A birthday among the ruins

At the beginning of the year I was asked where I would like to go for my birthday in September.

I decided that I really wanted to be floating down the Nile with a glass of champagne. This was before the Arab Spring. This was before there was death and destruction on a vast scale. This was before brutal despots had been thrown out by brave people wanting their freedom. Not being so brave I didn't want to be ducking for cover and spilling the champagne.

So when asked again I thought of the second place that I really wanted to visit. It was Angkor Wat near Siem Reap in Cambodia. The easiest way to get to Siem Reap is through Bangkok so we decided to spend some time there. So off we flew to the Shangrila hotel on the banks of the river in Bangkok.





The Shangrila was very central and the suite looked down both sides of the river. Simply stunning during the day and fabulous at night as all the lights came on.






The first day we roamed far and wide using water-taxis, tuk-tuks and regular taxis. We visited the Jim Thompson House and various temples. Very hot but a lot of fun.






The next day we started at the flower and spice market and then visited the amazing complex of temples at the Royal Palace.






The next day we decided to let others look after our transport and we took a tour to a water village. Came face to face with large monitor lizards and traveled on the back of a poor down-trodden elephant. In other words, a truly tourist day. That night the sky gave a dazzling exhibition of prismatic clouds.





Then on to the plane bound for Seim Reap. We flew over vast rice fields and the beginning of the floods that would devastate Cambodia a month later. We were staying at the La Residance Hotel, an older style low rise building. Coming in from the airport you could see that the tourist developers were taking over with high-rise, incredibly ugly, hotels. The locals live in poverty while the NGO's swan around in large 4-wheel drives. Cambodia is an interesting place that has still to recover from the Khmer Rouge. An entire generation of knowledge and wisdom has been lost. NGO's seem to be make a good living from UN aid and the donations from the west. Education and jobs may be a little more beneficial to the population than more orphanages.





The next day we went to the temple complex. To my shame I thought Angkor Wat was what the area is all about. But it is a huge national park that contains many other temple areas and buildings that are just as fascinating as Angkor Wat. The first we visited was Angkor Thom. This has been left in the state that the first western explorers found it in. It is being repaired rather than restored. It seems to be the most photographed temple as it still has trees growing out of it. We also encountered socialist bureaucracy at it's pettiest. You can't get into the entire park complex without a ticket. The ticket is purchased at a large patrolled booth and has your photograph on it. The ticket is checked again 10 yards on. When we arrived at Thom I left my bag with the ticket in it in the car we had hired. The car was to meet us at the other side of this large complex. I should add that the day was unbearably hot and humid. We entered through the front gates and walked for 15 minutes to the temple proper. I should also add that the only way to enter the temple is through the front gates, it is completely walled. There was a petty ticket checker. By now my ticket was on the other side of the temple. No amount of explaining that I couldn't even be here if I had not paid, and already been vetted TWICE, would sway this bastion of authority. Luckily we could ring the driver and he came flying back and ran to us with my bag. Anyway, the temple is wonderful and amazing.





Because we were staying much longer in Seim Reap than the normal traveler we decided to take a temple break and visit a floating village. The entire village, shops, schools, temples, churches, houses and even a basketball court are on floats. During the dry season when the lake shrinks the village floats to the middle of the lake. During the wet season it anchors in a river mouth for protection. It was now the wet season and we ended up on a tiny boat that was having a lot of trouble with the strong winds. The trip back was interesting as we were in the pitch dark. Our only light coming from a torch being held over the side by a very young boy.






The next day we went temple hunting, still not going to Angkor Wat. It was if we felt we had to sneak up on it. That night we wandered around the town and had an obligatory cultural experience.





Finally we made it to Angkor Wat. Just after we arrived a stunning thunder storm bathed the temple in extraordinary light and water. Just magical.





The next we revisited some of our favorite temples and visited the Cultural Centre. Omar was asked to take the part of a father-in-law in a mock wedding at the Centre.






From here to Shanghai. That story is coming up next.


Find me on