Midway through our cruise in South East Asia we arrived in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, ready for our excursion to Angkor Wat. Overnight bags packed, and passport documents ready, we left the ship with 34 other passengers.
We were immediately divided into two groups and boarded separate buses with a tour guide. Our itinerary had been given to us at an information meeting on the ship where we met some of the other adventurous folks and the ship’s excursion head, who had a miserable cold, and was breathing all over us. Nice.
Our first stop of the morning was a visit to a Buddhist Temple in Wat Leu. We were already a bit templed out, but this small one was quite colorful and worth a short visit. There were monkeys everywhere, but we were warned not to go close to them even though they seemed tame. Apparently a woman who had previously patted one of them ended up in hospital, and ended her Asian visit at the same time. We then traveled to a primary school and spent a delightful time in a classroom meeting adorable children and their enthusiastic teacher. I think they were as fascinated with us as we were with them.
Note the Barbie knapsack
In a nearby village we had a chance to see how the locals live and climb up into their home. They all sleep together in the floor upstairs, and the walls were covered with photos from some movie type magazines with celebrities, mixed with Barbie doll pictures. Of course we left some money for the ever-smiling homemakers. This family was obviously not as poor as others that we saw, as they had a cow, and they obviously had an arrangement with the local tour office to show their pristine home. They were friendly and welcoming.
Lunch was at a Sokha seaside resort outside on a veranda. It was starting to get very hot and cold beer was definitely the drink of choice. The seafood buffet was fine and we got a chance to get to know another couple when we invited them to join our table.
After lunch, and a short drive to the airport, we took Cambodia Angkor Air to Siem Reap. I don’t think this airline would win any awards, but it got us safely to our destination after a very disorganized check-in.
Our hotel, another Sokha, was rather unimpressive and we noted all the things that were not in good working order in our room. Now I don’t want to sound like a spoiled brat, but this 3-day excursion was extremely costly. The hotel was fine with a nice pool and a decent bar, but the buffet dinner was pretty lame, perhaps a step above hospital fare. We did go to dinner at another hotel, a Raffles property, on our second evening, with a delightful couple, and wondered why we weren’t staying there. Seabourn obviously was cutting corners on this excursion, but we were in Angkor to see the great temples, we rationalized. That was what was important. I planned to let the Excursion office know after we returned to the ship, about our criticisms. There were of course some other things that I would eventually suggest to the excursion department like a sick tour leader.
We met the next morning for an earlyish breakfast. Now the woman whose name I have forgotten, from the ship’s excursion office, kept us waiting, and she was still nursing her cold, and happily spreading her germs, when we finally saw her. Fortunately, I made sure that we did not share a bus with her. We also were very lucky to get a superb Cambodian guide for our tour.
instructions how to greet different members of society
We left to get our entry passes from the government office, and lined up with a lot of other folks. We soon discovered that we would be amongst multitudes of tourists who also wanted to experience the great temple. If I were organizing this I would have had us all meet at 6:00 am rather than 8:00 for coffee and light breakfast, get on our way, and get to the famous site before the hoards descended. Our wonderful tour guide, Vuthy, heartily agreed with me.
Alas, it was what it was, and it was incredible. Angkor is a Unesco World Heritage Site with a stunning blend of spirituality and symmetry, and an enduring example of man’s devotion to his Gods. It is believed to be the largest religious structure in the world. It was built in the early 12th century and is still in amazing shape. The site consists of scores of temples, hydraulic structures (basins, canals, reservoirs, dykes) as well as communication routes. For several centuries it was the center of the Khmer Empire.
I was ecstatic when I saw the massiveness and intricacy of the edifice. We walked miles there, and lined up to climb the vertical stairs to get a view inside. They only let in a limited number of people at a time so we waited in the sun. Did I mention it was hot? Actually I have never been so hot in all my long life. We were advised to wear clothes that were respectful, legs and arms covered. I purchased a very light shirt in Singapore and found a long linen skirt to wear for this day, although we did note that not everyone was dressed this way. I had a small umbrella that I used to shade me and it had a secondary function as well of occasionally hitting Charles in the eye with the spokes. Hmm. Not only was it hot, about 100F /38C in the sun, but it was humid. I wore sandals thank goodness, as I could feel my feet swelling. And I could also feel the sweat pouring down my body. Just as I was thinking how hot it was, another passenger from the ship opined that she had never been this hot before.
It was all worth it. Naturally I have included many photos, but they don’t do justice to the awe that one feels. The climb was interesting as well. Charles noted that if one person at the top stumbled we would all fall like a house of cards.
We visited other sites in the afternoon: Banteay Srey Temple, south gate of Angkor Thom, Terrace of Elephants and Leper King, Bayon Temple, Ta Phrom Temple with its fig trees and forest atmosphere (location for the film Tomb Raider) Our guide was marvellous. Not only was he knowledgeable, he made all the temples live for us, he also was fascinating in his own right. He told us his personal story of struggles to get out of his village, and to achieve success in a career.
Some of the things we were told; shoes off in a Buddhist temple, no caps or shorts in a temple, no raising of voices or displaying of fists, no touching of carvings or sitting on fragile structures, no buying of candy or cards from child beggars as it discourages them from going to school (this one is hard to observe), no smoking or littering, education is the key for getting out of poverty we were told. The government is corrupt. Why were we not surprised?
I urge you when you read this to check out the hyper links because I can just give you a small sample of details of what we saw. Angkor Wat deserves more. It is definitely worth a visit.
Around 5:30 we returned to the hotel and I couldn’t get out of my clothes fast enough (in our room naturally), and into my swimsuit, and down to the pool. The pool was super and we managed to get some icy cold drinks there as well. We skipped the buffet at the hotel, and as I mentioned earlier we went to Raffles. Best of all we went by Tuk Tuk , which was great fun. Our meal was elegant and delicious.
In the morning another flight on Cambodia Angkor Air, this time to Saigon, where after Visa formalities, we re-joined the ship.
I will tell you next about Viet Nam, a return to Hong Kong, then Vancouver and Toronto and finally back to Orlando.