Thursday and term over, school’s out for winter doesn’t have the same ring
to it. Anyway, never having left Phnom Penh, I decided to use the few days, between finishing work and returning to France for a family Christmas and visiting other family in the UK, visiting the tourist spot of Cambodia, Siem Reap.
Arrival at the airport to find the lift into town is organised and booked centrally, much better and cheaper for a similar distance than that at Phnom Penh. I arrived at the hotel, the Koh KerKoh Ker (pictured above with my room on the top floor, extreme right.) It takes the first day and the visit of four people to the room, as no doubt I am stupid and just do not understand how to work it, to get the sir conditioned room I booked and the second day to convince them I might want it serviced!
I walk into town and my first impression is how much greener and lower density the place is compared to Phnom Penh. In a short distance I cross the river (see above) and pass a park, later understood to be the Royal Gardens. (Pictured from the corner, having just crossed the bridge.) Apart from the Tonle Sap and Mekong most other waterways in Phnom Penh seem to have been canalised and industrialised. Students regularly complain to me about the absence of parks from the city and their plans for making the city less environmentally bad invariably include plans for new parks.
A walk along the riverside took me past the Royal Palace, though I read in the same piece above about the Royal Gardens that it is:
“simply a royal residence — an understated affair, more pied-a-terre than palace, which is not open to visitors. It does, however, hold a significant place in Cambodian history as the temporary home of King Sihanouk while he and General Lon Nol were planning The Royal Crusade for Independence from France”
Then came a large complex with a sign saying it was the Cambodian People’s Party. When I first walked past there was a banner across the street in front of it with the message “Say No to Corruption”. I could not decide if it was a campaign launched by the CPP they were proudly highlighting or had been put there by some prankster. Anyway it had gone within 48 Hours.
Nearby there were carvings of two elephants and a god, Lord Lokesvara, (Sanskrit: Avalokitesvara underneath the tree behind the elephants) who goes by the cool nickname of ‘the Saviour of the World’. A sign explaining said;
“Devotees of The Way understand the Lord to be the 2nd coming of Christ, who came to earth in 75 CE.
King Jayavarman VII, adopted the Wayism taught by Lord Lokesvara, as Khmer culture. A beauty that still resides in the hearts of the people.
The 8 armed form of the Lord shown here is the symbol of the Lord’s many skills (upaya) to bring souls into the enlightenment. The Lord and spiritual workers labour on our behalf to help us achieve enlightenment, and rebirth in Sukhavat’s heaven – to break the cycle of karma and reincarnation.
King Jayavarman VII placed 108 of these statues in hospitals built all across the Angkor Empire.“
Next came Preah Prom Rath Pagoda and here is much more about its history and many more pictures. I will just give a flavour.
Then it was on to the Old Market. The area facing the river featured the materials for tourists and it was only as you got further back you found the food market then restaurants:
And then there’s pub street, which as the name suggests is a street full of pubs. Or, more accurately a couple of blocks full of pubs and restaurants with the occasional ice-cream parlour or more interesting place and then, for some reason there is the Yellow Sub, a Beatles themed bar.
I got lunch at a’genuine’ Khmer kitchen or dining room or something then got an ice-cream for dessert before heading to the Temple for a Khmer cooking class at $15. You get to chose from three starters, main courses and desserts. I went for fried Spring Rolls, Amok and Pumpkin Dessert. You cut your own veg and mix the spices for the sauces then cook the food yourself. You are probably ahead of me here. Why eat lunch then go and cook something which will need to be eaten? Ah. I did eat a bit of each but got a doggy bag to take the rest home.
As night draws on Pub Street is shut to traffic, the bars start having live music and it becomes busier with people. I searched out somewhere to watch live football for the following night without much success but stumbled across Mad Murphy’s Irish Bar where I had a chat with the host who has been in Siem Reap for thirteen years about the changes he has seen. He things the bars are wrong to target the backpacker crowd with increasingly loud music when so many backpackers now have pools and bars and people never need leave them, but should be targeting the more discerning client with a bit more money. I finished my drink and went home to my cooking and I tell you what, it was bloody good. The Amok had got even better.