place where a stream flowed over a waterfall about fifteen feet high, and there were carvings scattered around in the water, thousands of small round shield things called lingas, which are phalluses. These were very stylized but the ones in the museum are a lot more, erm, naturalistic, shall I say. I’ve not had chance to read up about the place yet but there’s no temple, just scattered sculptures and carvings. Oh, and butterflies. Hundreds of butterflies, shimmering and trembling in the heat. We spent an hour or so there. A young Cambodian man started to explain things to us until I asked him if he was going to want money, then he went away. They fool you by wearing a shirt with an embroidered badge on it. For all we knew it’s a patch saying all white men are fat and sweat a lot. Which is true.
I’m struggling now to remember the last temple we went to but it was another impressive one in the Bayon style and probably built by Rayavarman VII, who was Buddhist. Mostly the kings were Hindu and later, Rayavarman VIII went round defacing the Buddhist carvings.
And there are monkeys around! On the first day we stopped at a cafe for water and a cheese and tomato sandwich, which was odd too. We were bought a baguette and some cheese spread and some chopped tomatoes, and given a knife to make it yourself. Why, I do not know. I thought we’d paid for a sandwich, not some bleedin ingredients.
A monkey strolled into the little village. He wasn’t welcome, you could tell and it was easy to see it was a he as well, because of the prominence of his huge testicles.
The villagers kept a wary eye on him but there wasn’t a lot they could do as he sauntered up and stole some fruit off a stall. He was a big monkey and he had big teeth as well as big testicles. I got a great shot of a woman aiming a catapult at him. She fired a few times and the monkey kept a wary eye on her, and just dodged the rocks deftly and got on with what he was doing while she reloaded, and then he’d get ready to dodge again. It was a game you could see had been played before.
At all of the temples there are people trying to sell you things, not only books but all the things I mentioned earlier, and cold water. ‘You wan co wah da? Sir sir, co wah da, ok when you come back maybe? Buy fro me. Ok’ And then you come back and they say that you’d said you’d buy from them. ‘No I didn’t, you said that. I said I’ve already got water in my bag’ And they look at you as though you’ve really really hurt them and they will never again be able to trust anyone, lip trembling, as though they’re about to break down and sob their heart out.
At one of the temples the tourist police were around, and the sellers were a bit more careful. That’s to say they didn’t follow you down the track, saying ‘two wan darlur’, then ‘three wan darlur’, then ‘ok fuh wan darlur’ as you’re about to get back into the tuk tuk. No, they didn’t hassle you, but as we came round the back of the temple, there were a couple of police, one smiled at us so we smiled back and then he tried to sell us police badges, the cloth ones and the metal ones too! I couldn’t help it, I began to laugh. Nel pointed out I should perhaps be a bit more respectful to a man with an AK-47. I can’t remember whether he was carrying one or not but you do see them being carried by grinning policemen. It’s all very odd.
Siem Reap as I’ve said, is very much geared towards tourists. I’ve also said that Khmer food isn’t very appetizing. Happily there are some excellent Indian restaurants. There are strong cultural ties between India and Cambodia and really, the Indian food is the best we’ve ever had, and I’m sorry to not have better things to say about the native food. We tried it, we did and I wanted to like it. So yesterday we left Siam Reap by bus for Phenom Penh, arriving here early evening. Before we left there was a power cut, so no fan, no lights, no WiFi, but worse of all, no water. We went down for coffee and scrambled eggs with sugary bread – they put sugar and/or salt in everything, bread, fruit, they even put salt in lemon juice for gods sake, as we found out last night. We asked for two lemon juice and were asked if we wanted it sweet or sour. We said sour because we’d learned that sweet is very sweet but what we didn’t know is that sour means with salt in it. Nice.
They think white men are weird because we eat fruit without sugar on it. So, no water and a seven hour bus journey. I’m afraid I left the bathroom in the kind of condition that I wouldn’t want to find it in, but the water is pumped to a storage tank on the roof, see. We spoke with the lovely sweet girl who served us breakfast and she told us that the power has been off for five weeks before now, giggling she was. Her husband is one of the tuk tuk drivers and they come from a village.
They have two children, the oldest is with them but the youngest has to stay with her mother. She giggled as she told us that her mother finds it hard to cope, and when she told us that baby has begun to climb out of his cot she giggled too. She just liked giggling I think. She asked us if we’d been able to shower and giggled when she said she hadn’t either. Really sorry about the bathroom.
We arrived in Phenom Penh about six, planning on staying at the guesthouse owned by the bus company. This time we’d just gone to the bus station and paid five dollars each instead of booking through an agent and paying twice that so we figured that we’d stay here, and not haul our packs around the city. They only had a room with three double beds in it, so we stayed there and set the alarm so we could wake and move to the next bed for a couple of hours. In this manner we slept on all three and this morning we were able to swap for a single room with aircon and a tv (television) so we can see BBC news whilst not sweating if we feel like it, for 8 dollars a night.
Still there hasn’t been a single guesthouse we’ve stayed at in Cambodia where the bathroom fittings, sinks and shelves have actually been fastened to the wall at all, everyone single wash basin has been hanging off the wall. I expect if we paid more dollar per night they’d screw them on for us. And many of the places have had doors that really don’t feel like they’d stand up to a shove. At the last place someone had inserted a screw behind the door closer to push it out enough for the latch to engage. On the last night we couldn’t close the door. At this place though there there are about ten staff hanging around so it feels more secure.
Nel disrespectfully performs a Tina Turner routine on the temple ruins