This is really long. Sorry, I was going to split it but i'm on the slowest computer in the world and I don't have the patience. Enjoy.
Siem Reap is fortunate enough to have it's claim to fame as being the town next to the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat which are major contenders for being one of the seven wonders of the modern world. You can vote on this sort of thing on various internet polls I think. The other reputed contender we have seen was Halong Bay and we are both sure that the temples beat the Bay, but whether they beat the rest, we haven't got a clue.
I was here eight years ago and the town has changed beyond all recognition. Back then none of the roads were sealed (ie they were potholed to death and only motorbike could negotiate it's way through them), the pavements were mere dirt tracks, there were no decent bars and restaurants and it was practically empty. Now the town bustles with cars, tour coaches, bars, restaurants, huge hotels and above all tourists. That's what is most different; Siem Reap is well and truly a tourist town these days.
Tempted as I am to say it was better in the old days, i'd probably be lying. It's definately better to have the tourist infrastructure set up, in that you can eat and drink in nice places and when you go to the temples you don't have to bounce through endless potholes. Also you can now go easily to the outer temples without fear of treading on a landmine and ending up scattered over the whole area (definately a tick in the plus column). The only downer really is that it can get busy at the major temples and the chances to be sat in temples alone and just soaking in the atmosphere and the history are more and more limited, but i'm sure it will be worse in years to come so if you fancy it, get there sooner rather than later!
The temples themselves were built from around 800-1250 AD, a time when London was a mere village and Britain was barely a footnote on the world map. Meanwhile in Angkor a million strong population was helping a mighty civilisation grow and flourish, at times they struggled in war and at times they won big. To celebrate the Gods, the victories and themselves the Kings built enormous temples and when I say temples I really mean castles and fortresses, capable of supporting thousands of people and acting as a defence against invasion from the Thais/Vietnamese/various others. They are huge and are an architectural feat perhaps even on a par with the pyramids of Egypt.
I'll try not to ramble on too much about the history or the buildings, but please imagine that our camera cannot do them justice so when you see our photos don't just think "is that it", maybe look up some better shots on the internet.
Anyway, we booked a three day pass and found a driver, a young looking guy with a 14 year old moustache who spoke a reasonable amount of English, enough for us to say "take us here" anyway which is all we needed! He was ferrying us around for the day in his rickety old tuk-tuk which looked like it had seen better days given that the front light didn't work and even when he got a new bike for day three it kept cutting out no I come to think of it. It's probably not worth me typing a list of all the temples we visited and what they were like (I wanted to but Rhiannon said it would be too rambling and boring - and it would be), but we saw the main ones one day one and then a lot of outer ones on days two and three. We saw the sunset on days one and two and the sun rise on day three. By the end of it the energy sapping heat had left us exhausted (it was the hottest we have been in Asia - 33-40 degress we think) and it was a good thing that we had two more days doing nothing until we flew to Laos.
One thing that is mentioned a lot about the Temples is the children who lurk around the temples trying to sell you anything under the sun, bracelets, drinks, guidebooks, postcards, toys and a load of stuff more. All of it costing the pricely sum of one dollar, in fact you can't walk more than 10 yards sometimes without hearing a child yelling "one dollar, one dollar". Saying you have one already will just lead to "buy one more for your family". It would get annoying if everyone wasn't so damn friendly and the children so damned cute. Despite promising eachother that we wouldn't buy anything from them we left with bracelets, a t-shirt and a useless looking toy music thing that will no doubt adorn our shelves some time soon and to be honest I think we did well to only buy that much oh and it all came to about $5!
That's far too much temple talk, I can give a lot more believe me but you'll have to email to get it or wait until we see you which by the way will be soon enough as in Siem Reap we passed the halfway point of our trip.
There was more though in Siem Reap as we met another wierdo contender, again English; he accosted us coming out of a bar. About 40 yrs old or maybe older he had an accent that suggested he was born 200 years ago and lived during the days of the Raj and in fact that seemed to be the lifestyle he was going for in Siem Reap. He claimed, (and we had no reason to doubt him) that he owned a massive house there which had five bathrooms, he had a driver, the same driver for months as he hadn't bothered to remember where his house actually was. He insisted we go for a drink with him as having been drinking for most of the day nobody else seemed to want to go with him. He spent the entire time rambling on about his four girlfriends, that he was a self confessed drunk and eccentric and making many disparaging comments about the French. I thought he was scamming us, Rhiannon thought he was just a harmless oddball and I think she was right. Either way he just upped and left after a while, the bar staff seemed to all know him anyway which suggested he was a regular. Oh and despite sounding like an English Lord, the name on his PADI membership card which he insisted on showing us, was Paulo. Odd indeed.
The main other event of the week was that we thought we'd lost our camera, having inadvertantly left it in a restaurant and not noticed until the next morning! Yes mums, stupid, we know. Anyway I ran back when we realised and was told to wait until the evening when the staff from the night before would be back. This was the day before we left early the next morning, given that the camera is worth about a months wages to your average Cambodian we convinced ourselves that we had lost both it and all our photos for the last month!
Long story short i head off to the police station to get a form so we could claim on the insurance as we wouldn't have time the next morning if, as we thought certain, the reataurant didn't have it. Shockingly the police took it very seriously (after I convinced them that yes we were that dumb!). The next thing I know I am on the back of a police motorbike speeding to the restaurant where we met two other cops already there! The staff looked nervous, but a sheepish looking waiter who had served us arrived and produced it from behind the bar where he had held it. I could have hugged him and we did return that night and gave him a big tip. It wasn't the end of the story as I had to go back to the police station to fill out a form to say what a splendid job the police had done retreiving our camera and what a great bunch of chaps they were. They then took a picture of me recieving the bag back from an officer. So if youever happen to be in Siem Reap, pop into the Tourist Police station as there will be a photo of me on the wall recieving a ladies handbag back from a beaming policeman. God bless the filth eh? Better than those English donut munchers.
That's it for Siem Reap, we were there six nights and had a great time and even had our faith in our fellow man restored. Ahh. Onto Laos!