Monday, December 18, 2006

Day 02 -Templeland - Getting Started

Blundering round in the dark of the hotel garden before dawn, I came across a tower just the other side of the pool. Stumbling back, I roused Sheena to climb it with me and watch the dawn.

The landscape was black with just a hint of light in the east. Stars, something we've missed in Seoul, were bright and that wasn't all that filled the night. First impressions indicated that the nation was a kingdom of chickens and dogs. Huge choirs of canines and cockerels competed to welcome December the 18th 2006. The dogs won, but not by much.

Eventually though, the darkness receded and we could see that our hotel was way out of town. Sleepy little homesteads, some built, some makeshift, some grass were dotted around a landscape littered with palm trees and tropical plants. It looked like a very peaceful place, despite Cambodia's history.

We were due to meet our guide and driver at 8:30 so we headed for breakfast on a lovely terrace in our gorgeous hotel. It turned out to be just a good as the website promised - if not better. Set in lovely tropical grounds, each room is a separate bungalow made from palm wood and lined with bamboo. Fantastic for less than 20 quid a night!

Chhuot was back as our driver and we had a new guide, Vannak, to take us around the temple complexes of Siem Reap. The most famous of these is Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world and the national symbol of Cambodia.

First though we had to find our bags. Having no luck in either calling the airport or the Bangkok Airlines office, we decided to go there first. They were very nice, even giving us all a free bottle of water each, but told us that we'd have to go back to the airport to pick them up ourselves. It wasn't far and we were glad we'd opted for a driver with a car today instead of something smaller and less useful for carrying luggage.

While waiting for the flight bearing our bags to land, we discovered that Vannak was in fact primarily a guide for Japanese tourists. Soon we were chatting away in Japanese much more fluently than in English. We exchanged languages all day. It was quite bizarre to find Japanese a useful bridge language between Brits and a Cambodian! We also tried our hand at reading and pronouncing some Cambodian. It wasn't as hard as we'd thought. The word for "king" for example is a simple sgynzkkywzgwyhh but pronounced qqydrygslkjwxe. Needless to say we didn't progress much beyond the basic oh kun - thank you.

After that, we headed off to buy our temple passes. These come in several varieties: one day, three day etc and have to be purchased from the office in town which is crawling with tourists. The passes are pretty pricey; our three-day passes were $40 each. But when you consider that this gives you free access to hundreds of square miles of antiquities it must be one of the best admission fees on the planet. A photo is obligatory and they take one for free for you. We sat in the car while Vannak picked ours up for us.

Then we were set to go...

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