Andrea: Another day, another bus ride, but this one was different! This was the first bus in Asia where they actually used the large TV screen in the front and, boy, was it exciting! The movie was 'Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus' and it was glorious. It was dubbed terribly with tinny Cambodian voices with English subtitles, and Vern figured the special effects were done on a high schooler's home PC while he worked after school as an intern for the film. It was accurate. The movie starred Steve Urkel from the classic 90s TV sitcom, Family Matters and was full of reaction shots when the two title characters came on screen. Mega Shark and Crocosaurus looked like they were from an 80s Atari video game, and when they were shot at the explosions landed next to them instead of on them. Great B movie. Although after about 20 minutes the DVD restarted itself and then after another 20 minutes the driver decided it was over and turned it off. We still don't know which beast prevailed. And that makes us sad.
On another bus that day on the way to Siem Reap, an animated conductor recounted stories about life in Siem Reap. The most memorable was from the shooting fields where one can go to fire automatic weapons and other things that would definitely not make it past the Health and Safety laws in the UK. He was trying to convince us to take a trip and was describing how the range worked. One can either shoot at a target or buy animals to be on the other side of an M-16. He said he met three Irish girls who bought a chicken and then proceeded to annihilate it into nothing more than feathers and giblets. The ultimate that he remembered, though, was four guys from England that paid $400 for a cow and then fired a rocket launcher at it. The guide didn't know how much a crocosaurus cost to shoot so we passed on the invitation.
Siem Reap means 'Siam defeated' in Khmer. Considering the town is near the border of Thailand and Thailand still claims it to be its own, the name probably isn't helping relations much. We had started the day on an 8:00 am boat from Laos, had to deal with dodgy border officials that charged us extra to lift a stamp and press it to a passport (costing us an extra $7 in 'stamp fees' on top of the visa fee), and didn't arrive to Siem Reap until after midnight so we spent the next day defeated by the travelling and rested all day. At night we walked the night markets listening to each vendor scream 'Hello lady, you buy something?' The pitch worked on one of us and Vern bought his first t-shirt of the trip. Those of you who know Vern know that he loves his t-shirts and resisting all the Che Guevara, I-Pood and beer shirts for the last 10 months has taken more restraint than I knew he possessed. So he finally caved and bought an Angkor beer shirt. He seemed happy with the purchase until a laughing tuk tuk driver read the slogan aloud that says: 'My country...My beer.' And Vern doesn't look Cambodian. Whoops.
The alarm rang at 3:45 am and we were out the door and on our bikes by 4:20. The plan was to make it to Angkor Wat for sunrise so we left extra early to ensure we made it. Loyal readers will remember the last time we awoke for a sunrise adventure we got lost and missed it! We rode the deserted streets with our trusty headlamps cutting through the darkness. The ticket counter was opened for us and we successsfully beat the crowd to the temples. As we locked up our bikes we spotted the hundreds of tuk tuk headlights descending upon us. Grabbing a coffee before a queue formed, we then raced to get a view of the towers for sunrise. We just made it to the crowd's front row and were lucky to not have to watch the towers light up through someone's bed hair. We snapped photos in every stage of the towers lighting up and revealing themselves. After about 45 minutes they were fully lit and we could see all 3 inverted beehive-shaped towers standing authoritatively over the complex in front of a periwinkle sky and reflecting off the glass pond we were standing beside.
The temples at Angkor have been dubbed the 'eighth wonder of the world,' which might wound very impressive to some. But after traveling for 10 months and seeing signs for 'Barry's Burgers' being dubbed as the eighth wonder of the world, we were a bit dubious. However, after seeing the sun rise on the three larger than life towers, we were starting to believe the hype. Angkor Wat is the world's largest religious structure and the pride and joy of all Cambodians. We were able to explore the 'mini spatial universe' sans crowds and walked the long, empty corridors in awe of the magnitude of this palace for the gods. We shared the temple with a few other tourists and some cheeky macaques that were stealing the coconut offerings to the gods. As soon as the official put out the offerings, the monkeys would bound up the statue where they were placed, ripping off the tops and sticking their whole heads in the coconuts! It was funny to watch them fight and run away with whole coconuts. We just hoped the gods got their share first.
After walking the immense Angkor Wat complex we jumped back on the bikes and rode to the walled city of Angkor Thom. The city is 10 sq km in size and was built in the 12th century. At its height, the city was home to one million people, at a time when London only housed 50,000. The first temple within the walls is The Bayon. It features 54 gothic towers adorned with 216 enormous, almost smiling faces. We liked this temple the best, but perhaps we're just suckers for a friendly face. The next temple was Baphuon, which features a 60 meter long reclining Buddha in the stones. Maybe the Buddha's presence makes this temple more conservative because I was ordered to cover my shoulders to enter it. As I walked up the stairs with the sun beating down and me sweating in wearing my sweater, I noticed a Russian man walk by wearing a mesh shirt with his nipples clearly visible! In what world are my shoulders more inappropriate than a fat Russian man's giant pink nipples?! I didn't argue. Walking the path between temples we saw the ornately carved Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King. The elephant carvings were still very much visible and the Leper King Terrace has a covered portion that was protected from grime and the elements and features intricate reliefs of kings and princesses that looked like they were carved yesterday.
The last temple on our must see list was Ta Prohm, an Indiana Jones-esque temple that has been taken over by the jungle. Centuries-old trees popped out of the stone floors like corpses from a horror movie and intertwined with the building to the point where you couldn't tell which one was there first. Bulging walls hold bas reliefs that are carpeted with moss and creeping plants. Shrubs sprout from every possible corner and many of the corridors are impassable due to jumbled piles of delicately carved blocks. It was no surprise to learn that it was used as a set for Tomb Raider because we felt very much in another world that felt like a film set, minus Angelina Jolie in a tight tank top.
We were officially 'templed out' after Ta Prohm. We had been at it for nine hours already and it was only 1:00! We had a nice bike ride back into town where we successfully employed the 'don't stop' traffic rule through intersections and made it home in one piece. While buying bus tickets from an agency, the diminuitive travel agent developed a wee crush on Vern (his blond locks know no bounds) and ended up leading him back up the street (away from the direction of our hotel) like the pair were entering a ballroom. Interlocked arms, laughing at everything he said and gazing longingly into his baby blues, all the signs were there. A romance was budding...until I stepped in. I dragged Vern away ('We're going this way.') and we found dinner at a BBQ place that had a huge pig roasting on a spit outside. We sat down and were given no menu so we assumed we'd get some of the pig. We did indeed, along with a salad of vegetables that should have all been served cooked and four beers when Vern only ordered one. The place was packed with locals (all men) drinking buckets of beer for a night out. When we left, the pig was almost skinned down to the bones. We passed it again later and it was just bones. There were parts of it missing that we didn't even know one could eat!
Back at the hotel we were exhausted and ready for bed. Some other guests had different ideas. As we walked in we saw a guy with a Cambodian woman in a tiny dress, very high heels and a lot of makeup. I know what you're thinking: his auntie. That's what we thought too until we saw the receptionist diplomatically telling him that no guests are allowed in the hotel. They argued for a while and we left before a resolution was reached but it looked like the man was set to have a quiet night as well as he watched his $50 go right down the drain.