Before arriving in Thailand, Martha and I received some suggestions from family members who had previously traveled there for things to do and stuff to buy. The thing is, the family members with suggestions had visited in the 1970′s. Well, obviously things have changed there since the 1970′s. The ways that they’ve changed are kind of interesting though. One suggestion from family was to visit a floating market. Those are amongst the classic Thailand postcard pictures. They do still exist. However, they only currently exist as a staged destination for tourists. It seems that tourists keep wanting to see them, and even though their practicality has mostly ceased in Thailand, they still stage them to draw tourists. Tuk-tuk’s are another classic tourist thing in Thailand. Tuk-tuk’s are aggressively touted to tourists, and there is a whole cottage industry of tuk-tuk related souvenirs. The issue is that for tourists at least, tuk-tuks are rarely going to be cheaper than an air-conditioned taxi in Bangkok. Tuk-tuks will drive up and quote a ridiculous amount of baht for a short drive, say a few hundred baht or $7-10. A taxi (if you insist on them using the meter) is well under 100 baht ($3-4) for a decent drive across town. Bottom line: tuk-tuk’s in Bangkok are mostly for tourists. And how about the handicrafts and stuff they sell? It used to be laboriously crafted stuff that was reasonably priced, or so it would seem looking at souvenirs from the 1970′s. While a lot of the same basic souvenirs are still sold, they are very low quality and mass produced kind of stuff. The main point is that Thailand used to be more of a rural and basic destination. And it was quite possibly that friendly and quaint atmosphere that established the place as a desirable tourist destination. Now though, as a modern and largely developed country, they are still offering up relics of their past as an experience for tourists. Overall, a lot of those offerings seem a little fake though. Which brings me to my point. When Martha and I arrived in Cambodia, even in a very touristy destination, it’s clear that we are in fact stepping much more into a basic country and way of life. The offerings do not have the same false air that we sometimes felt in Thailand. Don’t get me wrong, we loved Thailand… we’re just noting the differences. Cambodia may just be in some ways like a 1970′s Thailand. And everyone here is soooo friendly. At least everyone we’ve met so far.
We got in to Siem Reap yesterday afternoon after a 55 minute flight from Bangkok. Even on a flight that short, they served us a full meal with coffee and tea afterwards, which was really nice. We also managed to avoid checking any bags despite strict carryon weight restrictions. Hopefully we can keep that going the rest of the trip. Arriving at the airport was really cute. The place looks like “The Polynesian Resort” at “Walt Disney World.” Immigration and customs was as easy as it gets. We had an “e-visa” ahead of time so we didn’t have to fill out anything and we were out of the place in five minutes or so with our carryon bags. A driver from our guest house met us there and basically we just got settled in, had dinner, and arranged our plans for the next day. A full day of exploring temples, starting with the sunrise at Angkor Wat was on the Agenda.
I won’t bore with long descriptions of all the places, but we saw: Angkor Wat, Bayon, Baphuon, Terrace of the Leper King, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, and Banteay Kdei. It was a full day, from 0500-1630, and a lot of the day was absolutely hot as hell. Martha and I went through about six liters of water! The sunrise was definitely the way to go for the main site at Angkor Wat, as 1. It was absolutely beautiful, 2. There weren’t that many people there to fill the complex, so as soon as the sun was up we could explore pretty freely without crowds, and 3. It gave a little reprieve before the mid-morning sun started really roasting our asses. All the other ruins were pretty cool too. A few recurring themes: 1. The Khmer love seven headed snakes. They guard everything and they’re pretty badass, and 2. The other ubiquitous carvings are bare breasted women called apsara. They’re everywhere too. I mean everywhere. I’m not sure what role the bare breasts played in guarding the temples, but it’s a theme they really ran with. One of the coolest amongst the temples was “Ta Prohm,” which was featured in “Tombraider.” The signature thing there is that fig trees have grown over and enveloped sections of the ruins, which makes for some really cool photo spots. A lot of Ta Prohm is still left in kind of a ruined state and it makes it a little more interesting to explore the place.
Tomorrow we’re slated for another full day exploring temples and ruins. After that, I’m sure we’ll need a day off to do something else. It’s a little mind numbing because there are so many to explore here. There’s definitely not any ruins in Thailand that rival the stuff in Cambodia. Actually, there may not be anything to rival it in Asia. If you’re after ruins and trekking through SE Asia, just save it for Cambodia. Anyhow, here’s a few pics from today. I’ll have a lot more in the final gallery though: