19 March 2012

Angkor Wat back then

It's been a long time since we first visited Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Back in 2000 we took a small plane from Bangkok, leaving our luggage in the Hotel in Bangkok and traveling only with our small day packs. Siem Reap was a small and undeveloped town with very few Hotels. The Cambodians we met were shy and most of them did not speak any English.

When we landed in the small Airport of Siem Reap, we felt like landing in the middle of the jungle. There was no sign of a town. Just trees. Very green and lush forest below us. Immigration was a real experience with several official sitting along a long line of desks. You handed the first one your passport and visa application forms and it was handed along from official to official until you had to hand over your U.S. Dollars. Stamps were done by another person and the last one in the line held up 3 to 4 passports and we tourists, who all looked the same for them, had to pick ours!

Since we had no luggage we were out of the building in no time and anxiously looked around to find our reserved driver. We spotted my name on a large sign of a guy standing all the way in the back. Funnily they ran out of space as they wrote my long name onto the paper with the last three or 4 letters getting smaller and smaller.

Angkor Wat in 2000 - No tourists!
We had 3 days back then, visiting a lot of temples. Though I thought we were relatively well prepared, we really had not much of an idea what we saw. We also wanted to save money and did not hire a guide. We only had a driver who picked us up in the morning, drove us to the temples I had on my list and we wandered around alone. Only equipped with the excellent Angkor Guide by Dawn Rooney, we kept reading, holding the book up to see what direction we might be facing and then turned and walked to the described monuments and sites.

Of course we missed a lot, misinterpreted a lot and walked right by hidden gems, while fending of hordes of kids who wanted to sell things like postcards. Many of them started to walk around with us, turning themselves into our tour guide without us really noticing that change until it was too late. The kids also spoke no English and just pointed to "things" they deemed important for us to see. "Elephant", "Buddha", "Monkey" where things we heard and then tried to make it out somewhere on a wall. All interrupted by the occasional "only one dollar" comment from vendors who sold soft drinks and post cards.

This way we saw a lot, however didn't really have a chance to go deep on the wonderful world of Angkor. After three days of morning and afternoon trips, wonderful dinners in our Hotel and a rather short run through the local market, it was time to go back to Bangkok. So for 12 years I was dreaming to go back for another visit. A longer visit with more time to explore Angkor. And I finally did do it in 2012.

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