i woke up at 4:30 am feeling utterly miserable. how could i be awake at this hour when it’s still pitch black outside? after a *freezing* cold shower, i stumble outside. if you’re on your own, the cheapest and easiest way to see all the temples of angkor is to hire a scooter driver for the day. he picks you up in the morning and drives you to all the temples you want to see. all day long for 6$. we arrive to the main temple at 5:45 when it is just barely starting to get a little bit light out. everyone was milling about anxiously awaiting for the sun to rise from behind the watt. it finally did, and it was quite a sight. angkor watt is a huge stone watt with a collection of towers, tunnels, columns, and staircases. without showing a picture, there’s no way of describing how cool it looks. let’s just say that it isn’t considered one of the wonders of the world for nothing.
other than a few minor areas that have crumbled and are dangerous, people are allowed to walk around anywhere in the watt. it’s so cool to be able to explore all the different long passageways, see all the sculpted stones, and climb all over. the staircases here are insane. each step is about 1.5 to 2 feet high, but only about 6 inches wide! climbing up them is really sketchy, there is no handrail, and i am honestly surprised that people don’t fall to their deaths. oh, did i mention that a lot of the steps are crumbling and unstable? well, they are, so you have some added dangers there. i spent the next several hours exploring. it turns out that angkor watt is just one of the many ancient stone watts in the angkor ruins, so i got to see a ton of temples today.
as you walk into each temple there are usually a bunch of kids hanging around who try to be your guide for $$. the trick is that they just start following you around and telling you interesting facts about the temple. then, *after* they are done, it’s all “oh btw, gimme money!” and no matter how much you offer them, they always say that this is too cheap and that they want more. it’s a tough game to play. on one hand, i was interested in learning the history of the watts, but on the other hand, if i was told to pay a certain amount, i wanted to just pay that amount, and not spend the next 15 minutes haggling w/ the guy, and feeling bad. a lot of the guides are young, and one of mine was actually just a 10 year old kid!
by noon, i was thoroughly exhausted and very very hot. i had to sit down by one of the watts to rest. i noticed this old (and i mean *old*) man selling trinkets by the watt. he was so old that when he walked, he was so hunched over that his hands practically touched the ground. moments later, a ton of tourists show up and all of a sudden… they all go totally nuts! people are whipping out their cameras, shouting excitedly to their friends, pointing at the man, etc etc. huh? it turns out, this old man is on the cover of the lonely planet cambodia guide book. *the* guidebook. pretty much anyone who travels around uses lonely planet and every damn person had probably stared at this old man’s face a million times… and now they finally got to see him. seriously, the sunrise over angkor watt didnt create a stir as big as this.
as i said earlier, i was dead tired. so i probably spent a good 20 minutes sitting there watching. too funny. as each new person would round the corner, their face would light up and inevitably i would hear them turn to their friends “oh my god! look, that’s him!” followed by them whipping out their copy of the book, “oh my god. do you think he *knows* he’s on the cover? we should show him the book! should we? YES! lets show him!!!” so all these people would keep trying to show him the book, and he would look at it, grunt, and nod. i’m sure they all hoped that *they* had been the first to show him, and that he would thank them ecstatically… but alas, that never happened.
it was kinda sad in a way. all these people had no problem taking tons of snapshots of this guy, were soooo excited by him. yet hardly anyone would help him out by spending the *one measly dollar* that he was selling trinkets for!! i had to wonder what this guy got paid for being on the cover of the most popular guidebook for his country. a guidebook that’s sold probably millions of copies. obviously he didnt get too much if he’s still sitting here selling 1$ trinkets. *sigh* i bought a trinket, took a snapshot, and moved on.
later on i watched the sunset over another temple in angkor. AMAZING. when my guide showed up, he offers to take me to the “secret store”. secret store? now, i’ve already been offered hookers, drugs, and illegal gambling… but a secret store? what could that be? so, it turned out to be a lot less exciting than it sounded, he was actually just saying “cigarette store” with a very bad accent. ah.
-a few other thoughts on cambodia-
it’s weird. dollar is king here. all prices are in dollars instead of the riel (cambodian money). the riel is worth jack squat (3865 riel=1$). after being so used to paying in baht etc, it’s so bizarre to all of a sudden see dollars everywhere. to make matters more complicated, they also accept thai baht. so when you buy something, you never know what change you will get: baht, dollars, or riel. pretty soon my pocket was a huge jumble of tons of random bills and trying to figure anything out was quite confusing.
i know i’ve already written quite a bit about crazy driving, but here they take it to the next level. people drive on the right side of the road… except when they dont feel like it. so what you have at any given time is: no lanes, trucks and busses and cars being passed by scooters in either direction while cross traffic is coming at you from both sides. seriously nuts. and i’ve only seen one intersection w/ a traffic light, so most of the time, everyone just goes for it. the intersections end up being a jumbled mess of people going in like 16 different directions. and this is all a mix of bikes, scooters, walking people, and trucks. whoa!