Flight touched down to see the airport prepare for the arrival of the South Korean President who was to visit to consolidate trade between the 2 countries and open a trade exhibition in the town. Police and guards were everywhere but a quick taxi saw us at our hotel.Siem Reap is evidently much busier than towns in Laos but looked interesting … and felt hotter!The hotel (Angkor Saphir Hotel) we'd booked via an internet booking agency (www.ratestogo.com) didn't have our reservation nor did it have the widely advertised and promised wireless internet in the rooms (it didn't even have internet for itself!!) and Eric was allowed to go into the office and check the computer for himself!! We should explain that we needed the internet particularly at this time so we could complete on the purchase of our newly built flat in Leatherhead (Surrey, UK).So Eric went in search of internet to be met with - sorry slow service, sorry internet down, etc, etc at every internet café he visited.He walked on in the sweltering heat to hear regular calls - tuk-tuk?, where are you from? etc - with a sure certainty that we needed to find a good hotel with internet….. and a swimming pool! Many hotels later and several pounds (weight) lighter Eric managed a good deal at the Apsara Angkor (a $180 poolside room reduced to $80).
So we have sold out - big hotel rooms and flights - but we always accepted that we would need to adapt travel arrangements and perhaps need a 'holiday'/treat at some point during this phase of our journey - it's hard work travelling, you know! Despite some comments received from fellow travellers, Siem Reap isn't too bad although it is certainly more busy than places we visited in Laos.Traffic generally too seems to be more akin to China's. The place is apparently making vast improvements with lots of building, new restaurants and bars opening up. One bar near the old market and where we met up for an iced coffee - the Warehouse - is jointly owned by an American (Jed) and a Scot (Alan). We'd heard earlier that Jed was getting married that weekend to a Cambodian and as a bit of nationality spotting to while away the time Eric guessed that a man at the bar was the Scottish.When he asked he was half right - he was Alan's father, Peter tho' he himself was English! But he'd lived in Scotland for 40 years and stayed in Portobello - Joppa to be precise (that's in Edinburgh for those who don't know).It was really good to meet and talk to him and his wife Elspeth (see photo album) who was languishing in the relative coolness of the upstairs terrace.They were over for the wedding - this was about their third visit - and they could see lots improvements in the town.About 90 of Jed's friends/family were over from the States for the wedding to be held that weekend in Phom Penh, with the bride, groom etc all in traditional Cambodian dress.Hope they all had a great time and that Peter sends us a photo.One of the two highlights of Siem Reap was, of course, a visit to the temples of Angkor.Having seen and visited many temples and wats during our travels we decided that one full day visit was enough (there are so many you could spend a full week visiting temples).So we visited the main ones - in the morning the ruined city of Angkor Thom and its main temple Bayon with its many faces of King Jayavarman VII, the Terrace of Elephants and Ta Prohm, which the jungle is now reclaiming.We thought that it would make a good film set for a Harry Potter film, and it turns out that it has actually been used in a Tomb Raider film.After a brief rest back at the hotel, and a very welcome dip in the pool to cool down (this is one of the places with the greatest combination of heat and humidity that we've experienced - just walking along the street leaves your shirt wringing!) it was off to visit Angkor Wat, the highlight and probably the main reason why most people come to Cambodia.It really is spectacular and vast - the site is about the same size as the Forbidden City in Beijing - and was reminiscent of the Taj Mahal in the sense that it is a mausoleum and, although architecturally very different, the site layout is similar (see photo album). Another highlight was a boat trip out on Tonle Sap.This is the largest fresh water lake in SE Asia and is peculiar in that the flow of the water through it changes in the wet season when the volume of water is huge.Villages around the shore are built on stilts or sometimes rafts in order to cope with the changing water levels.The lake and surrounding area is a massive resource for the local people, and there is abundant bird life.Our trip took us downriver, with Jay and Sherry from Seattle (celebrating their silver wedding), and Sally and Jennie from Oz, under the care of our guide, Vannak, who's alsostudying tourism at Siem Reap University, through the tops of trees and bushes that in the dry season would be high and dry (excuse the pun) to the floating village of Phnom Kantrap.There we transferred to small rowing boats to glide through the 'streets' of the village.The reducing water level meant that people were now able to wade along the streets, albeit at waist level, and soon they'll be able to walk.In the wet season, pigs ducks and other animals are kept in floating pens under the houses and we were greeted with noisy excited squeals from the pigs as they got watered and fed.We stopped for a look round the temple and were 'accosted' by a hoard of children at their school playtime.It was really good to see them playing games very similar to those played in the west.One was like marbles but played with old flip flops/thongs and, surprisingly, for money - but not surprisingly this was the boys!Another also involved flip flops/thongs, but this time on girls hands as they did a version of a high jump over an elastic 'bar'.But we seemed to be the main attraction and they loved getting their photos taken and seeing the results brought great screams of laughter.They had an interesting school tuck shop which, although had a few sweets, was mainly fruit and veg.We asked if we could pop into a classroom where we met the teacher and some of her 7 pupils, and were able to show them on the world map on the back wall of the classroom where we were all from and where we'd travelled.It was good talking to the teacher.She seemed to take to Eric and just before we left (after much longer than the scheduled 10 minute break!) she plucked up the courage to ask if we could help 'benefit the children'.Just to explain, as there's no taxation in Cambodia all schooling has to be paid for so they depend on donations and sponsors, and they are always short of materials.We all agreed to help and she gave us a list of things she needed - jotters, pens, pencils, chalk, paper.Arrangements were made to buy these as soon as we got back to Siem Reap for her to collect the next day.Hope she managed to get the large heavy load of stationery back to the school!Sally and Jenny going to find out how they and their families might be able to provide further sponsorship.We'll be in touch with Vannak to hear how the school is doing.We could have spent much longer but were conscious that we were interrupting their education, so we then headed off to the temple where Margaret had an interesting chat in French with the head Monk.
Rejoining our rowing boats, we had a most relaxing, peaceful and shady glide through the waterlogged forest, after which we rejoined our boat for an absolutely delicious lunch.This is the first time we'd encountered fresh green peppercorns - yummy. This was a really excellent trip organised by Terre Cambodge and we'd highly recommend it to anyone planning to go Siem Reap.For a taste of Cambodian culture we went to an evening of Apsara and traditional Khmer dance, which although may appear touristy, is in fact being actively rekindled after being wiped out by the Khmer Rouge.Most people will recognise the Apsara dance from Thailand, but it did in fact originate in Cambodia and was pinched when the Thais invaded in the 15th century.It's just as well, because it's through the Thais that Cambodia has managed to get it back - especially as it takes 6 years to learn all aspects of the dance, plus another 3 to 6 years to master it.A footnote on another example of neighbourly co-operation: it is mainly through the Chinese meticulous ancient records of Angkor Wat that the history of this wonderful site is known.