DAY 9 & 10: TEMPLES, TOURISTS, TRAINS, AND TUK-TUKS
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Today we’re waking up at 4:15am to catch the famous sunrise at Angkor Wat, located just north of Siem Reap. A BRIEF overview of Angkor Wat (though I could go on for a while):
- Angkor Wat is one of many temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park covering over 150 mi2 (roughly the size of Atlanta).
- The temple complexes are the remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, which ruled much of Indochina from the 9th to the 15th century.
- Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. It was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, but shifted to a site for Buddhist worship in the 12th century.
Obviously, I ripped most of that from Wikipedia, but it gets the job done. Don’t judge, you would have done the same.
Anyway, it is epic.
The photos really say it all, so I won’t bore you with details about how hot it is, or about how random kids spout “facts” about the temple for money – those things happen anywhere and everywhere already. What I did want to mention was our tuk-tuk driver/tour guide today.
He goes simply by T, and he overcharged the hell out of us today.
He is a good guy though and gives us a pretty solid impromptu tour of Angkor, especially since we only have one day to pack in as much as we can. Remember, this place is the size of Atlanta, so this is no easy task.
" Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. It was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, but shifted to a site for Buddhist worship in the 12th century. "
After a morning of temple hopping, we grab some lunch at what appears to be his friends’ roadside stand. When I say lunch, what I really mean is a beer and a sliced and skewered pineapple. We’ll call this “embracing the local cuisine”. Sitting down for a beer does give us the chance to escape the heat for a while and chat with T. After T points out my mismatched socks, the conversation naturally drifts toward our eye camps in Cambodia and Nepal. T’s English isn’t great, but he understands perfectly and thanks us for what we are doing. He’s even familiar with the eye camps that Seva runs in Siem Reap, his hometown. He tells us about the many poor people he knows who live homeless on the riverbanks, and how many of them need treatment. We drift further into business and politics (sparked by the old school pull tabs on our beers oddly enough) and joke about dishonest politicians being a common theme between our governments. The joke is lighthearted, but a bit more serious for T because of the political turmoil and mass genocide his country has endured over the past 40 years. Click on that hyperlink to understand why Cambodia is still struggling to get back on its feet after the destructive rule of Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge, in the late ‘70s.
" When I say lunch, what I really mean is a beer and a sliced and skewered pineapple. We’ll call this “embracing the local cuisine” "
After lunch we check out Ta Prohm, also known as the “Tomb Raider” temple for its use in the 2001 Lara Croft movie. (Roger swears he’ll have Angelina one day, by the way.) Of course, because we’re at the peak of tourist season, the place looks more like Disney World than a centuries old Cambodian temple. It’s okay though. We make it work and find some more secluded spots to enjoy.
If you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of tourists and do not think of myself as one. Even though in this case, I clearly am one, shamelessly snapping iPhone photos left and right. Once again, don’t judge.
After our day at Angkor Wat, we decide to make a run for the border town of Poipet. By spending the night there, we can cross into to Thailand early tomorrow morning and catch the train into Bangkok that afternoon. Here we go.
T hooked us up with his friend Saran (sp?) to drive us to Poipet from Siem Reap. It’s about a three hour drive on one of the world’s worst roads, and once again we overpaid. Classic Cambodia…
" Solution: play Morse code with his high beams to illuminate the road ahead for brief intervals so as to avoid pot holes and other such obstacles. "
It’s already dark when we pile into to the SUV, so I find out right away that Saran’s headlights are next to dead. Solution: play Morse code with his high beams to illuminate the road ahead for brief intervals so as to avoid pot holes and other such obstacles. This plan works pretty well except for the fact that our mild mannered driver is leapfrogging everything from mopeds to big rigs with no regard for oncoming traffic, or human life.
Meanwhile, Roger has whipped out an aux cord to play music through the car’s speakers. “Nothing’s better than a pure aux!” he exclaims. I don’t disagree. Stones, Keys, Peppers, Gorillaz, some trancey stuff off Cole’s iPhone – is this the soundtrack to our death? We’re about an hour in and I don’t think I’ve taken a breath yet.
This is the only photo that accurately describes a majority of the drive.
This comically terrifying ride actually gets quite real about three fourths of the way through when we pass a large crowd of gathered on the side of the road. They are standing over a man lying still on the ground next to his moped. A single candle is lit adjacent to his not yet removed helmet. I don’t know exactly what happened to the man, but my fears of crashing are no longer just in my head.
Fortunately, we arrive at our hotel in Poipet physically unscathed, though mentally, I am what you would describe as “shook”. The three hour ride ended up only taking two, which is either a nice surprise or a testament to Saran’s reckless speeding. Either way, I’m just happy to be out of that car.
After a night in a “don’t touch the sheets” hotel room, and a border crossing that took all morning, we’re officially exhausted and officially in Thailand. Snacks and water in hand, we grab some decent seats in the open air train parked at the Aryanpathet station. On to Bangkok.
Snooze. Read. Walk around to get the feeling back in my butt. Repeat. Let’s be honest – a six hour train ride through the Thai countryside is really best described by photos. I spend a majority of the time staring aimlessly out the window anyway, so photos will actually do the experience a good deal of justice.
And finally, we’re in Bangkok. Immediately we are harassed into taking tuk-tuks to our hotel. We’re already beyond tired, so okay sure, why not. Tuk-tuk, taxi – is there really even a huge price difference? Usually not. But these guys are poachers, and we are targets hopping off a train from the border. However, overpaying isn’t even the worst part of this ordeal. Before we leave the train station, the guy who corralled us into the tuk-tuks informs us that our drivers would be making a stop at a temple for us to check out. “Just 5 minutes,” he says. “We’re not going to buy anything,” Roger counters. “No! No! You just look. Go inside and look around,” he fires back. “Alright, whatever,” is our collective thought as we get hauled away in two tuk-tuks.
You have got to be kidding me… Our drivers pull up to a brightly lit tailor shop. They’re obviously not the brains of this operation considering their lack of communication skills, however, it doesn’t seem like we’re going anywhere until we get out and look around the “temple” for a few minutes. What a racket.
" Lesson learned: Never accept an offer by someone at a transportation hub or off the street. They all have an angle, and it’s directed at you. Welcome to Bangkok. "
Roger and I sacrifice our dignity and enter the shop while Pearson and Cole guard the bags outside. Immediately upon entering the store, Roger and I are approached by the sales clerk. He points to the large selection of fabrics on the wall and then to a suited up mannequin and proclaims, “We will make you a custom suit.” Alright guy, we’re not your buddies, so ease up. “We’re just looking around, thank you,” I manage to reply while biting my tongue. Roger and I swiftly move to the other side of the small space to check out some ties. A voice from behind us yells, “What you get?” This time it’s a shorter man, who has a stern look on his face. I explain that we’re just looking around right now. “What you see, what you get?!” he exclaims. That’s it. Roger and I head for the door while politely telling the gentlemen that we are not interested in their fine products, but do appreciate what a lovely establishment they are running. (You’ll have to read between the lines in that last sentence.)
After stopping for directions three times, our tuk-tuks finally arrive at our hotel. Lesson learned: Never accept an offer by someone at a transportation hub or off the street. They all have an angle, and it’s directed at you. Welcome to Bangkok.