On November 4th Fred the bike is embarking on a six month journey across Southeast Asia. Starting in Singapore, Fred plans to make his way up the west coast of Malaysia, across Thailand, Cambodia, up through Vietnam and into Laos. After that... who knows? Fred invites you to follow him through his adventure. Any advice from fellow travelers is always welcome.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Siem Reap

I have spent such a great deal of time here, that I feel in warrants it's own entry. Why, you ask, have I spent so much time here? A mix up with my visa application for Vietnam resulted in an extra three days in the city. I went to a travel agency the day after arriving here to purchase a visa and was told I would only be able to receive a fifteen day visa. I asked the travel agent if he was sure as I had heard from numerous sources that the standard entry visa to Vietnam was thirty days. He assured me that a thirty day visa was not possible, and if I wanted to extend it I could once in Vietnam. I took his word for it, which proved to be a mistake. After having paid for it and having it sent to processed, I found out it is possible to get a thirty day visa. I went back to the Agency where I had purchased my visa and told him of what I had found out. He argued with me, insisting still that I could only get a fifteen day visa. "Wait", he said, "I'll call the embassy and prove it to you!" I sat and watched him dial the phone. He spoke in Khmer, so I couldn't understand what he was saying, but the look on his face was all too clear. He had, in fact made a mistake. At first he tried to tell me I was S.O.L. However, I wasn't excepting this. I sat down and insisted he somehow rectify the situation and, after an hour of arguing, he got on the phone and had my paperwork reprocessed for a thirty day visa. As a result I ended up having to wait an extra three days.
There are worse places in the world to be stuck than Siem Reap. There is definitely no shortage of things to see here. Had I known I would be here for almost a week, I would have opted for a seven day pass instead of a three day pass to Ankor Wat. However, three days is a sufficient amount of time to see the majority of the Ankor Temples. On the first day I ventured out to Ankor Wat. It was amazing. The temple is gargantuan in size. Quite a sight indeed. The temple of Ankor Thom, I must say, I found slightly more appealing. Chiseled into it's large stone walls are solemn faces which stare down upon you. It's completely out of this world. If you continue down the road there are many smaller temples to be seen. They don't attract quite as many tourists, although getting a human-free snap shot still proved to be a little bit of a challenge. The area is totally bike conducive, which meant Fred got to tag along on this one. In fact, most tourists rent bicycles from their guesthouses to explore the temples. Most of them are rusty old heaps though, and I say many people looking at Fred with an envious eye.
On the second day I rode out to The Rolous group, a small group of pre-ankorian temples less visited by tourists. After riding around Cambodia on my touring tires for a few days, I finally decided to swap them for my cross tires. This decision would probably have been more wise had it been made in Si Saphon, seeing as the worst road in Cambodia is supposedly the one I took to get from there to Siem Reap. While the rest of the highways are paved, the same can't be said for any smaller roads I have to take, so I thought it best to strap on the treads. I woke up early in the morning to change my tires. While putting them on outside of my guesthouse I looked up to discover a rather large group of Khmer men watching me. Before I knew it I had an entire team pulling off the old tires, popping on the new ones and pumping them up. All I had to do was sit back and watch. It was actually pretty nice, and took a fraction of the time it would have taken me to do it myself. After that I was ready to head out for more temple seeing. I really enjoyed the rolous group. It was far less touristy than the main temples. The inscriptions on the walls are so detailed. The temples themselves are pyramid-like in structure. They are almost something you would expect to see in the ruins of Egypt. It wasn't far from Siem Reap. About a 15km ride, and the roads were beautifully paved.
On the third and final day of my pass to the temples I had planned to bike out to the Further Afield, yet another group of temples about 35km from the city. However it didn't quite pan out. After biking in the wrong direction for about 15km, I had to turn back and backtrack. Then, feeling the saddle on my bike was a little too low, I decided to stop and adjust it. When I took out the screw I discovered it was stripped and was unable to screw it back in. For two hours I sat there fiddling around with it, trying to find a screw on some accessory on my bike that would fit. Finally, I popped off one of the screws from my kickstand, which was a perfect fit. However, when all was said and done it was a little too late to make it there and back in reasonable time, so I had to skip this portion of the Ankor Experience.
As for the city of Siem Reap, it has been an experience. During the day shops and markets line the streets, selling everything from silk to t-shirts with cheesy logos. The night life is booming. There are a ton of restaurants, both Khmer and international, and a wide array of clubs, pubs and bars. I've been steering clear of alcohol. For no particular reason. I guess I just don't want to spend the entire time I have here in a haze. There are a few coffee shops though, and if all else fails you can always order a refreshing fruit shake or soda at one of the night time hot spots.
The people of Cambodia are, generally, nice. However walking the streets of Siem Reap, you feel a little like a walking ATM. Everyone is trying to sell you something. I've spent a small fortune here (with very little to show for it). However I don't really mind. Cambodia is a rather impoverished country. True, they take full advantage of tourists, squeezing every cent they can out of you. When you look around and see the amount of poverty here, you understand why. It's heart breaking. The Cambodian people are truly people in need. The streets are lined, day and night, with people begging. Some sell books or small trinkets, some perform traditional Khmer music, and some simply beg. It's so hard to turn your back on them, but it is such great abundance here, that you have to. If I were to give money to every person who asked I would go broke within an hour. In Canada there is, of course, beggars and homeless people. It's different though. Back home you can turn your back, or simply ignore, the panhandlers without it wearing to heavily on you conscience. First of all, about ninety percent of the time, you can rest assured the money they are asking for isn't to feed their bellies but to feed some form of addiction. Be it alcohol, drugs or whatever. Secondly, Canada is not a country that has been stricken with war and famine. There is an abundance of opportunity there. I say this, as someone with limited education and no formal training in any field, from experience. Here, though, things are different. People beg to survive. Last night I went to the corner store to indulge in a pre-bedtime snake. Outside were two women, both with baby in arms begging, not for money, but for someone to buy them milk to feed their children. Everywhere you look are men, women and children with missing limbs or disfigurements. Victims of a world they did not ask to be born in to.
For those of you heading this way, I leave you with this. While the constant begging can wear on one's nerves, be patient and try to show a little generosity. Think of all these people have had to endure. Appreciate the fact that they embrace having us here. That we have been given the opportunity to see this beautiful country. Consider all you have, and all they do not.


Luth said...

Wow. sounds amazing and worth the long journey for the experience. We were talking about you in the MEC today, so I'll let the guys about your blog. take care and keep up the great writing! Luth from the cycling department

Anonymous said...

Yes Gabrielle... welcome to the real (3rd)world. The rest of Kampuchea will also continue to amaze you.
We won the lottery just by being born in Canada or Europe, and most people do not realize it.