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Reaping the Rewards of Siem Reap

Cambodian Christmas with the Cook's

sunny 31 °C

Some of the best decisions one can make are spontaneous and as such we changed our plans to go north from Bangkok to Chang Mai in favour of going south west to Siem Reap in the northern region of Cambodia. The other factor in going to Siem Reap was that one of my best mates Mr James Cook has recently moved there to pursue his dream of nursing in a developing country, furthermore we could seek refuge for Christmas time, and have ourself a party!

The journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap appeared to be a good deal; $7 each and 9hrs including the border crossing. However, we couldn’t have been more wrong! On closer inspection of the Lonely Planet book, the said journey is nicknamed the ‘Scam Bus’. Oh dear what had we gotten into? The journey involved us stopping 4 times for toilet/’refreshment breaks’ in what should be a 3hr straight journey to the border. Again, and to our dismay and whilst we could see the glistening Cambodian border, like a knight in shining armour, the bus pulled up at a restaurant. This time we were met with a friendly man who spoke English really well.

One thing we have learnt in India is to never trust what tourist offices say to you therefore we held this in mind when the Thai man politely told us that we could easily hand over our passports so he can get our visas processed for the sum of $30 dollars and we could wait in the restaurant and have some lunch whilst he processed the necessary paper work for us. The Thai man also asked us for the bus ticket so he could change it for the Cambodian bus ticket. We stood firm and politely refused. We were met with a barrage of abuse from the Thai ‘gentleman’ and I will not shock you by documenting his language here. If anything seems too good to be true, it generally is. It all turned out to be a con, over inflated visa prices and a sneaky attempt to get us to buy our bus tickets back on the other side. We didn’t get conned fortunately, but we heard stories of people being $30 each out of pocket from what me and Annie paid. To put the icing on the ‘Scam Bus’ cake, the bus drove extra slow for the 100km journey from Poipet to Siem Reap – all on purpose, so that tourists get cranky and settle for an inflated price hotel when we arrived at 10pm!! (14hrs after we set off!) Thankfully, Annie and I were fine and in Cookie’s spanking new flat that evening enjoying a nice cold beer. Incidentally the border crossing was relatively smooth and I even tried my first ever fried cockroach from a little woman at the side of the road. In fact I ate about five of them! Not bad taste either (compared to Annie’s cooking!!)

Siem Reap is a modern city with all of the mod cons available to cater for the western and eastern influx of tourists. The town centre has a night life zone called Pub Street, which is a small version of Ko San Road in Bangkok but with more street performers and beggars. We also enjoyed drinking half litres of beer for $0.50c each, which was amazing!

The local mode of transport in Cambodia is the tuc tuc, but isn’t actually a tuc tuc. A true tuc tuc is a three wheeled vehicle which fits two people (more can fit in) into a carriage, whilst the driver rides up front. The Cambodian tuc tuc is a two wheeled carriage bolted onto the back of an often small motorbike/scooter. To the naked eye, they do look rather rickety and a little unsafe, however, they do give the passenger a unique visual experience being able to see all around. I’m not sure these vehicles would be UK road worthy, but definitely points for ingenuity.
Cambodia is probably most famous for the fantastic and grandiose array of temples that are collectively known as Angkor Wat. In fact, temples are spread across the most of Cambodia but the Angkor wat temples are the most renowned. They bring in masses of tourists and much needed income for the locals. They also give their name for the local beer, food, cigarettes, hotel names and is also represented on the Cambodian flag. Yes, Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s most valued and prized asset.

If you want to visit the complex in a day, realise that you can’t see all the temples in the complex, and instead you will just see the best ones. Alternatively you can visit them over two or three days. We only did one day from 9am until 6:30pm there, but I could have happily sat there for another day just taking sketches of the buildings or just meandering for another few days. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I probably enjoyed Angkor Wat more than the Taj Mahal or the Golden Temple. This was mainly because it doesn’t seem like real life, because its that different, something built by tribal indigenous and engineering masterminds. It is early Khmer architecture (a sort of early Indian architecture), built for Vishnu (who is a Hindu god) but later changed to Buddhism. We went to several temples, Angkor Wat is grand and powerful, Angkor Thom and Bayon temple paints a picture about life, Khmer civilisation, culture, obedience and power, while the Tree temple to me represents the planets almighty power and destructive capability. I can’t imagine how the French man who discovered the temples felt over 100 years ago when he finally rediscovered the Angkor Wat, but I imagine he needed to change his pants.

Christmas is a time for being with family and friends. Since we are half the way around the world, it was such a great time to hook up with Cookie and his family. Now Cookie isn’t the best of chefs and I had missed cooking up culinary delights, so we offered to put on a Christmas party, complete with balloons and roast beef (not on the same plate I hasten to add), which went down a treat. Cooking Christmas dinner was a little difficult since my learned best mate did not possess an oven, but only two gas hobs. Being able to cope with any situation no matter how difficult or dangerous, I set out on a task to negotiate some fire for the evening. A $5 note does come in quite useful in such circumstances, and not for burning, no matter how much hatred you might or not have for the Americans, but for bribing the local pizza house to use their pizza oven. Roast beef with all of the trimmings was prepared by myself and su chef Annie, and then placed into two trays with a tin foil wrapping for the pizza oven. Christmas dinner was served later on that evening to the gleaming Cook family and ourselves with love and Christmas wishes.

I love a good impromptu party, perhaps not as much as a party that I organise myself, but, this particular party was on the street, with a bunch of local tuc tuc drivers on Christmas day, at about 9pm in the evening. Me and Annie had wandered to our hotel (as Cookie has gone to pick up his Dad from the airport) and sat in the restaurant drinking beer when there were lots of people congregating for a sing song outside on the street. Not one to pass up on vocal chorus of Christmas songs (and some others which resembled a load a load of jumbled up songs!) whilst pissed up, we happily obliged.

It was so good to see Cookie, Annalisa and Matthew, they are in a very different environment, and doing so well. I didn’t mind us not actually doing that much sightseeing apart from Angkor Wat because we were in great company, and loved spending time with little Matthew.





Posted by Annie Thornton 06:49 Archived in Cambodia

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Hi, I'm currently in Pailin, Cambodia. I'm a doctor, volunteering for an australian NGO at the Pailin referral hospital. I was really hoping to get in touch with James Cook regarding his work in Siem Reap. If it's ok I was hoping to get his contact details/email address. My email is [email protected] would really like to get in touch with him. Hope you can help, regards, abarna

by A.dev

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