Been there, done that, haggled over the T-shirt

December 10, 2006

Been doing a lot of what Fran’s mum, Margaret, calls “walkie walkie lookie lookie” since last post. But it’s been some of the best walkie walkie lookie lookie you could possibly hope for – because we visited the justifiably famous, rightfully UNESCO rubber-stamped Angkor (meaning “holy city” or “capital city”) in Cambodia.

The journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap, the town near Angkor, involved crossing the border on foot, leaving behind the orderliness and comparative wealth of Thailand for poverty and disarray of Cambodia. But also leaving behind the somewhat jaded mood of many Thais who deal with foreigners and instead encountering the cheer and friendliness of the Cambodians, who explicitly appreciate the tourist bucks and their place in the country’s recovery.

The journey was comically arduous – the Thai roads were great, the big modern air-con bus comfortable, but in Cambodia, after sitting around for hours in the mayhem of the border town of Poipet (beggars, trash, serious officials, huge new casinos, a constant ebb and flow of people), the road was appalling, as was our cruddy mini-bus, which broke down 10 mins into its shift.

People say the roads are kept poor so the airlines can haul in the money with people flying to Siem Reap – which might be a traveller’s tale, but it seems believable, especially when you see the vast array of huge new hotels for well-off tourists, and travel the perfectly fine roads from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.

Anyway, I digress. Angkor. I can’t really provide all the facts here, but this huge area of temples is the stone remains of cities built by various kings of the Khmer empire between the 8th and 13th centuries. The styles vary greatly, as does the state of preservation, as the temples have not only survived the ravages of centuries of tropical weather, but even when they were in use, the ebb and flow of state religion between Hinduism and Buddhism meant successive populations vandalised or remodelled the statuary etc.

We spent two days, travelling between sites in a tuktuk, moseying around with the thousands of other tourists. Amazingly, if you break away from the well-worn trail (like going to Phnom [“hill”] Bakheng early in the morning, not for the suggested sunset) you can get places virtually to yourself, if you’re lucky. Our fave was a temple called Preah Pilalay, in the northwest of the huge Angkor Thom compound. We wandered into the jungle, away from the more clear areas around the best-known sites, and found only a few other people there. It’s only small, but it involves trees growing through the stonework, their roots just about holding together the blocks. (Most famous for this situation is the monastery Ta Prohm, seen in the dreadful movie Lara Croft Tomb Raider, and now referred to by the guides as “the Tomb Raider temple. Angelina Jolie!” Oh dear, what a sorrowful cultural imposition.)

Anyways, this feels boring. I keep musing about things I should be writing about here, and how lively I can make it, with intelligent discussion of issues. Instead, I’m just writing a travelogue, but one lacking even in interesting facts or asides. Weird how inspired you feel – until you sit down at a PC.

Our Angkor photos don’t really do it justice, but hopefully we’ll get some up soon. Cambodia doesn’t seem great for fast connections.

Oh, and I did indeed haggle over a T-shirt – you’ve got to really eh. Not sure about actually wearing it though, as I’m not sure it’s in entirely suitable taste.

Bayon

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3 Responses to “Been there, done that, haggled over the T-shirt”

  1. Spinky Says:

    Is it a “Danger! Mines” t-shirt?

    What did you think of Siem Reap? We felt that there might be too many hotels being built given the infrastructure around the temples.

    And did you get the impression the Cambodians would rather restore the temples with concrete and modern stone, than to keep them authentic and ruined? I’m not sure about some of the stuff they’re doing – our guide told us they had teams of people to clear plants from the lake so that photographs would show reflections better.

    (P.S I don’t think the blog’s boring!)

  2. Jude Says:

    Pah! Angkor… I’ve just been up to Newcastle where I found that the Byker Wall is Unesco listed, I think thay trumps Angkor

    Good to hear you’re still sounding reassuringly nerdy though
    x


  3. Yes but Jude, I’ve already been there, and done that with the Byker Wall (though I didn’t buy a T-shirt). Was hanging out with a guy from Robin Hood’s Bay yesterday so that brought back memories of the northeast…

    And yep Spinky, it’s a Danger Mines t-shirt. I liked the colours and the skull and crossbones motif. Fran argued that it’s almost like a political statement, like a campaigning t-shirt, CND or something. Which kinda makes sense, but I’m still dubious about it. Reckon I won’t wear it till I’m out of SE Asia.

    And yep, the hotel development is insane, absolutely incredible – and scary, considering probably 80% of those hotel customers are tourists arriving by plane.

    And yep again – the restoration of the temples does seem a bit crude in places. I dunno though, the poor teams involved have a hellish challenge. It’s a billion-piece 3D jigsaw puzzle, and the picture on the box has been destroyed (by the Khmer Rouge destroying the inventories in Phnom Penh).

    Despite the UNESCO support, money from France, the US etc, and all the tourist money, the resources needed to stop that place falling to bits any more, let alone restore it sensitivity, are inconceivable.

    It’s still awesome though eh? And we’re very lucky so much is in remarkable condition, given the centuries, and the efforts of the KR to vandalise it etc.


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