Siem Reap, Cambodia and Angkor Wat 2008

Day 9 – Travel day to Siem Reap

We had just spent a few days in Chiang Rai and so had flown Air Asia from Chiang Rai to Bangkok and then were flying Bangkok Airways from Bangkok to Siem Reap.

The Bangkok Airways flight was fine, only about 55 minutes, and they even served a meal (sandwich).  However, with all the forms you have to fill out to enter Cambodia I spent the whole time filling out four copies of each form. I had tried to do e-visas on line before we left, but kept having problems so just decided to get them upon arrival.  We did not have to wait long at all and it was fun to watch the row of important looking people look at and stamp our passports.  Picked up our luggage and there was Ponheary Ly (our guide for Siem Reap/Angkor Wat) and her driver waiting to pick us up.  The Siem Reap airport is fairly new and extremely nice – we were quite impressed.  They dropped us off at Hotel de la Paix (read my review here) and we were set to meet her at 8am the next morning.  We were tired and hungry, but it was late, so we decided to eat at Meric the hotel restaurant and we had a nice dinner.

 Day 10 – Angkor Wat

At Hotel de la Paix  for breakfast,  the cold items are in a buffet and then you order hot items from the menu (still included in the room rate).  This was actually nice, except if you are in a hurry and have to wait for your food.

We headed out to Angkor Wat and got our first glimpse of Siem Reap in the daytime.  We immediately liked it.  It was much more charming than any other town/city we had been to on this trip.  Lucky for us we arrived at Angkor Wat early enough, so that there were not too many people.  We enjoyed walking around and particularly listening to Ponheary’s stories of the Khmer Rouge – fascinating.

Michael did get a little bored, but was anxious to get his picture taken in the exact same spot as a picture he had in his Ancient World History textbook – a picture of two monks in looking at Angkor Wat.

We saw a few brides preparing for wedding ceremonies, and it was interesting to see their colorful dress.

There was also an interesting spot where people had started piling small stones atop each other to make small temples.  Ponheary said that this is to encourage people to leave the small relics in the complex rather than take them home with them.

We arrived back at the hotel about 11:00am and planned to meet up again with Ponheary at 4pm.  Mid-day showers for all, then I brought my little list of restaurant recommendations to the concierge and asked her which one she suggests we should go to for lunch.  She recommended Viroth’s.  We took a tuk tuk there as it was located across the river.

Our driver dropped us off and then said if we liked he would be back in an hour to pick us up.  As soon as we drove up we instantly knew we were going to like this place.  We just loved the décor and we also found the food fabulous.  The glass noodle salad with shrimp was the best dish I had so far on the trip, and the lemon granitas were fabulous.  We were enjoying ourselves so much that we decided to order dessert.

Our tuk tuk driver waited patiently as we took longer than the appointed hour.

We went back and rested a bit before having to meet up with Ponheary at 4:00.  At 3:45pm the sky started to get very dark, by 3:50pm it was raining.  By the time Ponheary picked us up it was pouring!!  This is what my brother-in-law from Florida would call a “frog strangler”!!  Our plan was to go to Angkor Tom and Ta Phrom, but Ponheary said it was raining so hard we might not be able to get out of the car but just drive around.  It continued to absolutely pour.  It was amazing to see the people riding their bikes in the rain.  I kept thinking it would be great if it stopped raining while we were out there because then we would be there and everyone else would be gone.  Unfortunately, it continued raining for about an hour.  The roads were flooding and becoming little rivers.  Actually, it was kind of neat to be driving around the temple area when it was raining so hard.  We will just have to come back tomorrow to walk around the temples.

We headed back to town and decided to go to Artisan’s D’Angkor.  By the time we got there it had stopped raining.  We really enjoyed watching the craftsmen/women at work.  At the gift shop we purchased several things and they gave us a great woven basket to carry everything in.  Ponheary took us back to the hotel.  We freshened up for dinner and walked down the street to Café Indochine.  The food was good, I particularly liked the fried squid with black kepong pepper, however, the service was a bit spotty when two busloads of people arrived.  For dessert we stopped at Café de la Paix attached to the hotel.

Day 11- Angkor Thom/Bayon, Ta Prohm & Tonle Sap Lake

We had decided to start at 7am this morning to try and beat the heat.  We explored Angkor Thom/Bayon.

Michael enjoyed doing any climbing that Ponheary would allow.

Next we visited Ta Prohm.  We really enjoyed both of these, particularly Bayon and preferred them both to Angkor Wat.

We were back at the hotel about 10am and planned to meet up with Ponheary again at 4pm to go to Tonle Sap lake.  After a short rest and showers we headed to The Old Market and Pub Street area.  We checked out all the restaurants and decided on the Blue Pumpkin.  We went upstairs and enjoyed relaxing on the bed/couch dining tables in the air-conditioned space.  Our lunch was a mixture of khmer and western food.

Stephen went to the hotel as he had a massage appointment.  The kids and I shopped at the Old Market.  We found this to be our favorite market as we found some things we had not seen elsewhere.  There were also several nice shops along the same side of the road that Blue Pumpkin is on, across from the Old Market.

Ponheary picked us up at 4pm and she brought along her adorable nephew, PhiPhi.

Our drive to Tonle Sap lake was about forty-five minutes, with very interesting fields, houses and markets along the way.  At some point we stopped at a small outpost with about five to six people in official uniforms sitting at a table under a thatched roof.  Ponheary jumped out to tell them that four tourists would be going on the boat.  You could pay these guys for the boat ride, but Ponheary said she told them we will pay the boat driver directly.

We drove a bit more and began to notice that the people were looking poorer and poorer.  Ponheary explained that this is one of the poorest places in Cambodia.  We got to our longtail boat, which was actually one of the most comfortable boats we had been on this trip, as we each had our own nicely padded chair.  This was definitely a “wow” for us, seeing these people just living on these small boats or houseboats.  But it was amazing to see how colorful everything was.

We were just riding along when all of a sudden a young girl was standing next to me offering me “Coke for $1”.  We did not have any idea where she came from, then turned around and realized she had quietly rowed her boat up next to ours and jumped onto the boat to sell her soda.  We declined and she jumped off and rowed away.

We stopped in the middle of the lake and listened to Ponheary tell Khmer Rouge stories and talk about the war.  Soon a small boy, I don’t think more than four or five was on our boat selling bananas for $1, then his sister hopped on selling more soda for $1.  Dad was in his boat right next to ours.

However, when the girl with the giant snake tried to get on the boat I told Ponheary to please make sure she did not get on the boat!! YIKES!!

We drifted by a floating Catholic Church then decided to go to the floating fish and crocodile farm.

I was expecting to see crocodiles in some sort of cage but as I got off the boat, the man who helped me was holding a small crocodile in his other hand!!!  I can laugh about it now, but was a bit alarmed at the time!!  We walked on the deck for a bit, Michael was diligent about making sure another girl with a snake was always far away from me.  We watched them feed a catfish to one of the crocodiles – “SNAP” – that was loud!

Time to get back to the boat.  As we started to float away we noticed a woman having a man put fire and hot rocks on her back.  Ponheary explained that they do that to get any sickness out.  I just want to note that at the time of day we went we did not notice very many other tourist boats.  As we were leaving the dock another one was coming in.  We also noticed a lot of vans/buses driving away from the lake as we were driving towards it, but while we were on the lake there were very few other tourist boats.  I think going later in the day was a good idea – also a bit cooler.

We had such a great lunch at Viroths the day before we decided to go there for dinner tonight, and had another lovely meal.  By the way, I noticed a brochure they had for a new hotel they opened.  I checked out their website and it looks pretty nice.  The website says the rooms start at 60USD/night.  It is on the other side of the river from Old Market/Pub Street, but nothing a $2 tuk tuk ride could not handle. (http://www.viroth-hotel.com/).  We went back to the hotel and enjoyed dessert on the swings at Meric restaurant.  One word of warning – the swings are not great if you have a bad back as they provide limited back support.

 Day 12 – School visit and Banteay Srei

Today was my birthday, and I was lucky enough to spend the morning with 450 schoolchildren!  I had sent money to Ponheary before we left so she could purchase vegetables, meat and drinks for the kids at Knar Primary School.  She picked us up at 8:30am with the van filled with food and drinks.  The drive out to the school was forty-five minutes.  As soon as we arrived the older kids started unloading the supplies from the van and the older girls began preparing the vegetables immediately.

We met the teachers and principal and saw the library and classrooms.  All the desks were outside at the moment so the kids could eat lunch on them.

Today was their last day of school before their spring holiday, so they were just having a big party.  There was a DJ and very large speakers playing dance music.   The favorite of the boys was definitely the Macarena!!  The music slowed down a bit and the girls started doing a simple aspara dance.  Someone invited Lauren and me to join in.  After a few minutes I got the hang of it.  Soon a young man of nineteen asked me to dance.  I asked him what he wants to do after school and he said something with music.

The girls were making little flower necklaces and periodically came up to Lauren and me and put them around our necks.  I think we each had at least ten around our necks.

Ponheary said it was time to go to Banteay Srei so we took a break while the older students and several adults finished cooking the meal.  It was only another 10 minute drive to Banteay Srei temples.  This was a very small temple but with extremely intricate carvings.  There was not as much left standing at this temple as the others.

We headed back to the school where the lunch was just about ready.  Two boys were carrying a GIANT tub of rice and large bucket of beef and vegetables.

Michael served the rice and Lauren and I served the meat and vegetables.

(Stephen was having a bit of a green tummy – when we first arrived they cut up coconut and gave us each one to drink.  He thought his tasted a bit sour and may have been what caused the tummy ache.)  Before serving, the kids sang Happy Birthday to me, then they all started crowding around us with their small plastic or tin bowls.  This was really quite an experience.  After the food was gone we served them all juice or soybean milk.

We drove back to the hotel, and arrived around 1pm.  Ponheary asked about meeting again in the afternoon to see more temples, but we said we think it is time to rest!!  So we had lunch at Khmer Kitchen and then went back to the hotel to rest by the pool.

Since it was my birthday dinner we made reservations at Le Bistro, a nice French restaurant at the Victoria Angkor Resort.  Our dinner was very good, particularly the endive, apple and cheese salad.  The servers were very attentive, although we did have some brief communication problems when ordering dessert, which made us all laugh, including the waiters.

Day 13 – Lazy day in Siem Reap

Our flight was not scheduled to leave until 7:30pm.  We actually tried to change to an earlier flight, but even with three to four earlier flights they were all booked.  So, we decided to have a much needed day of rest.  We were able to get a late checkout at 3pm which I thought was very generous of them.  So, we slept in late, had a leisurely breakfast and then started packing.  At 2pm we called to have our bags picked up and checked out.  We were set to have a hotel driver pick us up at 5:30pm to take us to the airport.  We walked over to the Blue Pumpkin and hopped on one of the beds for lunch.  This definitely is a popular place for foreigners to hang out, rest, enjoy the air conditioning and use the wi-fi.  There was one Japanese family next to us whose baby was asleep in the stroller and Mom and Dad were asleep on the couch/bed!!

 

 

 

By the way, the Siem Reap airport is one of the nicest small airports I have ever been to and there is a nice Artisans D’Angkor Store if you missed something the first time.  We had a nice flight back to BKK.  We had decided to book AAC Limo again to take us back to the Peninsula, just so we would not have to wait since it would be later in the evening.  When we arrived no one was there waiting for us.  I asked someone else where AAC Limo was.  She did not know but she found their paperwork and called them (this was after 5-10 minutes).  Then she said “Come,” and I said “Are they here already?” and she said “yes.”  Needless to say they were not there and we had to wait outside in the heat for another ten minutes or so.  I was pretty annoyed since that was exactly what I was paying to avoid.  I gave them a second chance after not being ready on our original arrival in BKK, but after the second time I would definitely not recommend them.

 Day 14 – Back to Bangkok and Jim Thompson House

We had one more full day/night in Bangkok before flying out the following day at 7:20pm.  We really wanted to see the Jim Thompson house so took the skytrain there.  This was an absolute oasis in the city.  Beautiful architecture and priceless antiques.  Tours start every 20 minutes in English, French, Japanese and Thai.  The tour lasted about thirty-five minutes and took us through the gardens and home.

After the tour we did some shopping in the store and then had a very nice lunch at the lovely Jim Thompson restaurant.

After lunch we went to the Central World Plaza and shopped!  Lauren really enjoyed looking through the small boutiques on the bottom floor.  It appeared as though they may be for budding designers.  She found her prom dress at one of these boutiques.  Stephen left the shopping early to return to the hotel for his last Thai massage.

For dinner we had the concierge make us dinner reservations at Lord Jim’s at the Oriental Hotel.  We did not have a window seat, but enjoyed our dinner and setting just the same. The food was fantastic, but unfortunately, we ordered a bit too much food, which filled our stomachs and emptied our wallets!!  Warning – they have a seafood appetizer which they say is for two.  We ordered it, thinking the four of us would share it as an appetizer.  Well, it was enough food to feed four people for dinner!!

Day 15 – Last minute shopping, and time to travel home

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 7:20pm.  We got up, packed and headed out for more shopping.  Back to Siam Paragon as I definitely did not get enough time at Exothique Thai the last time.  Stephen enjoyed perusing the electronics and cars.

We decided to skip the food court downstairs as it just seemed like a zoo, so we had lunch at a restaurant on Floor 1 called “Another Hound”.  It was a mixture of Italian and Thai and had very good food.

When we were back at the Peninsula we went to the bell captain to call a taxi.  When he saw all our bags he said we would either need two taxis or we could take one of the Peninsula’s cars.  I asked him about getting a van taxi but he said you need to call an hour in advance for that.  We decided to just go ahead and take the Peninsula car service despite the steep price (our last Peninsula splurge!!)  Just so everyone knows, this does include more than just a drive to the airport.  When we arrived at the airport two Peninsula employees greeted us, and immediately took all our bags, helped us check in and even took care of the customs portion of our VAT refund.  Now, of course we could have easily done all this ourselves, but if we were paying more money, it was very nice to have some extra service.  I am sure if we had hired them to pick us up at the airport they would have been there on time, waiting with their sign!!

Our flight home to LAX was nonstop, uneventful and arrived over an hour early.  AFTER we had gone through customs and were about to head out we realized we had left our bag with all our Jim Thompson purchases on the plane!!  We saw some Thai Airways flight attendants and told them the situation.  They said someone found the bag and was waiting by the luggage carousel hoping to find the owner.  Stephen ran back there and got it and went back through customs.

Our flight to Oregon was leaving the next morning so we stayed at the Renaissance Montura (a Marriott) near LAX.  It turned out that was where the Thai Airways crew stayed as well.  One of the flight attendants recognized us from when we were looking for our bag and asked if we had found it.  Just another example of the great service.

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