Eventually Chiang Mai was too dangerously addictive to stay so we elected to make the long bus trips to Siem Riep, Cambodia in order to visit one of the modern wonders of the world, Angkor! I had previously visited Angkor and written about it (even somewhat humourously) so I would direct you to my 28-year-old impressions here. However, this was now to be undertaken with S. and the delightfully cosy hotel we arrived at after 24 hours of travel was welcome for its pool as well as the effort they took to strip the garden of flower blossoms and flax to create a botanical artwork adorning our bed congratulating S. on her birthday (slyly informed).

To provide a short recap, the Angkor civilisation was the premier power on continental southeast Asia from ~900-1300 AD. Their power covered much of modern-day Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia and the Angkor city was the largest urban settlement in the world for more than 300 years. Pretty impressive and now all that is left are the massive stone temples which represented the physical embodiment of the devotion of their ruling kings to the Hindu gods and Buddhism. After the gradual fall of the civilisation, the wooden sprawl of the cities were subsumed into the hungry jungles, and only stone remained.

Siem Riep itself remains a madhouse of touts and keen masseuses so in order to celebrate properly we visited a social enterprise in the form of Marum which provides hospitality training to former street children and other disadvantaged youth. They are part of a network which consists of 7 restaurants in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Ethiopia. The menu was inventive and delicious with red tree ants and BBQ’d frog legs finding their way into our mouths.

Early in the morning we embarked on a 25 km tuk tuk trip  to the Banteay Srey temple north of the main temple complex in order to try to avoid most of the tourists. As luck would have it we were travelling just after Chinese New Year so had to battle hordes of tour groups for prime photo opportunities. However the reddish pink sandstone bore witness to the sheer artistry employed by the Angkorians. Fierce devatas (warriors), delicate apsaras (dancing ladies) and growling garudas (bird with massive talons and a sharp beak) had been carved across the temple devoted to the Hindu god Shiva. Later on (like many Angkor temples) it had been retrofitted to also pay homage to the Buddha.

We visited many Gormenghast-esque temples including the famed Angkor Wat at dawn to take the classic photo which even adorns the national flag. However for the second time the clouds thwarted my ambition and I was reduced to taking a snap of the enormous crowd with the pros encamped with their camera tripods in one bedraggled clump. Our favourite temple was Ta Phrom, otherwise known as the Tomb Raider temple for its cameo in the movie with Lara Croft. The big stars are the strangler fig trees bestroding various walls and holy temples. Their roots are works of art in themselves but the combination with the ancient stone gives one the feeling you’re uncovering the relics of a long-lost civilisation. Which I guess is the point. Archeologists are now enthusiastically chopping down these titans of the jungle in order to protect the stone unbound by either mortar or steel rebar.

We retraced our steps once we had imbibed our fill of Angkor and headed to the coast of the Andaman Sea northeast of Krabi Town via a train (and one missed connection), three buses and two songthaews and one tuk tuk. Our aim was Bananas Bungalows which had the benefits of a stratospheric tripadvisor rating coupled with complete isolation. Stunningly located within a mangrove, picture-perfect bamboo bungalows (as advertised) led to a wooden pier which provided perfect sunsets and lazy hammocks for reading.

We also loved the communal dinners, perfect for getting to know the other guests, the warm hosts (including volunteers working for food and board helping out the German owner) and the general slower pace of life with some staying for weeks at a time. The highlight was the plethora of animal life with the owners’ seven Chihuahuas running around, two aviaries stuffed with doves, tropical birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, parakeets and even a golden tree snake which cheekily devoured two chicks before being spotted by yours truly during my breakfast which led to a fatal beating by the gardener. We also encountered a banana spider the size of my hand, vast casts of crabs migrating their way across the low tide desert of the bay, an irate monkey making off with a water bottle out of our kayak and a cheery frog squatting on top of our mosquito net in the morning as we woke to yet another day in paradise. After five fun nights we moved a little to the south to Klong Muong beach to meet S.’s father and stepmother before we head to Myanmar.

 

Advertisements