Wednesday, January 30, 2008


After five days in Siem Reap, Cambodia we finally saw Angkor Wat. The biggest religious monument in the world and the sole reason we came to this country and it took us five days to actually walk inside the walled complex the makes up this ancient building. It cost us $40 per day to visit the Angkor Archeological Park – the collection of Khmer monuments including Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and many others. When you are paying $8 a night for lodging and $1.50 for a meal this seems like way too much. Ok, maybe not really, but it’s all perspective. After spending the morning walking around the local market and enjoying some bomb chicken and ginger stir fry, we decided to bike up to the ruins to explore again. There are so many tiny temples and monuments that it’s impossible to see them all in a day. From what we had seen the previous day, they only check tickets at the entrance to each of the ruins so we figured we might get away without one.

As we passed the ticket office and official checkpoint at the entrance to the park we were, of course, pulled over and asked for our tickets - never mind the tuktuks and motos vooming past.We turned around and decided to head down a dirt path into the woods. From our previous visit to the park we knew there is an alternate entrance on the western side. Success, we made it to the outer wall of Angkor Wat. Thinking perhaps the gates would be closing soon as it was almost dusk and we could get a free sneak peak at the temple, we sat on the walled edge of the most to people watch. No such luck, the ticket official gave us the stare down and we were forced to continue biking up the road, after all we had paid $1 to rent the bicycles for the afternoon.

Chris decided it was a great idea to try the next tiny dirt path heading out in the woods surrounding the Angkor Wat moat, so off we headed in the general right direction. We were trying to get to the other side of the temple where we hoped to get some sort of view. Off-roading on a one-speed bicycle that is sketchy at best is not the easiest endeavor, but we made it though sand and grass on the fairly well traveled path. We ended up in one of the tiny villages that are scattered throughout the park and were politely pointed in the right direction. Next we came upon a small, lily pad covered lake in which a few men were fishing with huge poles (pictures to come on our Web albums). From here we finally hit the edge of the Angkor Wat moat which we followed around to the other entrance to the temple itself. As we rode around the road block and down the deserted road, we were just waiting to be caught. We reached the outer wall, parked our bikes, and hurried up the stairs into the ruin. Not only did we get to explore the whole temple in golden-glow lighting, watch the beautiful sunset, and see part of a local dance number, but we did it all for free! Yes, we didn’t get the classic sunrise picture of the towering monument peaks, but our own adventure was definitely worth it. Plus, we all know there is no way that I am getting up at 5 am.

After spending 15 hours in the airport in Kuala Lumpur, we spent our first day basically sleeping. We had decided to explore most of the ruins by bicycles – definitely the way to go – and our only regret turned out to be not reading more about the history of the place or hiring a guide to show us around. Walking through the temples you can’t help but wonder about the people who built them. In many cases the ruins have been overgrown with giant trees – one of the cooler things in my opinion. The trees have giant roots above the ground which seem to thrive on the temple walls. Another highlight was the intricate carving and stone work. One of the most famous temples inside Angkor Thom is called the Bayon; the whole building the covered with carved faces. In many cases, each pillar has four identical faces, each looking a different direction. Of course there is some controversy about whose face it is in the first place, but the main contenders are Buddha, some Hindu god, or the ruling king at the time it was built.

We have thoroughly enjoyed this city and spent longer that we originally anticipated here. The local market is filled with colorful silk wall hangings and scarves, as well has fruit, produce, and lots and lots of fish. We also had an encounter with a large rat which Chris didn’t see, almost stepped on, and was “quite surprised” (his words) when I pointed it out to him. We have spent our days biking around the ruins and town and of course tasting the local cuisine. We haven’t really written as much about food as we should, considering most of our daily decisions revolve around our next meal hehe. The local food consists of some great fried rice or noodle dishes, curries, and of course fish. We have been hesitant to try fish and have mainly been sticking with chicken dishes. Our favorite so far is a tiny place on the edge of the market. It lacks any resemblance to the many touristy restaurants, consisting of a half dozen plastic tables and chairs and display case of pre-maid dishes. We were brought to the place by an Australian couple we met at happy hour earlier in the night and subsequently have been back a few times. Chicken and garlic. Chicken and ginger. Yummy. They give you a plate of steamed rice and the food is gone in a matter of minutes. Though, I will say by our third trip the ginger was getting a little intense. The dish pretty much has one – maybe two – whole roots in it.

We decided that our next destination in going to be Laos, which has gotten rave reviews from our fellow travelers. We hope to spend a few weeks there before heading to Thailand. We fly out tomorrow and we write again as soon as possible. Miss you all!




Audrey said...

way to beat the system! can't wait to see pictures.

Peter Spiro said...

Jesus, let's hope you put as much effort and determination into your graduate studies as you put into sneaking into Angor Wat.

Nice work tho! Chip off the old block.

Chris, the beard is skying!

dave said...

i KNEW all those covert haldeman-pool break-ins would pay off somehow. you didn't even have to pull out the alter ego "laurit bas".

p.s. lookin FABulous for a couple of sarongin' backpackers!

msg said...

If you're a Cambodian who makes $50/month, you're lucky. Most people only visit Cambodia for Angkor; 50% of all tourists go to Siem Reap. It's an incredibly poor country. All those expensive hotels (and most of the cheap hostels) in Siem Reap are owned by foreign investors. Angkor is one of the only sources of revenue that's actually owned by Cambodia. So, it's understandable that they're charging $40 to visit Angkor.


rnh said...

couldn't you have at least given the $ not spent on admission to a local who could, no doubt, live off of it for months!? or maybe you could have paid to 'treat' a poor cambodian child for dengue fever? did you see the clinic next to raffles with the line around the block?

for shame! :)

Peter Spiro said...

Hell, I say give all your money away and cancel the tour!

banyba said...

In reality a private company - Hotel Sokha - owns the majority rights for entrance fees to Angkor Wat......and the remaining monies that do make it to the public sector rarely go towards temple restoration or maintenance.

"Angkor Wat is the main tourist attraction in Cambodia. In 2005, an estimated
1.4 million international tourists visited Cambodia, with most of them traveling to
Siem Reap. Tourism facilities in the province, mainly concentrated in the city proper,
comprise 91 hotels (6,638 rooms), 173 guest houses (2401 rooms), 83 restaurants
(6500 seats), 150 souvenir shops, and 10 handicraft shops3. On average, tourists stay
in the province for 2.5 days, individual spending averaging between $90 and $100
daily4. Thus, there is a substantial flow of money from the tourism sector in the
province, although the benefits accruing to the local poor appear fairly limited.
Entrance fees to Angkor Wat (currently $25 per foreign visitor) flow directly to the
national treasury, and there appears to be no mechanism for the Province to retain a
portion of this revenue. Major hotels, guest houses, and restaurants largely absorb the
revenue in the accommodation sector."