Into Cambodia – Under the Shadow of Angkor Wat

Friday April 10th – 60 kms to the Cambodian border and we reach it before 9 am, have a quick feed to try and jettison some more Laos kip before we have to deal with Cambodian riel. The Customs official demands our carnets. I point out that his isn’t a carnet country so he’ll have to be happy with our NZ rego papers and authorise a temporary import. His reply is he can’t do that and one of us  will have to take the bus down to Pnom Penh and get an official invitation for a temporary vehicle import licence. Since its 300 kms and probably a 3 day round trip we surrender and produce our carnets. Quick as a jiffy the motorcycles are authorised and we’re free to go.

And just to think I wasn’t going to bring carnets on this leg since none of the countries are carnet members. The 180kms road through to Preah Vihear are on perfect roads (Chinese?) although it is clearly frontier country as the roadsides are line by new wooden pole houses and occupied by farmers all of whom seem to own a Chinese tractor (rotary hoe). Behind their small plots along the roadside though there are some extensive planted fields that are clearly the work of corporate farmers. So it’s all go here.

Preah Vihear is a grubby little service town and although it has limited to no tourist-oriented guest houses and restaurants, we are introduced to the Cambodian two tier pricing structure where everything has a US dollar price as well as a Cambodian Riel price – and the conversion is nowhere near the exchange rate, the tourists expected to pay substantially more for everything. On top of that there is also substantial markup asked and so bargaining has to occur. Joanne is aggressive in this department and we soon learn that each transaction is going to take 4 times as long as normal as whe wears down the vendor.

The food in the town is rubbish, the beer is mainly warm. So we organise some cold beers, buy a couple of chickens and eat in our hotel room which is the cleanest place we can find. We decide on an early night as we want to be on the bikes by 6.30 am for the ride down to Siem Reap.

Saturday April 11th – the road gets more and more crowded as we approach Siem Reap from the northeast and by the time we’re within 20 kms it is chaotic – and dangerous. We pass what appears to be a death or near death of a young motorcyclist splayed out on the road with a crowd staring on. Sobering message and we’re all on full alert, even though the heat is trying to induce us to faint.

The GPS faithfully guides us to the centre of town where we find the villa entitled “Under the Shadow of Angkor Wat”. It is great, bikes are secured. It has a pool and is next to everything. Good choice. In the afternoon at 5pm we head out by tuk tuk to Angkor Wat to buy a ticket for tomorrow and have a sunset visit. It starts to rain – our first – so the sunset doesn’t arrive. But we get a look. The setting is not as impressive as that of the temples of Bagan in Myanmar, the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, or the Jesuit ruins of San Ignacio Mini and certainly not the Mayan ruins of Tikai in Guatemala or the Roman ruins of Leptus Magna in Libya here we dallied for a day. We think why – and it’s because there is no surrounding forest, these are pretty much in an urban area and that detracts. But the detail is still well worth the wander through the ruins.

We’ve been sucked into a buffet, local cultural performance tonight – and both prove to be disappointing. Oh well. We know this tourist tucker is not for us – just had it confirmed again.

Sunday April 12th – second day in Siem Reap and my leg is playing up a bit. The swelling and bruising is pretty marked now and even short walks aggravate it. So I decide to stay in the hotel, dangle the offending limb in the pool, and catch up on blogs and photo gallery postings. Joanne and Dave set off for the fortified city of Angkor Thom.

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