Friday, March 16, 2012

Cambodia - Angkor Wat

Sorry i have not written a post in a couple of days but i had some hotel issues in bali that needed to be resolved more about that later, for now I will finish with Cambodia.
We stayed at a lovely resort on the edge of Siem Reap. We hired a tuk tuk driver for $15 for the day and the driver and hotel talked us into hiring a tour guide for an additional $30 for the day. What we figured out later is these tour guides are provided through the local government tourism office. The tour guides English was so- so, he would go on the site with you and tell you a few things then tell you to walk around and he would meet you. Some of the sites have huge staircases to climb to the top but all the guides wait at the bottom. Of course you ask where is a good place for lunch and they take you to a restaurant that is overpriced and lacking in quality. We found out later the tour guides get a kick back from the restaurant. The same thing happened when we asked about places for a good massage. We figured this out after the first day and did not get a tour guide for the second.
The Angkor Wat ruins are temples that date back to the twelfth century and are built of sandstone. There are a number of different sites in siem reap and we visited seven different sites in 36 degree heat over a two day period. The most spectacular is the Angkor Wat site probably because of its size. The temples were built by different kings to praise Buddha or Hindu gods depending on the beliefs of the king at the time. These temples could take up to 30 years to build so often the kings would change and this was reflected in the carvings as they may start out with a Buddha influence and end up with a hindu influence. the temple design and carvings are spectacular and amazing that they have lasted throughout the centuries and in most cases are in extremely good shape. I was amazed at how much of the temples we had access to and wonder if this will continue in future. There are literally thousands of people from all over the world at the large Angkor Wat site. As you can see from the pictures some trees have grown over the actual ruins which makes for fabulous photo opportunities. Our guide did show us the banana leaves that priests wrote on and some have been preserved. A few of the ruins have echo tombs where you stand and pound on your heart and hear an echo- suppose to give you good health ( hope it works).
No one actually lived in these huge temples except the priests. The temples were just for worship and the people lived outside the temples but no evidence of their homes remains today because they were not built from the same materials nor to the same quality of the temples.

Again this area is a world heritage site. However I think the UNESCO folks should investigate the number of children begging at these sites. Shoeless and dirty these children attack you throughout the sites and I say attack as they are relentless. Their parents stand in the background while they play cute by counting in different languages even korean and japanese or stating facts about your country and would go at you to buy their trinkets. If you do not buy they become quite nasty. I was so tired of hearing you buy you buy over and over again. Then there are the ladies carrying and selling clothes or the land mine victims where a group of them will start playing when they see you come down the path if you pass and do not donate they stop playing and wait for the next people. I suggest they put on a daily free concert for donations and would probably do far better. However I don't think they really care what I think.
Every site you visit the same type of harassment happens and takes away from the beauty and enjoyment of these sites - I was ready to get out my Canadian pins and say I buy from you if you buy from me only one dollar.
I hate to be so cynical and it is just my opinion but I think the government gets a cut from all of this as we paid $40 each for a two day photo ID pass to get on to the sites and they have security everywhere checking our passes and I am sure the beggars and vendors do not have passes. Interesting that in the two days we spent visiting the sites we never saw anyone purchase from these people and all the tourists were talking about the harassment.
At one of the sites a young boy approached me to purchase a guide book for only $1. We thought about it and decided to chat to him about buying one - $1 was to look at the book to purchase it was $10. Now having the book scam played on me my first day in Vietnam I knew the drill - they show you a good quality copy and then sell you a book wrapped in cellophane and when you open it is a poor quality xerox copy. Now remember it is 36 degrees and the end of the day so I slightly lost it with this kid and told him they were all scammers here and all they see in tourists are dollars and if this continues tourist will stop coming and they will not make any money off us. The book went down to $2 but I did not buy out of principle. We decided to take a new approach with these people by not making eye contact and not speaking - for the most part this approach worked well and they walked away however one lady was having none of this and started tapping me and saying you look at me, you look at me - I just kept walking.
Apparently both Vietnam and Thailand were like this about 10 years ago but are now it is much better. You are approached to buy but not harassed and there are very few if any children selling.
On the third day we hired a tuk tuk to come get us at 5 am to go to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise. Upon arriving at the site immediately a mother sent her child to be our tour guide and get us coffee - we told him no as we felt he should be home in bed.
It is still dark and you have to walk through the unlit grounds to get to the place where you watch the sunrise - we were thankful for the small flashlight our tuk tuk driver gave us. Of course there was security there to check our passes. As we're walking through the site some man hands you three sticks of incense and gets you to put them in sand by a bhuddah for goodluck, then he asks for $10 - are you kidding me it is 5 am and they are at it again. Of course we did not pay. We got to the area where you watch the sunrise and you had to pay $1 each to sit on a mat (it just never ends). However the sunrise was spectacular and well worth the wait and aggravation. I have never seen such a beautiful sunrise which illuminated the ruins.
The small town of siem reap is quite nice as small Asian towns go. One of the more depressing sites was seeing the number of people waiting outside the children's hospital. Also a number of the streets are still dirt roads and difficult to navigate. Pub Street is closed off every nite to traffic and there are a number of very good and cheap drinking and eating establishments. We went there a couple of times for dinner and to visit the lovely nite market around the corner where you could enjoy walking around without being harassed by vendors. We also managed to find one of the not for profit restaurants that hires street kids and trains them. We had a great lunch and the service was very good. I would much rather support these types of establishments as well as the spas and stores run by locals.
Siem Reap is definitely worth a visit if you can ignore the beggars.

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