Friday 17 October 2008 my 5-week 4-country Indochina trip started. I flew from Düsseldorf, as LTU had the best rates I could find at the time (the useless Dutch vacation tax may have something to do with it). Düsseldorf is the closest major airport as well, and I like the convenience of direct flights. I do not like to have a window seat without a window though, which is precisely what happened. I guess I should track down the airplane seating schema before next online check-in. The flight itself was pretty uneventful and we arrived at BKK on schema time.
My arrival day (Saturday) in Bangkok was mainly used to arrange the bus to Cambodia, recover from the jetlag (i.e. get some sleep), get a haircut, catch up on e-mail, and wait for Patricia to arrive. We had dinner together and went to sleep early, because the taxi to the bus terminal was arriving at 07:00 (it gets worse).
Sunday was a true travel day: taxi to the airport bus terminal, bus to Aranya Prathet (Thai side of the border), getting Thai passport stamps, getting a Cambodian visa, getting Cambodian passport stamps, walking into Poipet (Cambodian side of the border), taking a bus to the bus/taxi company, and getting a taxi to Siem Reap with a Danish couple (Kim & Mia). Unfortunately I realised in the taxi that I left my rainproof jacket in the Thai bus. And it does rain in the rainy season. Soit. The hotel in Siem Reap was already booked, based on the tip of an ex-customer-colleague. So after checking in we arranged a tuk-tuk to Angkor for the next day, leaving at 05:00 (yes, it is still vacation).
On Monday I finally would get to see Angkor Wat, “one of the most inspired and spectacular monuments ever conceived by the human mind” [LP]. When walking through the huge, almost empty temple complex right after sunrise, I wondered which New Wonder of the World should be taken off the list in favour of Angkor Wat. The Redeemer of Christ in Rio de Janeiro, for sure. Never been there, but it simply cannot be as impressive. It took a few hours of wondering around in awe and making many photos, before we continued our tour of the Little Circuit. The first stop was the South Gate of Angkor Thom, the fortied city. We walked through and our tuk-tuk was nicely waiting on the other side. Next stop was Bayon, where Big Brother was watching us. Although, so it seemed, because 216 gargantuan faces of Avalokiteshvara were looking down on us. So there we were, at 09.30 of the first day in Angkor we had already seen the most beautiful temples. Luckily every temple offered something special. Baphuon is the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle, Ta Keo had the steepest stairs I ever took, and Ta Prohm had trees coming out of the temple. The last is actually the most similar to how it was rediscovered in the 1860s, when the jungle had taken over Angkor. This was not too hard to understand, as even now they kept hundreds of locals at work by manually mowing the grass (an engine-powered lawnmower would really cost many jobs around here). Well, at least the USD 20 entrance fee was put to good use. To watch the sunset, we went up Phnom Bakheng, from where Angkor Wat was visible in the distance. On the way back to Siem Reap we stopped for some Angkor Wat by night photos, arriving back at the hotel after 14 hours of wandering around temples. I rightly deserved a massage.
Tuesday morning was the first morning where waking up felt like vacation. At 08:00 we had some real bread, croissant and coffee at the Blue Pumpkin. Western food, almost for western prices. After breakfast the tuk-tuk was waiting for me to see some more temples, while Patricia took the day off and spent hours getting massages. The second day of Angkor consisted of the Big Circuit and Banteay Srei. I started at Pre Rup, which offered outstanding views over the surrounding area. Then it was Banteay Srei’s turn to astonish with the most beautiful carvings in the Angkor area. On the way back to the Big Circuit I visited the landmine museum, founded by a former Khmer Rouge soldier who already manually defused 50.000+ mines. The temples of Eastern Mebon, Ta Som, Preah Neak Pean and Preah Khan followed. I finished my visit to Angkor appropriately by watching the sun set on Angkor Wat. After the golden light had shone on the temple complex, dark clouds came down, and a torrential downpour followed. Luckily I could shelter in the temple. So far being here in the rainy season has only been good, as it mainly rains at night and for no more than an hour during the day (knocking wood). And the rain keeps the air clean (it would be very dusty otherwise) and the fields lush and green.