Thursday, 11 September 2014

Siem Reap: Adventure Land

Finally, we reached Siem Reap after spending 5 exciting days in Oorong village. First thing we do? SPA!! At least that’s what we had in mind. But oh well, we only have time to take a stroll at the old market before we head down for the ATV!!

To be honest, I had ride an ATV prior at Krabi, and… the experience was just so so.. I didn’t want to join in this time round but I didn’t want to be a spoil spot as well, so I went. Actually I was glad I went this time, it changed my opinion about ATV. It was kinda fun!

 I think I have a tendency to attract weird stuff, or maybe I’m just a magnet for adventure and story-telling.
We headed out in a convoy of 6 in which 4 of us had an instructor tagged to us. Yes, you can choose to ride alone if you have a driving license but I’m a scaredy cat. Anyway I’m not the only one with license and still opt for an instructor. So, doesn’t matter.

I was the 5th in line and there was just this one girl behind me. We “tailed-gated” one another but not long after we headed out, my little adventure began. The girl behind us crashed into a small drain. My instructor and I thought that it was apt for us to wait up to ensure their safety and so we did. After they picked themselves up, we let them go ahead but soon after, she crashed into yet another drain on a narrow road. I think, being “paiseh” (slang for embarrassed), she told us to run along. But by this time, the 4 ahead of us were long gone. I could barely see them anywhere. I can only follow my instructor’s directions wrt. where to go.

 And so we did.

We stopped by the first paddy field to “wait for my friends” but they didn’t turn up. Apparently their instructors took them another way. I took some photos while waiting before we headed back to our ATV trail again.

By the 2nd stopover, I was freaking out a little inside because my friends didn’t turn up again and seriously doubting my instructor on the inside imagining all the worst things that could happen. But then I realized I’ve got no chance out here myself. Sigh. I could write a whole thriller story in my head at this moment. Thankfully, after awhile I felt much more relieved when I saw another group of ATVs ramped passed us.

Thank god at the third stopover I finally met up with my friends. No idea why even the last girl joined up with the rest of the group and I was the only one who strayed. But anyways, ATVs along the paddy was really quite fun! Apart from the little freaked out event that happened to me. I wouldn’t say the sunset was awesome, but it was not bad and not bad it is indeed.

PS: I was quite thankful that I “strayed” ‘cus I later found out from the rest of them that they took mainly the main roads, and there was not much of a view to see, just dust and roads and more dust. I, on the other hand, kinda ride through the paddy fields for the entire length of time. I’ve even got time to take photos and be self-absorbed in the greens and blues that we city-dwellers craved.

We headed towards Pub Street for our dinner and we had MEXICAN FOOD!

My gawd, all my friends knew how much I love authentic Mexican cuisine. I wasn’t really expecting much to be honest, but I have a huge surprise. IT WAS AWESOME!

Price: Reasonable (~USD10 per pax)

Apart from the quantity of the sauces, the taste of the food there was, oh well, authentic enough! It was such a awesome day for me. I’m a happy girl!

After our dinner, the people from the center (Read: 5 days in Oorong) came to pick us up to go to the local night market together with some of the kids from the center.

On our second day, we visit the legendary Angkor Wat. Renowned as the largest religious monument in the world, or rather, made even more famous by the movie Tomb Raider. I’m not going to go on and on regarding the history of Angkor Wat. Go and visit yourself or read more. But one piece of advice, pictures says a thousand words, but experience lasts a lifetime.

The guide actually advised us to go early morning (=5am, waking up at 4am. Fml) to watch the sunrise. So I actually suggested watching the sunset. *chuckle* I really don’t fancy waking up at 4am to catch the sunrise, especially after 4 days of manual labour. AND YOU CAN DO THAT! Watching sunset I mean, but of course at a different location.

We got a great tip from our guide when we arrived. He told us that the most mesmerizing sun rise will take place every 21 March and 21 September. I’m guessing it’s the beginning of summer and winter, which many other temples and monuments based their layout and facings.

Angkor Wat

Like most people who are mistaken and wanna argue with me, Angkor Wat IS a temple, not a grand palace. (sorry to disappoint some of you) And also, it points to ONE specific temple, known as Angkor Wat. It is NOT the name of this entire compound including the grand city Angkor Thom and other famous temples including Ta Prohm a.k.a “Tomb Raider” temple.

The temples were magnificent with sculptures and carvings. YOU NEED TO SEE IT TO FEEL IT

We were glancing around and I had the split second chance to take this photo. Believe me, I was on low consecutive shutter speed, and by the time my second shutter goes on, he was gone already. And this is my million dollar shot. 

NO, you do not need to wear long pants and cover your shoulders UNLESS you wanna visit the summit. SO, YES, you need to bring along pants and dress modestly if you wanna visit the summit of Angkor Wat. AND WHY NOT?? You spent hours of flight and definitely at least half hour drive and $20 to get in, SO WHY NOT?

Angkor Thom - Bayon

Okay I really feel damn proud of myself for answering the guide correctly. He said no one has ever answered him correctly after being a guide for 2 years. I’m really so damn proud of myself. Okay, enough of that. So what’s the million dollar question.

When 2nd king took over the throne, he took up Hinduism and hence chiseled off all Budhha figures in the entire city, which is most evident in Bayon. However, you may realized that the most prominent cravings in Bayon is the 4-faced Buddha on top of each of the astonishing 37 towers. Why didn’t the king then destroyed them?”

And the answer was simple. “The king made the same mistake as I did. He thought that it was Brahma.”
(Note: Brahma was often depicted with 4 faces, Vishnu, 8 arms)

Ta Prohm
And the legendary Tomb Raider temple.

But, we all have to admit it, if not for Tomb Raider that filmed here, I doubt it will receive half the attention (Note: More than a MILLION visitor annually) it is receiving today. It is magnificent. The temple engulfs you. But I really doubt it is a popular tourist attraction if not for the film. But I’m still forever grateful.

The intertwining trees and architecture has created something so beautiful. For one, I agree with the guide to the question of whether or not the trees will chopped off to better the restoration efforts of the temples and their reply was just a simple no.

He explained that while the trees had destroyed much of the temples, over time, they had become the pillar of support for the crumbling monuments. More so, tourists, me alike, has exclaimed how beautiful the integration was between the nature and man-made. Truly, if not for the trees that goes around the temple, Ta Prohm will be most likely be left in solitude and look like any other (=ordinary) temple and enjoy much lesser attention that it has now.

Phnom Bakheng – Sunset mountain

You CAN take an elephant up the mountain. You CAN! But please don’t. I’ve seen many elephants being exploited and tortured in the cruel means of tourism. Please don’t add on to it. UNLESS you really can’t hike up the mountain then I guess you have no choice. But please, if you can, don’t ride the elephants.

So we didn’t! Yes, I am a happy girl.

*NOTE: You need to wear pants or skirt over your kneecaps as well as covered shoulders. They are rather strict ‘cus I saw them screaming at a lady. Okay maybe not screaming, but louder than usual voice. I don’t think anyone needs those tone and voices to ruin the sunset so you better come prepared.

The hike wasn’t extremely tedious but I sure won’t say it’s easy either. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE who reached the sub-peak was drenched in sweat, like the sun in Angkor Wat wasn’t enough. Why did I say sub-peak. Oh.. ‘cus when you thought you have reached the end of the mountain road, there is this steep stairs, really steep stairs, I would say about 3 stories high waiting for you, gleaming happily in the sunlight. Mehh.. You need to queue to get up and they close at 5pm sharp. When we reached, the queue was moderate I would say, by the time it was our turn to climb, the queue was ridiculously long. So, it’s better to get there earlier.

And did I tell you that the sun sets at around 630pm? Yea, so you need to spend about another 1.5 hours at Phnom Bakheng. It’s not like it’s not beautiful, but there’s nothing much to keep you occupied for 1.5hours. So our guide, being as experienced as he is, told us we could buy some snacks and/or drinks to pull us through our wait.


There were loads of people as you can see, waiting for the renowned sunset of the temples. 

And the worst that could happen, happened. Oh well, at least it didn’t rain. *fingers crossed* but the sky was filled with clouds, so as the sunset goes, we didn’t actually catch it.

I found this particular spot that I knew, really I knew would give me a winning shot and because of that I need to wait, and so we did.

 But I was quite mad when I was taking this shot. Waiting for about an hour for the sun to set enough to take this shot, I wanted to take the perfect shot. So I tried different angles, and to my dismay, many people started squeezing me out of my spot. YES! They saw me there and wanted to do the same. That was fine. What I was damn freaking angry was that the people who had their shot refused to move out of the shot. WHAT ARE THEY THINKING, SERIOUSLY. I do not want to mention their country and I can recognized them by their irritating-ness around the world. Their renowned disrespect for other people and monuments and whatsoever you name it. And ended up this is my shot.

We took the same stairs down and headed back out hostel. Sobx.

We met up the people from the center AGAIN!! We went for mookata (Thai BBQ) buffet dinner at the outskirts, not far from the center and local market. We had our fills and you know what, it only costs *drum roll please* $4.50 per pax. *ROUND OF APPLAUSE PLEASE*

By the time you knew it, it’s time to leave, not us though. HAHA. okay, sorry. The girls are leaving for Phnom Penh and the guys back to Singapore. To minimize daylight on the roads, the girls have decided to take the early bus out to Phnom Penh that departs at 6am I think.

We didn’t bid goodbye. =p it’s too early. Pity.

ANYWAY, we have the whole morning with the boys before they leave for Singapore and guess how we spent our morning. YOU GUESSED IT RIGHT, I supposed. Haha. Brunch and SPA! We chilled at a local restaurant for some awesome breakfast before we headed over to our most anticipated Kaya Spa to end their trip. But 人算不如天算 (meaning man proposes and god disposes). Reservations should be made. There were no slots until much later. SO, we went to the hotel we gonna check into and check out their spa. And not bad, not bad indeed. We each did a massage and scrub. Gawd I loved the scrub! We came out all smooth and shiny. Wheee!! (Ps: I will keep the hilarious details of the massage to myself.)
It’s time for the guys to leave again. 2 goodbyes in a day.

But life has to go on. We checked in afterwards and the room was AWESOME! It was huge for a deluxe room. HUGE. And the service was awesome too. They take you for a tour around the room? WTH right. Who brings you to tour around the room? But well, they did. J I’m so glad we made the right choice!! (FYI each night was only about 50USD. Awesome deal. Go for it! Much recommended!!) (Read: Hotel reviews in Cambodia for more information!)

We washed up and off we go for our own mini adventure for two!

We headed to Tonle Sap, the biggest lake in Cambodia, also the largest in Asia for our beloved sunset. On our way there, we requested our private guide to take us to the lotus farm that was much recommended by this other volunteer whom we met the previous night. And let me tell you, this has to be one of the greatest sights you have to see in your life. It was just simply breathtaking. Maybe I’m 山姑 (shangu = mandarin dialect/ slang akin to frog in the well; no insights of the world; etc.) But I don’t care. I L O V E this place.

To be honest, unless you told the guide you wanted to visit this place, likelihood is that you will missed it with the car zooming right passed it, not knowing what you missed. To start with, there isn't a proper entrance - or anything of the sorts, it's just a small path + sign by the road side. 

You need to pay 1000riel or USD0.50 to “get in”. A little boy will come out and greet you with a lotus flower in his hands. They’re for you at no extra charges. It’s unlike any tourist attractions; you don’t get proper road or walkways to start with. There is just one small and narrow road for you, just follow the little boy(s).

He kept plucking the flowers for me and my friend we felt so paiseh and all of a sudden he came back with a lotus bud. And our guide told us to eat it. After spending 5 days in a rural village in Cambodia, nothing much comes as a surprise and challenge and so we did. For the first time in our lives, we ate it. We ate a lotus bud fresh out of mud.

It actually tastes quite nice. A little crunchy with a faint fragrance of the lotus flower.

And we headed to our main destination!

Tonle Sap.

We took a boat out. PRIVATE BOAT. We didn’t exactly charter a boat, in fact I’m not sure if we did. We paid our guide and he took care of everything, which was GREAT! But I still don’t think we chartered a boat. It’s just that there wasn’t much of a crowd.

We headed out to the floating village and you see a village. There’s schools, restaurants and whatsoever you name it. We heard from the same volunteer that recommended us the lotus farm that you will be asked to “donate” to purchase rice for the school and the children who have little to eat but truth is that they have more than enough, like a scam? Maybe? And you might be asked to pay to see the crocodiles and fishes being reared. Thank god, we suffered from none of these she warned us about.

There’s this small platform on top of the crocodile farming area where you can have a birds’ eye view of the area. It’s not really tall, but you can have an idea what’s going on around here.

Finally we reached the main lake. The boatman shuts down the engine. We lazed in the boat, and waited for our sunset.

I have to admit it, when our guide says this is his favorite place to watch sunset, I have to agree. It wasn’t magnificent like Angkor Wat, but it was serene. Pure serenity.

We ended our day having buffet watching the traditional Apsara performance.

To be honest, it was like the worst dinner we had for the entire trip. We don’t understand the show, and there was a long queue at the buffet, there were loads of people, I don’t really enjoy it.

Day 3

We woke up rather early (like 8am. Fml) on a Sunday to visit Phnom Kulen (Kulen Waterfalls) and Kbal Spean (Thosand Lingas) but to be honest, quite worth it. We had an eventful day.

The journey was about 1.5hours away from our hotel and the roads were rather winding up a hill (imagine Genting Highlands). We actually passed by the Thousand Lingas first but we headed on to the hill to visit the sleeping Buddha.

We walked through a small built up village selling souvenirs and food items, and you reach the foot of the mountain. Don’t worry, it’s just a small climb to the mountain. We were really lucky, or unlucky, we came on a festival of the gods, so there were quite a number of people worshipping the gods.

Some background of this place, this is the start of the Ankor Empire, but not the start of the Ankor Civilization, as what we understood from our guide. I’m not 100% sure, but what he said was that Ankor civilization started off somewhere else, later on moved to Phnom Kulen to settle and started the Empire, which the story goes, later moved on to Siem Reap and then Phnom Penh.

So, my adventure continues to the Peak where we come face to face to the Sleeping Buddha. You are supposed to remove your footwear at the foot of the stairs so my guide, being the guide, asked a little girl to help us take care of our slippers while we ascend to the peak. So where did the girl come from?

*15minutes before our climb* As we alighted from the car, a group of ladies and girls alike swarmed towards us. I was very skeptical with regards to them selling and poaching and I didn’t think much. But my guide got one of them to follow us and TA DAAAA~ we got a personal young guide + shoekeeper!

Anyway, so we went ahead to tour around the mountain and our guide brought us to this “secret passage” I would hope, that lead us to a pagoda right at the other end, which has a never ending well. Legend says that no matter there is a drought or whatsoever, the well never goes out of water, providing a constant supply for the villagers. Although the road towards this well was steep and narrow, we were very surprised to see many elderly here washing their faces and hands from this “holy water” to gain blessings.

Then we head for the legendary THOUSAND LINGAS!

Our guide told us that there wasn’t really a thousand lingas, nobody really counted them, but it looks impressive and really A LOT, so they just named it the THOUSAND LINGAS! It’s really quite funny, really.

The villagers have installed these beautiful swings around the area. We understood that we need to pay to play with it, sit on it, you name it. But the thing I'm most appalled was that these kids, being only about less than 4 hours drive from the kids from the village, were so different. They seemed so... so much more selfish. (Read: 5 days in Oorong for more)

Okay, so the guide took us up some mountain trail, just to reach this small puddle. So what's so special about this? Okay, we came at the wrong time. But it is supposed to bubble like a mini hot spring, supposedly to be one of the supplies of the river that house the Thousand Lingas.

And here comes the highlight of the tour. Ta da da~

First, we saw a small waterfall. A little disappointed. No idea what was the hype about. Ya, it’s kinda cute with the little stumps for people to take photos and stuff, but meh, it’s nothing awesome.


Now, this one is really huge, magnificent. Sure I’ve seen some waterfalls in my life, but this one’s really quite awesome in its own way.

*Note: the locals installed these pretty swings near the waterfalls, and along the way. Just take note that our guide told us we need to pay them if we wished to sit and/or take photos.

Apparently in our package (idk we’ve got a package), we can choose either to visit Butterfly Park, Spa or Landmine museum! Spa sounds awesome right I know. But we chose Landmine museum. Can’t really say that there was a rationale but it runs along the line that we can see butterflies everywhere (we’ve got our own butterfly park in Singapore) & we already booked our spa with the long anticipated Kaya Spa for later. So well, we decided on something more local, something different, hence, Landmine museum.

Quite an interesting array of history behind Cambodia especially during the times of Khmer Rouge.

Finally, our tour comes to an end. Our guide was very kind to help us purchase the tickets for the Circus for later in the night. Believe me, we packed our activity well!

IT’S TIME FOR SPA after we went for a light lunch!!!

The service was awesome! I loved it!!!! Definitely a must try.

Price: Reasonable (~USD25 per hour, depends on treatment)
Service: AWESOME

So we said, we went to the Phare Cambodian Circus.

Price: Reasonably cheap (USD15 each)
Performance: WORTH IT

Really, if you have 1 night to spend, watch the show before you head over to Pub Street for a drink or 2. It’s really great.

There are 2 storylines that they perform on alternate days. You wouldn’t really know which are they performing until we watched it. (not so sure if you can asked before you purchase the tickets.) But it’s really good. The one we watched was a thriller, and we got the thrill while watching, really.

So, it was our last night in Siem Reap. Guess what, we had our fellow local volunteer to come pick us up to the familiar 60 Road Night Market aka local night market and had the most authentic local food ever.

Really looks like our local flea market. They sell all sorts of things from shoes to clothes, to shampoo and food of course. Food. 

There are little built ups around the entire stretch where you can rent for i think 1500 riel for the night to sit there to relax, have some snacks and chill. 

And of course, like our local fun-fair, they also have thrill rides like this one that we board. It was rather thrilling especially towards the end you see the operator held his hand out to "manually" stop the machine. 

We knew that our friend  is a very thrifty person but extremely kind-hearted so we decided to buy him dinner for taking us out and taking care of us along the way. Then it came like a lightning when we understood a little of his heart-wrenching story. I can only say that, we who give will feel the wealthiest, while those who don’t must live with themselves. We can always give no matter how little we have.

The dinner for the 3 of us costs USD8. We were filled to the brimmed and we took away what was left, some chicken wings and some meat. What do you feel, must be the same that we do, USD8 for 3 people, are you kidding me, it’s extremely cheap for a dinner. But to him, it’s a luxury he can only afford maybe once a month.

Do you come here often?”

No, it’s very expensive. I come about once a month. My landlady usually cooks for me and my brother for about USD1.50 but I cook to save the money.”

Guess what, he could do so many other things, but he chose to stay as a volunteer, earning minimal allowance for a living. But I haven’t seen anyone as motivated as he is to learn, to meet new people and to help. He never fails to amaze me when he start talking about the kids that he is helping, how he raised money for them (note: he raised USD50 that can contribute to a family’s 3 meals full for about 1 month), and makes us feels so little.

“Would you go again, volunteer at Cambodia?”

“Yes I will. I have already fallen in love with the place and culture and most of all, people.”

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