Exploring Cambodia’s fabulous temples
Editor’s note: Vail resident Luc Pols is on a 10-week adventure in Southeast Asia, where he plans to raft the fabled Mekong River through Laos and Cambodia into Vietnam and on to the Sea of China. Each week, he is filing a report on his travels and sending them back to us along with photos of the journey.
We are a bit tired and decide to spend a couple of days at the beach in Sinahoukville, about a four-hour bus ride from Cambodia’s capitol, Phnom Penh. We find a couple of nice bungalows about a three-minute walk to the beach and relax. However, we do rent a couple of mopeds to go visit a local national park, Ream, and see the waterfall. Before we got to the waterfall, we are hiking up a small (by Colorado standards) mountain to see the remnants of a couple of houses, where reputedly the Khmer Rouge used to live.The temperature hovers around the 100-degree mark and the humidity is not far behind. People tell me I can lose weight this way, and I certainly hope so! The “waterfall” is quite disappointing and not worth the $6 entry fee, a small fortune here, if you reckon that a guesthouse goes for $4-5/night.
The beach is quite popular, not only with tourists but also with vendors, who carry their stuff on their heads: sunglasses, food, drinks … anything goes. One evening, Peter and I buy 40-50 langoustines (small lobsters) from a vendor for $7. Deliciously prepared, they made for quite a nice dinner. Now, Peter’s time is up and he is returning to Vail. I trade him in for my friend Martina from the Czech Republic (guess who got the better of this deal?), with whom I make a small, but exciting detour to the famous temples of Angkor, after spending two days in Bangkok. While there are quite a few smaller temples, which we visit, the three main ones are famous Angkor Wat; Angkor Thom with Bayonne in the center of it; and the magnificent, tree-overgrown Tha Phrom. We greatly enjoy Angkor Wat with its five towers. We even climb up to the top with the help of a railing, because it is immensely steep with small steps. We gawk at the faces in Angkor Thom; the Bayonne with its more than 30 towers has faces on all four sides of each of them, which is a sight to see. Our favorite, however, is Tha Phrom, where nature has been fighting man for hundreds of years, on the one hand destroying the temples, while on the other supporting them. Without the trees, a lot of the remaining structures in Tha Phrom would already have fallen: an incredible sight … an incredible experience!
Martina and I spend three marvelous days in Siem Reap, where Angkor is located and are lucky to be there during the finals of the annual dragon boat races, where for the first time, women’s teams are allowed. Very exciting, especially since one of the boats (no, not the women) takes on water and sinks in the middle of the race: no casualties, just laughter.We spend our last couple of days together in Phnom Penh, where the boat races finish the day we arrive on Monday. Here we end up in a crowd of a couple of hundred thousand people and we virtually cannot move. I hate to admit this, but it was not a comfortable feeling, especially since I do not speak the language: a bit scary, but we (obviously) got out.
Martina is flying back to Europe and I, once again, go back to the Mekong River on the way to Vietnam.” Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado CO