The road to Angkor. We walked out of the hotel and down the hot, dusty, noisy street, past Hard Rock Cafe Siem Reap (yes, it’s changed a bit this place – and this one is even more expensive than the one in Singapore!), and to Costa Coffee for a delicious ice latte, but not before I’d popped into a travel agents and booked a flight from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh for two days time. There was no way on earth I’d ever take the boat again. Nor the minibus. I wouldn’t survive the trip. Sat and relaxed in Costa Coffee, reading the local newspaper, until 2pm. Then, tricked into thinking the heat of the day had dissipated along with my combination of heatstroke, flu, and a dodgy stomach from the day before, we took a tuk-tuk arranged by the hotel for what was, looking back, a rip-off $18 just for the afternoon (it should have been $8). But, nevermind. The tuk-tuk drivers win and lose brilliant fares like this, and our driver was to win today – especially as a whole day rate was only $20.
Each time I’ve been here before to see Angkor Wat I’ve set off at the magical hour before sunrise. Then, the excitement as tuk-tuks speed down the road towards the temple complex as though in some kind of computer game builds and builds, the clamour to get to Angkor Wat in time, adults breaking into an excited jog or a comical Monty-Python-esque silly fast walk – like children – to get into the temple grounds. Now, I felt suddenly mature, boring, unmoved by the experience….it could have been the time of day, it could have been because this would be my 4th time seeing this place, or it could have been my growing fever. I wanted to get excited. I needn’t have worried….as we approached Ta Prohm, the temple that is being slowly digested by huge tree roots, I felt the energy and enthusiasm again. I dedicated myself to photography to take my mind off the fever and the relentless heat of the day, and could have spent the whole day at this complex alone, snapping away at the temple, most areas of which looked like they would crumble at any time.
The gnarly roots running down the front of some of the temple structures, keeping them upright yet slowly suffocating them, looked like alien parasites, and they were winning. Areas of the complex here have crumbled away to nothing. The roots have won. This temple will be swallowed whole before long.
Then we went for a late lunch of vegetable-fried rice and then on to Bayon, and our timing was perfect. The sun was setting, and lighting was absolutely fantastic for photography. We couldn’t stick around long enough to enjoy it, but we did get some lovely pictures, lovely angles, and I was more amazed than ever by the incredible detail of the temple.
In trips past I’d stayed here for hours. But not today, we were in a race against time. Finally, we made it to Angkor Wat.
Walking through the first entrance to the main pathway and then seeing Angkor Wat appear like magic through the short dark passageway sent a shudder through me, as it has done every time. It’s a cliche to say it, but there really is something magical about that place. It was getting dark. We were too late to enter the temple grounds proper. Instead, we took photos on the grassy bank of the moat. Angkor and the reflection of it in the calm water.
The tourists milled up and down the main pathway, in and out of the temple, like a huge column of ants. There were an incredible number of them, swarming all over the place, most ignoring the numerous beggars sat at the side of the path, and the disturbing sight of mothers clutching deformed babies whose heads were bigger than watermelons, the babies tiny eyes dull with constant pain, their tiny bodies useless….horrible casualties of the strange condition hydrocephalus. Truly shocking, and terribly sad….these mothers would probably never be able to get the money needed for brain surgery to relieve the fluid build-up in their offspring.
Then that army of tourists all began walking the same way – towards the exit. The temple authorities had closed the temple. It was nearly dark. It was as though the crowd at a footy match had been let out at the same time.
We left as darkness fell.
What a whirlwind tour. I would have liked to have spent a whole day there at least taking my time, taking photos, relaxing and enjoying the moment. But not on this trip. My fever was getting the better of me. I was in a proper state when we got back to the hotel. I stayed in bed until 9:30pm. Vero was patiently waiting, then she got hungry and wanted to go out and get a pizza. I felt absolutely terrible, but forced myself out – I couldn’t let her go out on her own in Siem Reap. Not with people like Todd from Detroit from the Siem Reap Pub Crawl on the hunt.
We walked to Pub Street. I saw a ‘Trattoria’ sign in a side alley, and walked down there and came across ‘Little Italy’, a place famous in Siem Reap for the food and the wine. There, I had 2 bottles of Tiger Beer in a hopeless bid to take away the fever. It’s worked in the past. But not tonight. A pizza, the best carpaccio I’ve ever had, and some delicious ravioli followed. It was the best meal of the trip, but I felt terrible and couldn’t enjoy it. At least I’d made it out. Vero was happy. I was happy (as much as one could be with a high fever). We walked briefly to the night market. The sights of scorpions and snakes on sticks ready to be eaten, water locusts, black spiders and crickets – all delicious local snack – were like a doner kebab to a blathered tourist trying to impress friends, but they did little to make me feel better.
We’d moved to Room 10 now – further from the mad dog. I slept fitfully – my body not enjoying the horrible combination of heatstroke and flu. It had been a rushed day around the temples. I’d enjoyed it still, but, unable to make the most of it and unable to explore Pub Street, nor take in any local Khmer dancing shows, I felt I’d wasted the day. The moral of the story? Fly from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.