Saturday, 19 May 2012

Day 55 - Friendly Cambodians, Currency confusion and a day at Angkor Wat. (Cambodia)

We were really surprised at the high quality of roads throughout Thailand, but were expecting that once we got to Cambodia they would deteriorate drastically. Again though, they're really just fine. The road from Poipet was a bit more hectic perhaps than what we're used to, but the road itself is no worse than most main roads through the Australian countryside. Having expected it to take four or five hours, we were pretty happy when we managed to cover the 150km to Siem Reap in a couple of hours.

We stopped for lunch on the way, at a street kitchen in a town we don't know the name of and were immediately struck by how friendly everyone was. The ladies in the restaurant weren't hassling us or ripping us off, and despite their complete lack of English and our complete lack of Khmer, we negotiated a price and had a good meal. When I felt an arm around my waist I thought either one of the boys was being a bit inappropriate or someone was trying to steal my money. I turned around though to find that the arm belonged to a smiley old lady, much shorter than me, who just wanted to say hi.

The currency situation in Cambodia is a bit confusing. They use both US$ and their own currency, the Riel. Although we're well aware that we'll be dealing with this a lot over the next few months, it is our first experience of it so we're still getting used to it. Most things $1 or over seem to be priced in $, and anything less is dealt with in Riel, but the two are quite interchangeable. The exchange rate is $1 = 4,000Riel, so for example if something is 75c you can pay with $1 and get 1,000Riel change. Or if something is $1.50 you can pay 6,000Riel. What we've noticed though is that things seem to be much more expensive because of this. We had expected Cambodia to be much cheaper than Thailand, but this isn't the case at all. It will be interesting to see what it's like when we're not in a tourist town next to one of the biggest attractions in the world.

We spent yesterday at the famous and magnificent Angkor Wat, only a couple of km out of Siem Reap. It certainly is a huge complex of temples and buildings, and it was a big relief to have our own car to be driving around in. The whole circuit is over 30km and there are things to look at the entire way. Most people seem to hire a tuk tuk and driver for a day, at a cost of something like $20-$30. We had hummed and hawed about whether to get a one day ticket for $20 or a 3 day ticket for $40. We decided in the end we'd spend the $40, which was just as well because we spent about six hours at the site and by the end we were completely exhausted and still had not even seen 10% of the whole place.

It's incredible to see how well preserved so much of it is after hundreds and hundreds of years, yet the bits that have been left to ruin were so interesting to climb around and explore. It was ridiculously humid though, despite quite a cool breeze and we got very very hot and smelly walking around the various buildings. There were several very steep staircases for us to climb that were made out of the original stone, now worn and uneven, each step upto my knee and sometimes barely wide enough to place a foot on. They must have been incredibly fit.

Our favourite temple was actually the one where Tomb Raider was filmed. The trees seem to have grown out of the stone, and now the roots are consuming the walls. The building is a maze of doorways, passages and clearnings, surrounded by both walls still standing and ruins of walls and roofs that once were. Every way you turn, there's another nook or cranny with something to look at. While we were inside this temple it started to rain. It never became more than a light drizzle, but it was enough to scare off all the tourists. So as we explored the ruins, we were by ourselves and the silence made the whole experience so serene.

It is very easy to see why Angkor Wat is considered one of the most culturally significant and interesting sites in the world. We bought three day tickets so we can see a bit more of it, but today we decided to have a chill out day and we'll resume tourism tomorrow.


  1. Don't know about staying in "flash" hotels -that's not the true overland to London spirit!! Have you camped yet? The day you walked into Burma must have been a memorable day. Although I must say I do get worried every time you say you've handed your passports over. I enjoyed your Thailand posts- I loved Bangkok - Michael says I am the only person who does!!! Thanks for your message on facebook Ben, much appreciated. Eilidh - do you do all the blog -it's great, as are all the photos. Who's the main photographer? Can you believe you are up to day 55 already?
    Take care, Kay

    1. Yeah flash hotels isn't really the true spirit, but it's nice to treat ourselves every now and then when we find a cheap option. We did a bit of camping in Malaysia, but we've mainly been staying in hostels and guesthouses. We've found it's a much better way to actually meet people and be able to see the towns. We'll hopefully do a lot of camping in China though. You're right about Bangkok, most people don't seem to love it. We had a good time while we were there, but it's probably not somewhere I'd be really interested in spending a long time. Yes I (Eilidh) do all the blog and take most of the photos. Really can't believe how quickly it's going, we're now almost 2 months in! Really glad you're enjoying the blog and the photos.

  2. I'd be taking advantage of the flash hotel too!! Kay