Siem Reap, Cambodia: Ten Tips for the First-Time Visitor (Frugal Travel Guy)
On the second day, bright and early (around 8:00 or something) I was meeting a guide named Tom (or Thom, your guess is as good as mine). Tom is a friendly and sly fellow with excellent English who’s seen and worked with enough stupid tourists to feel quite comfortable around them. As I declined the concierge’s offer to rent a car for the day, we were making our way toward the tuk-tuk parked across the street, when I had a chance to deliver a knockout.
“First time in Siem Reap?” he asked.
“Fist time in Cambodia?”
“Do you know another name for our country?”
“You mean Kampuchea?”
He slapped himself on the knee. “I can’t believe it! How do you know that?”
Well, I did. When Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge took over the country, they declared it the Year Zero, and changed the name of it, too. I also knew that Siem Reap means Siam Defeated. With Siam being the old name of the modern Thailand, it’s not hard to imagine how proud were the 16th century Khmers if they renamed the whole province in its honor!
I asked Tom out of curiosity, how Thai tourists feel about the name of the city. He laughed again. “No problem,” he said. “They don’t care.”
No kidding, they don’t! In the late 18th century, Thailand defeated Cambodia once again and regained control of Angkor. Siamese lords must’ve had more than one chuckle saying this out loud: Siem Reap, Siem Reap… yeah right!
What you get in Siem Reap is not what you find in glance magazines or professional photo albums. When you do your research on Trip Advisor or anywhere else, do yourself a favor and ignore professional photos. Ignore photoblogs too. Check the travelers’ photos because they will tell you much more of a real story, and the real story is better and more interesting. You can wait for a perfect combination of weather, the color of the sky and lack of other tourists (yeah, good luck with that) to make that perfect shot, or you could use this time to see more and learn more. My position is if you are crossing the world in search of a glance shot, you are grossly overpaying. I’m sure there are great sunset pictures that can be taken from your own backyard if you wait for just the right moment.
Some Angkor temples have been better restored than others, but the point is, these structures are ruins in different stages of decay. Does it make them less fascinating? Hell, no, but beautiful glance photographs do not do this place justice—in any possible way!
I am a lousy photographer, and my total lack of Photoshop skills gives you a chance to see Angkor the way it really is, as the pics below are truly WYSIWYG.
You might not see Angkor Wat like this…
Photo by: tajai
Instead you might see it like this. Do these “imperfections” make it not worth going? I hope not.
The Guards of Angkor Wat. Do not carry any plastic bags with you. Seriously!
Angkor Wat East Entrance
The View After a Steep Ascend
These guys do not look happy (enlarge)
Yours Truly (do not enlarge :))
A Small Shrine
Apsaras are skilled and seductive supernatural dancers. You’ll see them in every Angkor temple. It’s funny actually: did ancient Khmers knew secrets of surgical enhancements, or is it that male fantasies haven’t changed at all throughout the ages?
Years of civil war and looting following the defeat of Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese left plenty of beautiful statues headless. Bands of looters would cross the border into Thailand often in armored military vehicles to sell Angkor archeological treasures to the highest bidder.
More Beautiful Carvings