With the wife and me escaping the responsibilities of worldly duties for a few days with the arrival of a wet Thai New Year, we thought it best to pack our rucksacks and head to The Land of Landmines and Lok-Lak.
Our journey started off with a small disaster as I found to my dismay, on the bus to the border, that my wallet with more than six thousand baht in it had decided to flee the pocket of its rightful owner. Suffice to say, this is Amazing Thailand and a Thai guy who we had befriended at The Northern Bus terminal just a few hours previous, offered to loan us some desperately needed cash. Hasten to add, I already paid him back! I thank him a lot.
As this was the first day of the Songkran holiday, immigration was absolutely packed-out with Thais bustling across the border to try their luck at Poipet’s infamous casinos. I noticed too a few foreigners who were in a serious predicament, whom after arriving on the Thai side without a visa, had unfortunately failed to realize that the authorities had just very recently clamped down on folk arriving in the country by land without an airplane ticket out. So, you have been warned.
Taxis are never usually far from sight in Thailand, but since this was also the Khmer New Year we had along with our generous newly-made friends, great bother in securing a reasonably priced fare to Siem Reap. In the end, the best price we could get for the three and a half hour trip was a whopping $70US. Siem Reap being a haven for excellent accommodation, we managed to find ourselves, quite simply, a very decent room with all the mods and cons for just $15.
I hadn’t been to Siem Reap for something like seven years and I could see that the place had really changed, with the emergence of an international airport, from a bastion for banana-shake backpackers into a new destination for poshy package tourists. I remember the adequately named Pub Street to be home to a few bars, with scantily-clad girls hanging around the pool tables. The place now however, is far higher in class with classy restaurants offering a range of international cuisines, but at very reasonable prices. Preferring to a get a feel for the local munchies however, we spent the first couple of days sampling the side-of-the-street goodies.
Just as yesteryear, Cambodia is a bit more expensive than Thailand, but nothing like say Singapore where I had been earlier in the month. Contrary to popular Thai belief about Siem Reap, we found the area pretty clean, developed and the locals to be a really friendly bunch who appreciated the opportunity to practice their English or to have a laugh at ones poorly pronounced Khmer.
On the second day of our trip, we arranged a Khmer-style Tuk-Tuk to take us to and around Angkor Wat for half a day. The driver, who had been parked outside our gaff all the time, was so nice that I didn’t even bother bargaining the fare of $12. Angkor Wat isn’t really that far from Siem Riep but there’s no other way of getting there and around unless you perhaps rent a motorbike, or if you are feeling fit – a bicycle. I had been to Angkor Wat before, but since I had previously arrived in the evening I didn’t have to pay the extortionate $20 entrance fee (which Thais also have to pay). This time around however, we had no other choice to cough up the cash.
Angkor Wat, like the border, was packed with tourists and there were plenty of Thais too being whisked around by some guide of theirs. The wife being a typical Thai, doesn’t see much point in taking a normal photo of an attraction without her or myself in it giving a ‘V’ sign. In fact, I was pretty embarrassed the last time round; when on showing our vacation pics to friends they’d laugh that nearly every single one had a pic of the wife posing away. Of course, Angkor Wat is stunning and once you’ve been there, Thailand’s ancient ruins such as Sukothai, Phanom Rung and Prasat Phimai seem like Lego in comparison. Unlike before, I ventured too to Angkor Thom and Bayon which are second only to the awesomeness of Angkor Wat. As the place is pretty small however in comparison, the crowds were squashed in like at Bangkok’s Weekend Market.
For our last full day in Siem Reap, we spent our time wandering around taking pics and eating everywhere. Not once did we see anyone chucking water like in Thailand. For Khmer-style Songkran, all the locals make-up a table laden with food, drinks and joss-sticks – to who this is dedicated I’m not too sure, perhaps to ancestors as in Chinese tradition. Perhaps one of the readers here would like to enlighten us. Then, they stick up an inflatable star in front of their abodes with some Khmer written on it. I used to live in Phnom Penh for half a year once so I already knew what I was in for when the staff at the guesthouse informed me that there was to be a party in the evening. Unlike Thais who really do have a party, getting seriously plastered, playing deafening sounds and eating dishes and dishes of delicious munchies – the Khmer idea of a party is two cans of plonk and a dish of fried rice with some Thai TV soap opera showing at the back.
On the last day with our two friends we had met on the first day, we left for Thailand at 11am ($55 this time for the taxi). This time, unlike in Siem Riep, the road was full of people playing Songkran Khmer-style. There though, the locals throw small plastic bags of water; which were even selling at a baht a bag! Pretty dangerous, getting hit smack in the face by a bag of water while driving a motorbike!
By the time we finally arrived in Bangkok it was 9pm, an exhausting journey. Anyway, as I have been advising folk for years – if you are gonna be in Thailand for some amount of time, you really ought to take the chance to check out one of the wonders of the world – Angkor Wat; you won’t be disappointed.