The countryside on the outskirts of the Capital looked very arid with few trees but with many small fish/prawn farms close to the road. We passed the mighty Mekong River and as we drove further north it looked even more arid with many of the rice fields already harvested and burnt off.

The trip took us about 8 1/2 hours with two half hour stops on the way. When we set off we thought that the road was quite good for the first half hour and then we hit the bone jarring potholes for about a third of the trip. I thought I was lucky as we sat in the second last row with the only window on our side that could be opened so it was good for opening briefly to take pictures but it did not have a good seal so that when we hit the dusty potholes a cloud of red dust would fly in over us. It was also a pity that the driver had not learnt where the gears were and there was much scraping of them when he did attempt it. Otherwise it was a pleasant journey with little variation apart from a few smallish towns on the way and a very large lake. The houses dotted amongst the trees were mostly on stilts with either animals or machinery underneath.The more affluent looking ones had painted bamboo screens on the front of the house and stainless steel or fancy railings on their staircases. Most houses had enormous pots outside their houses filled with water.

It started to sprinkle as we entered Siem Riep but we were whisked away by a tuk tuk driver Mr Shut Soeun who fitted all the luggage and us into the trailer and took to our hotel about ten minutes away for USD3. We walked around the corner and over the river to a lovely training restaurant for under priviledged youth and it was very pleasant sitting under the trees to have our tapas dinner. It was one of four such restaurants in the country run by one organisation. They also had a small shop which sold mainly recycled innovative products.
We chose our hotel because a friend from Perth was also going to stay there but didn’t turn up coming so we decided to move
hotels (walking up three flights of stairs was a bit much) to the Royal Crown which was a much nicer hotel and central to the
markets, river and many restaurants. We decided to employ Mr Shut Soeun to take us around the Angkor Archaelogical park for
the four days that we went out to the various temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon, Banteay Srea, Ta Keo etc.
He suggested that we not go temple sightseeing after we changed hotels as it was a bit later in the day and the three day pass (valid over one week) costs $40 and we wouldn’t get the best value from the pass that day. We instead went to see the
markets and the artisans of Angkor who employ a lot of disadvantaged and handicapped people to make all sorts of goods from
soapstone sculptures, silk items, porcelain to lacquer work and woodcarving. Soeun dropped us later to the Khmer Touch Cuisine restaurant where we had a delicious dinner and walked back to our hotel via “pub street” with it’s many bars and nice restaurants. The streets of Siem Riep were very clean as were the roads out to the Archaeologial Park. The French influence is still noticeable in many of the buildings.
Some of the roads in town including the one in front of our hotel were red earth which were watered to keep the dust down. It made for a lot of cleaning inside for the staff.

We set off the next moring at 6.30am to explore the temples of “Angkor Thom”. We liked Bayon temple very much as well as the
better known Ta Prohm temple where the film Tombraider was shot, not that we had seen it. There were hundreds of stairs to climb at many of the temples we visited with some very steep and narrow ones to boot but we managed them all. There were very good resting huts in the park and many refreshment stands.
We found the temples all quite different and the surrounding very tall and unusual trees made the whole area a fascinating one. The entire park is densely forested in many parts with a lot of shade and red earth roads. There was ongoing reconstruction at a few temples. One was undertaken by the Chinese and another by the Indians. How they reconstructed parts of the temple was to number every stone block which had fallen in a heap. These were then entered into a computer and the computer then made a jigsaw puzzle fitting the blocks together.
There were some long walks to some of the temples and a few small stages were set up with men playing Cambodian instruments. They were mainly amputees (landmines) and they were well supported by the tourists. They organised the tourists very well by having east/west or north/south entrances so not everyone was walking in the same direction and we found no congestion at any of the sights. It was the low season so that may have helped. There seemed to be a lot of Chinese and also Cambodian groups around. They do advise you not to venture off the beaten track as there are still landmines in the countryside.
Soeun was a very good driver and most of the drivers are very polite and there is virtually no blowing of horns or drivers getting impatient. Everyone just seems to wait their turn. The weather was very pleasant about 34degrees and 60percent humidity with a gentle breeze blowing. After we had covered about six temples in about five hours we decided we needed some lunch so Soeun dropped us at a great little cafe that we found called the “Little Red Fox cafe espresso” which served excellent coffee and food.
We walked back to the hotel stopping at a wonderful spa and had an hour’s very professional and luxurious reflexology massage for USD12. Our legs and feet very much appreciated that before we walked the short way back over the river to our hotel. The river runs right through middle of the main town with shops, restaurants,and hotels on both sides of the river with it’s overhanging trees.

When we decided to come to Cambodia we didn’t realize that we would be in Siem Riep for Khmer New Year which is a 3day event starting from the 14th April depending on who you talk to. A lot of workers take the whole week off and we saw many enormous stages being set up for the holiday. They were expecting up to half a million people to hit town, mostly locals who came home for the holiday or wanted to experience New Year in Siem Riep. There were many decorations and colourful lights to mark the occassion along the streets and in front of buildings.

Our driver took sick so the next day he sent us his friend Phanet to drive us to Banteay Srea and various other temples in that area which were over an hour away. We started out at 9am which was a much more civilised hour. We had a good tuk tuk ride there passing many rural houses and even some rice crops and a much greener landscape. Some of the houses were decorated with colourful stars and balloons.
The temples in that area were all quite different from the temples we had seen on the previous day and luckily with not so
many steps. Phanet dropped us in town about 2pm and we walked around the old market area with it’s French colonial buildings.
That night we ate at another nice garden restaurant (Georges Rhumerie) where we ate Creole,French influenced food. The owner and chef hailed from Reunion island. After dinner we walked back into the old market area where the streets were packed with Cambodians enjoying an enormous street party.

We had a lay day on the Wednesday and got up a bit later, went for a good hour’s walk around the town, had breakfast and then
tried to sort out flights which was proving difficult for dates and times that we wanted. We abandoned that and headed back to town where we bought me a very lightweight pair of trousers and then proceeded to find a little place in a small side street called “Ecstatic Pizza”. We were sitting close to the front of the restaurant and I saw who I thought was our friend Tom from Perth who we were suppose to meet in Phnom Penh. I wasn’t sure as he had sunglasses and cap on but went up to him and sure enough it was him. An amazing coincidence that we found each other. He had not told us that he was coming to Cambodia and we thought he had gone on a fishing trip instead so I didn’t bother emailing him that we had changed hotels in Phnom Penh and he thought he would surprise us instead and couldn’t find us so he came up to Siem Riep anyway. Such an amazing coincidence especially as we were going to go to another cafe for lunch but it was closed and he just happened to be walking along the same little side street!

On Thursday we decided to go and see the sunrise at Angkor Wat so were up at 4.30am for a 5am start with our trusty driver Soeun. It only took about twenty five minutes to arrive there with a hoard of other tourists, mainly Cambodians who were still in Siem Riep from Phnom Penh and from other area for the New Year. After photographing the sunrise we went to the side entrance instead of the front where everyone was heading and were lucky to see a lot of the temple with very few people to contend with. The rest of the day was spent doing last minute shopping and having massages and then to Khmer Touch Cuisine for a meal with our friend Tom.

Soeun took us to the airport on Friday afternoon 17th April to catch our business class MAS flight to Delhi via Kuala Lumpur. We told him that we would be back in Siem Riep which was such a friendly and easy town in which to explore and within easy reach of the wonderful temples to the north of the town. We hoped that the very friendly Cambodians would not lose that trait once tourist numbers rose in the years to come.

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