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Siem Reap

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Highway to Hell pt II

If I thought the road to Phnom Penh was bad, it was nothing compared to this section of my trip. I’ve ridden what are officially called “the worst roads in the world” back in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but they were nothing like this. The roads were just rubble with a thick layer of dust on top, which would billow up each time a vehicle passed. Sheer hell and almost impossible to see or breathe, this went on for most of the journey.  Speaking with other cyclists, apparently it has been like this for some years.

It’s a real shame, because the odd section that was OK looked really nice with small houses set on stilts, most with a hay bail in the garden. The kids would run out and shout hello if they spotted me, even if I was far down the road. I’d usually raise a hand and wave while calling over my shoulder “goodbye.”

Out of the dust the scenery was quite nice.

In my last blog post I failed to mention another important landmark I photographed on the road just outside Kampot, so I’ll take the liberty of including it here. This is the old bridge as you head north to Phnom Penh, you have to turn right down a dusty old track. The bridge is still in service allowing traffic to cross, but many think it should not be as it’s structural integrity is very questionable. I think it’s worth the short diversion though and it does see a good few tourist buses stopping off.

The old bridge at Kampot

Incense sticks are burned at the old bridge, Kampot

By the time I arrived in Siem Reap, I looked more than a little wild. My hair was matted with sweat and dust and instead of it’s natural silver, I now had a rather fetching shade of red/orange. Every nook and cranny of the bike and luggage was also covered and I wondered just what the posh looking hotel staff thought when I wandered up to the check-in desk. I had been booked into the Angkor Vattanak Pheap Hotel by Phuong Nam Star Travel as a (very welcome) present and had arrived with enough time to clean up, then go and watch an evening sunset at one of the temples. I chose Angkor Wat for two reasons, it was the closest and it was free after 5 pm if you’d bought your ticket, as it didn’t count towards one of your days.

Angkor Wat at sunset.

I have created a separate blog post specifically for all the images (with descriptions) from Angkor, because there are just too many to put in this update. It is called  Images of Angkor  < click link to view.

It was then a bit of a rush to get to my evening meal and entertainment, this time kindly provided by Angkor Caravan Tours. They had booked me a table at the Smile of Angkor restaurant and a ticket to watch the show. Now I have to admit dancing shows are usually not my thing, but this one was excellent (I really did enjoy it) and would recommend any visitor to go and see for themselves, even if only for the history lesson you get.  Oh and the buffet is wonderful…

A full on laser show – The Smile of Angkor

I had a real blast cycling around the temples and honestly believe this is without a doubt the best way to go about seeing them. The only problem is deciding an itinerary, because if your time is short you’ll want to try and catch the temples when the light is good and knowing where to go for the best results is not easy. I got around this problem somewhat by making multiple visits, not too difficult if you’re on a bike. Strangely enough the big two (Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom) were not my favourites, as I took many more pictures from Ta Promh and Preah Khan.

Great cycling around the tracks at Ta Promh

Temple guidebook

If you’re on a tight budget (like me) then pick up a copy of Ancient Angkor by Michael Freeman & Claude Jacques, which is an excellent guide to the temples. It will save you an awful lot of time planning where to go. You can buy copies at almost every temple but bargain hard, I was asked for $20 and got mine for $5. I’ve heard they go for as little as $3 out of season, but it was their New Year during my visit so pretty busy.

 

I didn’t really do much else in Siem Reap other than visit the temples, apart from going to another show organised by Angkor Caravan Tours. This time it was a buffet with Apsara dancing on a small stage and while it was very kind of my hosts to do this for me, after seeing the Smile of Angkor it was a very poor imitation. It was however good to experience both and make the comparison.

I’ve written elsewhere about the accident, which had a profound effect on me and how I wished I could have just talked about it. My very good friend Mandy came up with the suggestion that I just go off somewhere quiet on the bike and sort myself out, and this in fact is what I eventually did. My previous plan had always been to cycle around northern Cambodia to Battambang, take the Krong Pailin border crossing into Thailand, then follow up the coast to Bangkok. However the time I’d lost meant I was running short on days before my flight to Canada, so I took a more direct route and four days of hard cycling, camping out in the horrendous heat (I couldn’t find cheap accommodation) saw me arrive in Bangkok earlier today.

So that’s it for this update, don’t forget to check out my pictures and story from Angkor.

Images of Angkor  < click link to view.

More soon…

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