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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Temple-ing it up in Siem Riep.

After a long rest in Siem Reap Rooms, I got up to a hearty breakfast and some chats with fellow travellers (the couple beside me were from Northern Ireland - you can't go anywhere, seriously!) I explored Siem Riep on foot for a bit whilst April slept on. It is a seriously lovely town; very different in style to Phnom Penh - there are traces of French colonialism everywhere.
Me on the streets of Siem RiepAfter April had arisen, Phil (the hostel owner) gave us tips on exploring Siem Riep and the surrounding areas. He asked us what we liked and recommended some itineraries for us. We also had a tuk-tuk driver, Charl, on standby to take us wherever we pleased.
Laura arrived just in time for us to set off for sunset at Angkor Wat. If you've ever been, I don't need to explain how absolutely breathtaking the first sight of Angkor Wat is. The trip in the tuk-tuk was fun, watching all the little street stalls set up opposite the lake and the temples themselves. There were crowds streaming towards the entrance (and it wasn't even high season!) which we followed and we walked up to the main temple to watch the sunset. We watched the monks hurry across the pathways for prayer, resplendent in robes of gold/orange. Over the noise of the birds we could hear their chanting carried on the wind. It was very calming and there is something amazingly spiritual about the place. I can't explain it, to be honest so I'll just post some photos.....

People say it's more spectacular when the sun sets over Angkor Wat itself (The sun moves around at different times of year) but I've never seen anything quite so spectacular.

We were all fairly quiet as we toured around, taking in the magnificence of the temple. It's remarkable how much detail is in the carvings from thousands of years ago. I sometimes wonder if we're getting it wrong  - all the new gadgets and fandangled inventions - these people carved epic scenes in stone! It really is a wonder of the world. 

We visited the famous Red Piano for dinner, a popular day and night spot with great views over the bustling market and streets. We didn't sample the Tomb Raider cocktail there (every tenth one sold is free! Alarm bells were going off every second with people winning free drinks) as we were also doing sunrise at Angkor Wat so had a 4am start. The food was tasty, but nothing really beats street noodle soup in Cambodia. 

So after a fulfilling day we crept back to our fabulously comfy beds for dreams of temples and days gone by.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

On sleeping and a rough ride to Siem Reap

Sleep, or lack of, is very important to me, particularly when travelling. I always want to have the energy to do everything on the itinerary but I'm not 20 anymore so I can't go days without sleep. So some notes.....

Never, ever take a sleeping pill to grab 40 winks. You may find out you wake 4 and a half hours later and have missed something great. This happened to me in Phnom Penh, but more on that later. There are lots of corollary's to this however....
Don't ever take a sleeping pill or herbal sleeping aid before a night out, as you will likely be a little dazed and confused throughout the night and alcohol will not help.
Sleeping pills ARE actually super for napping on buses, trains, boats etc...just ensure your baggage is safe.
I also found them good for when you really do need to get some sleep (i.e physically demanding trek next day)
Valerian root is a good herbal alternative. Two of these and you'll be gonzo after about twenty mins... for at least 4 hours, even if you're a dreadful sleeper like me.

A well-travelled friend once told me how herself and friends used to lie perpendicular with their legs against a wall, the blood rushes to the head making it great for a quick nap. Whenever I think about her I can never get this image out of my head (4 girls in a hostel in India, asleep with their legs in the air).

When we left Koh-Rong we wanted to get to Siem Reap in the easiest manner possible. After our usual hour or two sleep, we got up and out of our hut (7am!), had breakfast a little further along the beach and then boarded our boat back to Sihanoukville, a little sorry to be leaving the paradise of the island. From there it was a minibus to town and we thought we might catch a bus to Siem Reap directly. We were wrong, even though it was only noon, it had already left. So hot, bothered and tired we decided to get a taxi. I may have mentioned this before but SERIOUSLY - Agree taxi fares in advance, say you will pay half first and half WHEN YOU REACH YOUR DESTINATION. April and I got nicely ripped off whilst on our way from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap. We said we would pay for a taxi the whole way {thinking it would save time and be more comfortable...ah the naivety of the little travelled}. We paid USD 130. This IS a rip-off. When your tired and realise you have probably about 7 hours of travel ahead, it seems a small price to pay. Our first taxi driver was on the phone constantly, he also didn't speak a single word of English. The A/C didn't work, as such I had guzzled 2 litres of water an hour into the trip and we were both soaked with sweat. Opening the window was infinitely worse as most Cambodian roads are dusty, and it was pretty humid outside too. We were unceremoniously dumped on the side of the road in Phnom Penh where another gent picked us up. He was very friendly but he was an absolutely chaotic driver and when it got dark we genuinely weren't sure if we would make it out of that car alive. There are no street lights on these roads, no railings and many places were flooded due to recent rains. We had two seriously near misses where he actually screamed, we landed (Yes, we had been slightly air-bound momentarily!) on the road and he laughed maniacally, telling us that had been close. April and I were actually holding hands at this stage. He also claimed many times that he hadn't been paid but I point blank refused to pay another cent. We had already paid 130USD for one taxi which had turned into two!! Also, rather than just get to Siem Reap we had to stop at a roadside restaurant for he and his friend to eat (oh yes, he also picked up a random friend on the way! Two girls with two men in a taxi in a foreign country at night, we were imagining the headlines). I just wanted to get there. I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep due to the wild driving and also I badly needed the toilet. In Siem Reap he wanted to bring us to another hostel, a usual ploy of taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, but again I stood fast on the place we had booked. I am sure the man thought I was an awful bitch but I hadn't slept properly for 3 nights, hadn't had a proper shower in the same amount of time and we had been travelling from 8am that morning (We reached Siem Reap around 11.15pm). I cannot express our manic delight when we checked into Siem Reap Rooms.
 It was gorgeous. Set down a quiet street, it was pristinely clean, there were sandwiches available even though we had checked in late and the gruff owner Phil was so helpful to us.
I will never forget how April and I were nearly delirious with glee to discover that hot water came out of the fully functioning shower in our lovely, clean, spacious room. We were actually giggling as we washed our feet together and then clambered into huge comfy single beds for hours of interrupted sleep.