I remember the first time I saw photographs in National Geographic of the temples of Angkor Wat. I was 11 years old at the time and even then it fascinated me. Once I learned this archaeological wonder was in a country called Cambodia I dreamed of someday visiting. But this country had been a dangerous place to visit since the 1960’s due to numerous coup d’etats; years of the notorious rule under Pol Pot –when nearly one quarter of the population was starved and/or murdered. Many people now know of the country from the movie ‘The Killing Fields’.
It had been almost a year since the last major outbreak of violence. There is growing sense of stability in the country under the rule of Hun Sen. Hun Sen is considered by some to be democratically elected and by others as another strong man-dictator who has been able to manipulate the polls so as to have the appearance of being freely elected. Despite the warnings of numerous gun-point muggings in the nighttime streets of Phnom Phen, I still felt this was a good time to make the trip.
With my impending departure from SE Asia approaching, I asked one of my co-workers, Brian Poon, if he would be interested in joining me for four-days. We decided that it would be best to fly ;Bangkok — Phnom Phen — SieM Riep — Bangkok. This would allow us to split the trip into one-third visiting Phnom Phen and two-thirds Siem Riep where the Angkor temple complex is located. We decided against a packaged tour. We would make hotel and local transportation arrangements upon our arrival as needed.
I did not want to travel alone, and I did not consider it wise to take Nancy and our 6 week old son. I have known Brian since my arrival in Bangkok and although I had not previously traveled with him, I was certain he would be an agreeable traveling companion. Brian was born in Hong Kong, he and his family immigrated to the US when he was 13. He is now a naturalized American citizen.
July 16, 1999
Brian and I met at Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport at 7:15 for our 8:30am flight to Phnom Phen, Cambodia. We chose Bangkok Airways flight PG930, which provided a small 2-engine jet-prop plane with room for 60 passengers. Our Thai secretary arranged the flights. The ticket price was just under 11,000 Thai Baht or just under $300. I still consider this to be a bit too high as the flying time is only slightly more than an hour. However, upon boarding we noticed that the plane was less than half full with only about 20 passengers, which may help explain the high price. We enjoyed a relatively smooth flight considering the small size of the plane.
On our descent into Phnom Phen I was surprised to see no paved roads. I could only see the dust rising as a few cars rambled down reddish brown dirt trails. Finally when we were within a few hundred feet of the ground I spotted pavement….I thought ‘aha, this must be the road from the airport to the center of Phnom Phen.’ As the plane landed there was only one other plane in sight and it was even smaller than ours!
As we made our way to the terminal, we grew concerned that we had both neglected to take passport photos with which were required for visas. An Official came to Brian first and began to question him and then process his visa. I waited for some time, as no one seemed interested in me. Finally I approached a woman officer at the counter and asked for her help. She took my passport and application form and instructed me to wait. At this point Brian mentioned to me that the officer helping him requested $35 for his visa including a penalty of $15 for not having a photo. As the officer help me approached I was prepared to get out a similar amount. Instead she directed me to the end of the counter at the cashier’s desk. The sign above the desk stated that a tourist visa was $20 and a business visa was $25. I gave her $20 dollars that was accepted and my validated passport was returned. As we collected our baggage we discovered that, of the other passengers several different amounts had been requested and paid. This gave us all a good bit of insight into what was to be expected in the coming 4 days.
We decided to share a taxi with two other backpackers in order to split the $7 dollar fee into the city. While we had only a vague idea of where we wanted to spend the night, the others had more concrete plans to stay by the river at a guest house for only $3 to $4 a night. As we drove towards the city the taxi-driver suggested a hotel where he was determined to drop us off — as opposed to taking us where we had requested. Upon cross checking the address of his hotel with the map, I thought it would suit Brian and myself just fine and was worth checking out. When we arrived at the hotel, we inspected the rooms and at $20 per night were satisfied. The Puncuk Hotel was centrally located, recently renovated and apparently Moslem owned and operated. The rooms include a brand new color television and brand new air conditioning. The low price of the room included breakfast – much to our happy surprise.
After settling in we met in the lobby to determine where to go. We encountered our two acquaintances from the taxi who were still trying to sort out where they were and where they would go. We felt good that we had quickly settled in and could then begin to explore the city.
Even though we were in the city center, the road in front of our hotel was in a sorry state. It was primarily a conglomeration of dusty potholes. With a rough idea of where we wanted to go, we boldly hit the streets. Our first destination was the Central Market of Phnom Phen.
Brian and I set out on foot despite the large number of inexpensive moto-taxis. This provided more of a chance to get to know the city and our way back to the hotel better. We located the market quickly and set out to explore it’s surroundings and then the inside. On the streets around the market we came across a number of money changers in small kiosks. While not looking official these still did not have the appearance of being blatantly illegal. We decided to change a minimal 1000 Thai Baht ($26) for which we received around 102000 Riels. As we discovered later this was not necessary. Nearly all financial transactions in Cambodia are based on US Dollars, and the Riel is used primarily instead of cents. This means that whenever we would pay for something in USD, any change less than a whole dollar would be returned in Riels.
The Phnom Phen Central Market is centered around a large domed structured which appear to have been built in the 1930’s. The structure was now a faded and streaked yellow — none the less it was attractive. The outside market outside was primarily food vender and some fabrics stalls. Some of the foods were familiar to what I have experienced in Thailand, although there were also several items which we had not previously encountered. Discretion and health concerns prevented us from sampling any of the more interesting looking items. Inside four halls extended from the central dome. Each of the halls contained much of the same type of articles mostly textiles. Under the dome its self were ‘upscale’ shops dealing in jewelry, cut gems, gold, watches and souvenirs.
After completing our exploration of the market we headed towards Monivong Street. Monivong was one of the two primary avenues of Phnom Phen. To be honest, after we walked both sides of most of the length of the street we were left rather unimpressed. By now it was afternoon and it was time to select a place to eat lunch. We chose a rather safe looking hotel restaurant named the Mirawa.
The Mirawa offered a selection of both Chinese and Kmer dishes. We ordered a sample of both types for a meal consisting of rice and noodles accompanied by beef and green peppers in oyster sauce and mixed vegetables. During the meal Brian struck up a conversation with one of the senior waiters. He spoke English quite well and proved to be a great source of information. Upon inquiry he was able to make some arrangements for us for transportation during the remainder of our stay in Phnom Phen. And so for the grand sum of $30/day we had the exclusive use of a hired car and driver until around 11pm in the evening. This provided us with a safe means of travel the city especially during the dark hours. This was important as we had read many reports stating that nighttime Phnom Phem was quite dangerous. With weaponry readily available to an impoverished populous, muggings or thefts at gunpoint in the poorly lit streets of were quite common.
Once finished with our meal we met our driver Hengto, and headed out into the city. Hengto took us around where we made several ad hoc stops. Our first stop was the hilltop temple of Wat Pronom. The grounds of the temple and the temple itself were pleasant. We certainly noticed the difference between this Wat and those of central Thailand. This was also our first encounter with numerous begging children as well as some disabled Cambodians.
It was around 2 o’clock when Brian suggested that we sample a local Cambodian massage. I left the arrangements to Brian as he had more experience with the massage etiquette in Bangkok than I. Of course Hengto knew of a good place. We turned down a dusty and bumpy side street and the car stopped. We were directed by locals through a small doorway and up a narrow staircase.
Once on the second floor we found a medium sized parlor with a bar and several couches. Across from the couches was a glassed in area with what looked like a five or six tiered red wedding cake. We asked a woman at the bar what the price would be and told it was $5 for an hour or $7.50 for the special massage of 90 minutes. We both agreed that an hour should be sufficient. As we sat down the area behind the glass began to rapidly fill in with many attractive young Asian women. The ladies wore either a red or light blue cheongsam. We discovered that the ladies in red were Cambodian and those in blue were Vietnamese. There was a ratio of 2 or 3 ladies dressed in red for each wearing blue. Each of these women wore a round numbered tag at their waist for identification.
While Brian was purveying the possibilities, I made a speedy decision and chose #183, an attractive petite girl wearing red. I planned to wait and observe Brian’s selection however I was whisked out the room quickly by #183. She led me through a maze of small hallways and up a few more flights of stairs. After picking up a key from a clerk we entered a small well lit room. The room was simple and had a bed, side table and shower room. Using hand signals and other gestures I learned that #183 was named Leakhen (or at least a close approximation). Leakhen then instructed me to disrobe and take a shower. Although somewhat nervous I did as told and shyly proceeded to the closed shower room. I showered quickly, realizing that I had left all of my valuables on the other side of the door with someone I did not know in a city with a poor reputation.
Upon exiting the shower I was provided with a towel to wrap around my waist. Lying face up on the bed Leakhen began by massaging my toes. It was then that I noticed the mirror on the ceiling above the bed. This provided some interesting views although I must admit that my eyes were closed much of the time. After my toes, my feet, ankles, calves and thighs were slowly massaged. Although small in size she was quite adept at her job. And despite our inability to verbally communicate she proved to be pleasant company. This just proves that a few smiles and simple gestures followed by cute giggles are enough to convey friendliness.
July 18, 1999
We awoke as planned and met for breakfast around 8 o’clock. Unlike our hotel in Phnom Phen breakfast was not included in the price of the room even though the room was $10 more a night. I ordered a simple omelet with baguette and orange juice. The baguette is one of the better things that French colonization left behind. In Thailand and other parts of SE Asia bread is not good, however in Cambodia the baguettes where as tasty as those in Paris. The simple food was fine and the price was similar to that in the US.
As we left the Hotel our car was waiting on us. We decided to start at the next temple beyond Angkor itself. This was the temple of Bayon, which is part of the very large complex or city of Angkor Thom. The first site is that of the South entrance gate to Angkor Thom. The bridge over the moat is guarded by nagas followed by Buddhas on one side and mythical fierce creatures on the other side. The gate is massive and topped by the often-photographed image of Cambodian faces looking in the four cardinal directions. We drove another kilometer before arriving at the temple. Bayon is in a moderate state of decay although this detracts in no way from it’s impressiveness. Here again we encountered the Cambodian faces atop numerous domes that are spread symmetrically throughout the temple complex.
This is one of the images I had imagined as I reflected back to the first time I had seen these temples in National Geographic. The only difference being that the heads and faces were no longer covered in the thick tree roots. No matter which archway you peered at there would be always be an image peering back. It continued to amaze me how at every turn there would be another single site that would have justified our entire trip.
The sun was hot and the air was humid. Yet despite being saturated in perspiration from climbing the steep temple steps I was not uncomfortable. Even with the temperature in the nineties there was a cool breeze which swept through all the corners of the temple. I expected to be uncomfortable and perhaps it was due to conditioning having lived in the Far East for more that one and one half years now. In many ways Bangkok is much more uncomfortable due to the addition of heavy pollution on top of the sweltering heat and lack of wind. In Angkor the air was clear and clean this was especially true when atop one of the temples. You merely had to step into the shade of one of the stone doorways to cool down, as the inner stone remained cool to the touch.
We walked the grounds of Bayon extensively. We continued to the nearby temple of Bauphin that is undergoing a massive restoration. It is reassuring to see several nations (France, Germany, & Japan) participating in various restorations throughout the Angkor temple complex. Noticeably absent was any American contribution to the restorations. The project at Bauphon, undertaken by the French was the most ambitious I had seen. Due to a weak foundation, the superstructure had been removed with each of its stones identified by a number written in white paint. There were several thousand stones spread out over the vast area surrounding the temple base. The base had been previously reconstructed and reinforced. But this had been several years ago during a rare pause in the political turmoil that has engulfed this smallish country since the mid 1960’s. What remained was a puzzle of immense proportions.
From Bauphon we walked through the palace grounds once describe by the Chinese as being covered in gold. It is very difficult to believe that this very poor country was ever once a powerful and wealthy ruler of all of SE Asia which included Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and part of Myanamar (Burma). We exited the complex near the elaborate carvings referred to as the elephant terrace. We decided it was time for a lunch break and we would leave this section of the complex to explore for the next day.
We returned to Siem Riep and on the advice of our chauffeur/guide we went to the Bayon Restaurant for lunch. We dined in a small open vine covered courtyard. The restaurant was listed in some of the tourist guides so we felt comfortable with the choice. Simple tables and plastic chairs were set in a partially covered garden. We wanted to sample some more of the typical Kmer dishes that until now had left us unimpressed. Brian ordered a Kmer chicken curry in coconut and I ordered Cambodian fried rice and chicken with cashew nuts. My order was similar to what I would have ordered in Bangkok, although what arrived was noticeably different. Most noticeable was the lack of expected hot peppers, added were many more tomatoes than you find in Thailand. Brian’s coconut arrived and upon opening there was indeed a green chili chicken curry. However, as my meal, it was not as spicy as we had come to expect. None the less it was quite a flavorful dish. Our lunch tab came to only a total of $6.50.
After lunch we had the idea try a local massage in Siem Riep. Our driver assured us that he knew of a few good locations. Upon arrival at the first location we were a bit curious. The mamasan (owner?) pulled open the corrugated steel gates to reveal a normal looking wooden rural Cambodian home. Several girls appeared from various corners of the compound in various states of dress. Most were wearing some form of pajamas or other night clothes. Upon inquiry, we were informed that the price would be $10. This was surprising as the price we had paid in Phnom Phen was a mere $5. After failing to barter the price down we decided that the primary business of this location was that of a bordello and not of giving a relaxing massage. The second location looked only slightly better and we decided that it would probably be the same and not worth the effort of investigating.
Thus stymied, we decided to head back to the Angkor complex for additional sightseeing. We passed the primary site of Angkor Wat and headed to a vegetation covered hill which we were previously advised was a good place to look down on Angkor at sunset. At 2 in the afternoon the hill was mostly abandoned. We appeared to be the only tourists and there were but few of the pesky Cambodian urchins. At the base of the hill we looked up to see a very steep set of badly decayed steps. We climbed towards the summit struggling with the mid-day heat and humidity. Of course we were closely shadowed by our urchin guides who did not hesitate to offer their assistance and local knowledge of the area. This was of course in the remote hope that a tip would be left.
As we reached the summit I was surprised to see that this hill was simply another temple complex. Although not as elaborate or as well maintained there were still pleasing structures. From a distance this was truly misleading due to the tall radio transmission tower which could be seen. We were informed by our guides that this was for use by the Vietnamese Telephone system. We decided to take a peaceful mid-afternoon pause on the top of the hill. I found shelter from the hot sun in the cool doorway of a minor temple. I unpacked and relaxed awhile to update my travel notes. After a time a woman carrying a round plastic cooler containing various soft drinks approached us. We followed our now well know pattern of negations for a bottle of cool water which this woman had just carried up the hill. Starting with an offer price of $1, we finally agree on 1500 Riel (40 cents). The 1500 Riel price had been negotiated several times previously and was now our basis for all negotiations.
A small herd of local cattle were grazing on the temple summit and approached as they chewed their way across the plateau. It was then that I learned that this was Brian’s first face-to-face encounter with a cow. He looked to be a little uncomfortable as one Bessie began to breathe heavily down his neck. This all made for some good afternoon entertainment for me.
After a few hours we finished our rest and resumed our exploration of this site. As it approached 4 o’clock, it was time to return to Angkor Wat for the sunset. We followed the elephant path down the hill that was an easier although longer route. When we arrived at the base we noticed that there were now several small groups of people preparing to ascend. The only difference being that now there were several real elephants available to make the way to the top less strenuous. We rewarded each of our two guides with a small sum for their constant companionship during the past few hours.
As dusk arrived, Angkor Wat became an even more stunning sight as the colors of the temple changed with the setting sun. Of course this explains why this is also the busiest time of the day at the temple. Now along with a hundred or more tourists were numerous begging urchins, girls selling a wide variety of t-shirts and their hand made items. Buddhist monks and several outstretched hands of Cambodians which have been maimed by war, land mines or other unspoken cause. We walked the gauntlet providing some money to those in most need. We decide during this visit to climb up into the central heart of the temple. Again at every turn and behind each doorway we were greeted with more brilliant stunning sites.
We settle at the top in a cool corner to observe the goings on around us. It is amazing how cool the stones are once they are out of the direct sunlight. The cool breeze, which blows through the ancient corridors and around the worn nagas provided a pleasant respite. We sat and observed the various techniques employed by the numerous small independent vendors that cover the complex. Finally we were approached by one of the better young businesswomen. After some negotiation we agree on a price for some t-shirts and other small items. Again it is not really to pay the reduced price but the art of the bartering with its entertainment value which we are happy to pay for. What we found amazing was the good command of English many of the vendors possessed. We wondered why this was not also these case with some of our evening entertainment. We suggested to one vender that she would do better to teach English to some of her compatriots in the evening bars of Siem Riep.
As the sun began to set we decided to head down the steep temple steps, as we did not want to be atop the temple in the dark. We causally walked through the temple grounds where there are more vendors offering their goods. We constantly looked back at the temple with no diminished amazement for it continued to change hues. As the last light faded we headed back to the hotel for a shower and a brief rest.
After our day excursions it was again time to venture out to test the Siem Reip night life. My hopes were not high as the previous evening’s entertainment proved to be very unfulfilling. We had a bit of a late start as our driver (another change, brother, friend relative etc.) arrived later than we had agreed. Our driver recommended a different restaurant that upon visual inspection we readily accepted. Again we ordered Kmer food consisting of fried rice, vegetables and some meat dishes. The food was as expected and although not memorable certainly filling. As was now usual we paid in US dollars and received dollars in change except for cents, which were paid in Riel.
After dinner we headed to the Martini nightclub. This club appears to be under the same Vietnamese management as the club of the same name in Phnom Phen. However this time we appeared not to have arrived too early. The format of the club was different than those that we had visited earlier. This time the music was provided by a DJ instead of the live music we had experienced up until now. Also to our surprise, we were allowed time to make our own selection as opposed to having it made for us. We ordered a few beers and relaxed as we observed numerous ladies on the dance floor. Again different from the other clubs we visited in Cambodia, the girls here wore numbered pins in order to make identification easier as in Bangkok.
I decided to let Brian make his selection first tonight and I would follow based on a recommendation of his selection. It is almost always more enjoyable when the hostesses are friends and also get along. It should not be underestimated with regard to the internal fighting which sometimes occurs between different ladies or cliques of ladies. Brian chose #24, which proved to be an interesting choice. Following my plan I then allow her to provide a suggestion for me. She suggested #15 on the basis that she spoke some English and they were good friends. Although this was not my first choice, I felt that I should follow my original plan and agreed.
In Cambodia these ladies are referred to as taxi-girls where as in Bangkok the common usage is bargirl. The initial conversion with a taxi-girl (or bargirl) is quite predictable and appears to follow a well-rehearsed or even trained pattern. It goes something like this:
Bar-Girl: Helloooooo. (A long drawn out long‘o’)
Bar-Girl: How You? (Again a long drawn out ‘u’)
Man: I’m fine, how are you?
Bar-Girl: What you name? (Maybe, what you call?)
Man: Bill (Al, Fred, or whatever)
Man: What is your name?
Bar-Girl: Joy (Pawn, Nat, Nee, usually one-syllable sometimes a real name)
Bar-Girl: Where you come from? (Or where you live?)
Man: Bangkok, US, America, Germany
Bar-Girl: Oh, I like US. (America, Germany, whatever)
Man: Where are you from?
Bar-Girl: Laos, (or some village upcountry which you have no idea where it is)
Bar-Girl: How long you stay Cambodia? (Bangkok, Angkor, Pattaya, etc)
Man: two days. (etc)
Bar-Girl: Why you not stay?
Man: (some lie)
The remainder is optional and may follow after a variable amount of time:
Bar-girl: You like? (Me)
Bar-girl: I luv you!
Bar-girl: Where you stay?
Man : (some lie)
Bar-girl: you want sleep with me?
You want go with me?
You want go with you, etc.
In some cases there is some real discussion which can be quite interesting. Of course it helps if you can find a more common means of communication. Some times it is easier to converse with limited Thai or other language. The girls joining us this evening were by chance Vietnamese. At Martini it was also the first time where there appeared to be an even split of Cambodian and Vietnamese (no Thai). Also this evening Brian was fortunate as his ‘date’ spoke fluent mandarin Chinese as does Brian. This provided a wealth of information, as she was quite willing to explain some of her past and how she came to be a taxi-girl.
Van (Faan) was 21 years old and until she was nineteen lived a ‘normal’ life in Vietnam. In fact her family was doing quite well and her father had a good job. However, two years ago her father died suddenly and the family suffered. At her mother’s suggestion, Van and her sister (Tak) become prostitutes. Van sold her virginity for
$500 at nineteen and has been following a circuit of clubs since then. One has to keep in mind that $500 is two years salary for the average Vietnamese. While she started in Vietnam, the family moved successively to Macau, Phnom Phen and now Siem Riep. They moved about every 4-6 months with the entire family. In fact her mother was also at the club supervising her daughter’s behavior. Further, she even scolded my ‘date’ for her rambunctious behavior that evening. I even managed to garnish some of the blame from her sister as Tak was just trying to please me.
In any event we shared their company until around midnight. We enjoyed each other’s company, talking, dancing and sharing a few drinks. Departure was awkward, as the ladies were certain we were willing to pay for their company for the remainder of the night. However, after numerous protestations once resigned this was not to be.
July 19, 1999
This was to be our last day in Cambodia. Our return flight to Bangkok had a scheduled departure time of 1610 hours. As we did not want to take a chance of missing the flight we decided to plan on arriving at the airport at 1500. This worked out well as we were able to keep our hotel rooms at the Saphir until that time. This would allow us time to shower before getting on the plane.
We headed back to the Angkor complex at around 0900. We decided to start at the Elephant Terrace and walk from there. Upon entry to the complex I was again awestruck as each view offered so many delights. We walked along the full size elephant reliefs along this several hundred meters long wall. The wall was once one of the outer gates and main entrance to the Palace Complex. The wall remains around 4 meters high although in its original state it must have been considerable higher. The scenes of battling elephants were elegantly carved into the blocks of porous rock. On the far sides of the walls were other images of hundreds of Buddhas, Garudas and other man-myth creatures.
We followed the road back to a number of smaller temple complexes. These were in greater state of decay and further eroded than the other temples. The joy of wandering these sites was that there were no other tourists in the area. It was a great pleasure to wander this ancient civilization in solitude where one can sit and carefully ponder how it may have appeared 700 or even 900 hundred years in the past. It was interesting to see one modern simple temple and large Buddha built upon the base of a much older temple. We passed through a small grouping of thatch homes which were either part of the monk’s temple complex or a simple village. We walked slowly through the village looking inside some of the open huts. There is something to be said for a people that can continue to live happily with such a simple existence.
We worked our way back to the car and our driver. As we neared the parking area we were once again accosted by a contingent of Cambodian youth selling drinks, t-shirts, scarves and other trinkets. We had the idea to travel to Bantea Srei. This was the farthest outlying temple that was covered by the Angkor Complex Pass. This small temple was supposed to be in a lesser state of decomposition and although it was some 30km away it would still be a rewarding visit. The driver indicated that the return trip would take around 3 hours. While close timing we felt is was achievable. As we left the parking area, our driver inquired whether we had been to the complex of a place which I do not remember the name. We said no and agreed to stop for a short visit.
As we arrived at the entrance of the complex there stood before us another large gate topped by the four faces of ancient Kmers. However, once through the gate there was little evidence what lie ahead. We could only see a wide dirt path leading through the jungle. As we followed the path I wondered what treasures remained to be discovered in the extremely dense undergrowth that bordered the path. As we approached the inner gate to the temple we were greeted by another overwhelming site. We moved on through the gate only to reveal the views which we had anticipated when we came to Angkor.
This temple was by far in the greatest state of disrepair we had seen. But this damage was not primarily due to the more recent turmoil in Cambodia. This time it was the jungle that had taken its toll on the structures. But despite the state of collapsed monuments, it was a great site to behold. To see the great roots of giant hardwood trees engulfing the temple remains was beautiful. Here again we saw that what man has built can never be immortal. Given enough time, Mother Nature remains the supreme ruler of the earth.
By now it was no longer possible to visit the complex of Bantei Sray. Our remaining time had grown too short to make the extended journey. We would leave this site under the category of “always leave something to return to for the next time”. This adage has always worked for us in the past and I am sure it will again. I hope to bring my wife and son here someday. We can only hope that Cambodia will remain politically stable and that these ancient sites will be well cared for, and it will not be overly exploited and covered by the great hoards of tourists that now clamber over other greats ancient sites in the world.
We did have time to visit one more site as suggested by our driver. However, while another beautiful site we were starting to reach our saturation point. No matter how wonderful, I find that there is only so much that can be taken in before it starts to lose its impact. I now try to have more focus on a few places to better fully absorb those locations.
During this final visit we were again of course approached by the resident drinks girl. This proved to be more of a challenge as she refuses to drop her price for a bottle of water below around 2000 Riel. I refused to pay claiming that I received a price of 1500 Riel at the other temples. As we crawled over the various parts of the temple the negations continued. She claimed in earnest that at 1500 Riel she would not make a sufficient PROFIT. But as she followed me back towards the car after a full 15 minutes of this she succumbed to the price of 1500. She must have realized that sometimes a low margin sale is better than no sale at all. I think about what had just transpired and realized that it was for a value of only about 12 cents! Before leaving, I reached in my pocket and passed her an addition 100 Riel for her persistent efforts. If these traits of persistence and tenacity can be put to productive use I feel that Cambodia may indeed have a bright future.
We chose to go back to the city for lunch again at the Bayon restaurant. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch that allowed me a chance to consolidate my notes. This was desperately needed as I was falling severely behind, and if I relied only on my memory much detail would be lost. After lunch there was enough time left to return to our hotel for a quick shower. After a short drive to the airport we paid our driver and thanked him for a job well done. Check-in was very basic, as there are few flights to Siem Riep. In fact there were no planes to be seen on the tarmac when we arrived. We paid the $8 airport tax and proceeded to wait for our plane. I was surprised to see so many people waiting as I knew Bangkok Airways had only 2 jet-prop engine planes that each held around 80 passengers. Our plane arrived on time followed shortly by a Royal Cambodian Boeing. We boarded the plane and left on time. It never ceased to amaze me how a 50 minute flight can take you a world away.
I would recommend the trip to Angkor Wat to anyone with an interest in ancient civilizations. At no time during our stay in Siem Riep and the Angkor Complex did we feel threatened. If possible I would plan to go as soon as possible. I fear that this area will be quickly developed and over exploited within only a few years. Cambodia is a desperately poor country. Given this fact we found the amenities quite acceptable. Food was reasonably priced and neither of us suffered any ill effects during or after the trip. We spent an average of $100 per day but this included a significant percentage for evening entertainment. For the young traveler, it is possible to travel for around $25 per day. In any event I certainly hope that we are able to return in the future. –Allan