Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cambodia (2011): Angkor Wat


Cambodia is the third country on our route this year. We've been tempted by our friends' stories about the huge complex of temples Angkor Wat, near Siem Reap. According to travel guides it's one of the most interesting places in this part of Asia. Actually it's a conjunct of the Khmer kingdom remnants scattered around the jungle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described as the largest sacral building in the world. We resereved one day for visiting Angkor Wat – and it'll turn out a good decision. The next day we'll head for the capital, Phnom Penh – a city that is developing fast as if it wanted to catch up for lost time.

Cambodia, in comparison to Malaysia and Thailand, is a small country. It covers an area slightly bigger than 180.000 sq. km, inhabited by 14 million people. Polish citizens need a visa to enter the country. It can be obtained through the Internet for an additional fee of $5 but some websites advise against such a solution as risky. That's why we decide to buy a visa „on arrival” at the aiport in Siem Reap.

Good to know

*Money: new riel (khr); Polish National Bank's rate as of November 2, 2011: 100 khr = 0.0785 PLN. Inflation is galloping, eg. a bottle of fanta costs 3000 riels. It reminds us immediately the old days, when in Poland we too operated thousands of zlotys making purchases and each of us used to earn millions...
*U.S. dollars are in common use. Everywhere, not only in hotels and restaurants. It's a natural thing that the prices are set in this currency and no one wonders at it. However, it's good to have some riels for small purchases. 1 dollar is usually converted into 4000 khr. If something costs 3000 khr they will ask for „one dollar” because there are no coins in use. If you don't want to overpay it's better to ask for small things' prices in a local currency.
*Forums and guides write that there are not ATMs here but we had no problems with withdrawing money in Phnom Penh. In the capital as well as in Siem Reap there are plenty of exchange points. They look exactly like our market exchanges many years ago. You don't need to be afraid to exchange money there but it's still better to show to the staff that you know how to check the banknotes. Sweet memories...
*Time: add 6 hours to the time in Poland.
*Electricity: 230 V, outlets the same as in Poland.

We fly to Siem Reap from Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, November 19, at 6.45, from LCCT Terminal, with Air Asia. Check-in runs smoothly. Actually we just leave our luggage at the counter because we do the check-in by ourselves, first downloading a QR code and then scanning it with a special reader which spits out our boarding passes. NB: we tried to do the same at the Balice airport but we weren't able to do it. We were said that it's better not to risk such a solution because there might not be an Internet connection all over the airport. That said, the airport worker printed our boarding passes for us.

We land in Siem Reap at 7.50. Some travel guides warn that the officials would try to force you to pay higher fees than required, that's why we prepare exact amount of money, $20, along with our applications (note: a photo is necessary). They pass through the hands of a dozen of officials. After a while our visas are ready. At the passport control they scan our fingertips, both hands! What for?! I believe that even the Polish government doesn't have all my fingerprints. This procedure frightens me a bit, but what can I do, there's no way back.

Just as we leave the terminal we are approached by a man from the taxi company. Don't worry, they have a similar system as in India: you pay a set price in advance. But unlike in New Delhi there's only one company here, the prices is $7.
It should be noted that there's no information office in Siem Reap. Going there, you should plan your stay well.

Siem Reap is one of the biggest cities in Cambodia which combined with the proximity of the most famous attraction in the country gives relatively high room rates. A decent double room in the center, with air-con, fan, TV sat, bathroom and fridge costs $12-15. Cheaper guesthouses can be found in the outskirts but beware: sometimes they are also brothels.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia's most famous attraction
After checking in and refreshing ourselves up a bit we leave for Angkor Wat. A taxi driver that brought us from the airport arranged his brother's tuk-tuk for us. He'll spend with us a few hours and his vehicle is at our disposal. It seems a bit annoying that everyone you meet treats you as a potential source of additional income but on the other hand you don't need to haggle all the time and it saves you a lot of time and effort.
Some tourists prefer a more active way to get to the temples: they rent a bicycle from their hostel for $2-3 and thus travel around the complex. Another option is to rent a motorbike with a driver.

We read that Angkor Wat is one of the most interesting places in this part of Asia. It's located only 7 km from Siep Reap. Actually it's a conjunct of the Khmer kingdom remnants scattered around the jungle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous as extensive, the largest sacral building in the world. In fact, there are three complexes: Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm.

Angkor was built in twelfth centry to the Hindu deity Vishnu with whom the comtemporary king Surjawarmana II identified himself. About 5 thousand craftsmen and 50 thousand workers were employed here. It took them 37 years. One of the most interesting things to see is a relief depicting scenes from Indian epics „Ramayana”and „Mahabharata” which extends for almost a kilometer of length. The most famous is the relief presenting gods and Devas churning the Sea of Milk to get the elixir of immortality from its depths (in renovation during our visit). All the reliefs show a great care for the details. It's difficult not to admire them even today although the buildings are in ruins.
One of the successing kings, Jayavarman VII transformed the building into a Buddhist temple but after his death the Buddhist symbols were destroyed and a Hindu character has been restored to the place. Some elements have been bricked up at that time.

My very own ticket
Although some forums advise to reserve three days for visitng this place we decided to spend here only a day. Now we fear a bit that it won't be enough and we'll have to run around in a hurry and leave unsatisfied. Our decision turns out to be right. Angkor Wat is in fact the biggest disappointment of our travel. We've seen similar complexes in India, for much less money, much more interesting and better preserved.
One-day entry to the temples costs $20. A ticket can be purchased only at a checkopint on the main road, some 3-4 km from the complex.

Refreshing juice
from a fresh coconut
We spend the afternoon wandering around the Old Bazaar and hanging out in cafes. We don't buy anything because clothes and goods resemble the ones that haunted us for decades on so-called „Russian” markets.

We go to a small Catholic church on 027 Street, 50 meters off Arun Guesthouse. On Saturday evenings, sometimes on Sunday mornings a service in English is celebrated here, but not every week.

A Catholic church in Siem Reap
We leave Siem Reap on Sunday, November 20, in the morning. Lots of agencies offer a transport to the capital. Prices are the same, a standard of the services vary. We choose a mini-van because it's said to be faster and more comfortable than a regular bus...

We pass hundreds of poor wooden houses built on stilts along the way from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
More photos can be found HERE


0 komentarze:

Post a Comment