10 November 2008

Travel: Angkor Wat to Bangkok

Siem Reap means “The Defeat of Siam”. The city was the once the capital of Cambodia (now Phnom Penh). But, I didn't see much evidence of this (either a capital city or animosity towards Thailand) while I as there, as for many visiting tourists, the city is a location to unwind after a long day at the temples. So we headed out to the aptly-named Club Street in search of dinner. This after I took a swim in the pool, the temperature of which made it resemble more closely a bath. It wasn’t quite the refreshing dip I had hoped for, but it worked.

We found local cuisine at Khmer Family Restaurant (Khmer denoting the local people of Cambodia, who actually call their country Kampuchea). Like my lunch, the food was delicious.

While Club Street wasn’t the raucous place I had anticipated, we were drawn into one establishment, mainly from the strains of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” coming from the house band. It was fun, with a mix of old and new music, but it never quite lived up to the promise of the John Denver tune.

We had an early afternoon flight, so we had to leave around noon. That left us a couple of hours in the morning for one last trip to Angkor Wat. Guideless, we took a tuk-tuk to the temple complex and set out for our own bit of exploring. It is a different place in the morning (and I’ll bet even moreso at dawn – we arrived after 9 am). It was already hot in the sun, so I sought the shade, which is plentiful inside the temples. With fewer visitors at that time, it is nice to be able to explore nooks and crannies with little company. The complex really merits at least a full day and probably two or three for a proper visit. There are so many stories there just waiting to come out of the stones, if you just give them enough time. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough of it.

We sat in the quaint Siem Reap airport waiting for the bus to take us across the tarmac to our Bangkok Airways flight when the rain came down. We were lucky to avoid it during our temple visits, so I wasn’t going to complain. And the tarmac workers even set up a canopy with two umbrellas that allowed us to board without getting (too) wet.

Bangkok Airways (self-billed as Asia’s Boutique Airline) is the only carrier that offers direct service from Siem Reap to Bangkok. This seems odd, but they enjoy it, charging monopoly prices for the hour plus flight to the Thai capital. It was pleasant enough, and even with the interminable and packed bus ride from plane to terminal, journey through Immigration, baggage claim, and Customs, and ride to the hotel, we arrived while the sun was still up. We were beat, however, so after the nicest dinner of the trip, it was time to retire for the night.

There are a few things one has to do in Bangkok, and I have now done them three times with different visitors – ride on the Chao Phraya, visit Wat Arun, and tour the National Palace grounds. This time offered one difference, as Claire had to buy a new blouse to cover her shoulders in the National Palace, a requirement neither of us realized. I also took a different view of the detailed model of Angkor Wat, dated to 1922 and housed within the palace grounds. This shows the complex as it was in its heyday (or at least planned), with nine complete towers.

It had been a whirlwind five days - Singapore to KL to Siem Reap to Bangkok. We would get a few days back in Singapore (work for me, touring for her) before we were off to Hong Kong at the week's end.

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