November 9 to 15, Siem Reap.
Two six-hour bus rides with Mekong Express, during the second of which I learned that Donald Trump had won the presidential election. My neighbor and I checked to see what our respective Facebook friends had to say about that.
There were a lot of white cattle along the road, and I was on the lookout for a photo to illustrate the seven lean years of Pharaoh’s dream in Genesis. But I only saw two or three at a time, and the ones I saw later looked in better shape.
The buses were more comfortable than I expected, and we were served with snacks from a bakery and bottles of water on both journeys. After Phnom Penh, the landscape was more attractive until our evening break at dusk.
Arrived at Siem Reap just after 8 and took a tuk-tuk to the Guesthouse. Two power cuts, so I went to bed early.
In the morning I went out to explore, but, lacking a map which marked the hotel, turned the wrong way and walked round a big block before discovering a Tourist Information office.
Visited the National Museum before meeting Hanna and her children for lunch. I could have done with an extra half-hour there. Hanna was a student in Gothenburg and sang in the St Andrew’s choir.
She and her husband Dennis have been working as Church of Finland missionaries in Cambodia. He now has a good job in his native Tanzania, and she and the children are preparing to join him. Perhaps this will be their last visit to their favourite café in Siem Reap.
Wandered through the Old Town, then sat by the river reading Norman Lewis’s account of his trip to Indochina in the 1950s, and watching crews preparing for a boat race to celebrate the end of the monsoon season. Just after I took this photo, a smart and enthusiastic women’s crew rowed past. I am sorry I missed them.
At 5, bought an ice cream. Good job it was a tub, as it melted quickly in the heat.
Tried to find my way back to the Guesthouse, but overshot it. The guy in Tourist Info had marked it as further out than it is. So in the end I took a tuk-tuk back.
Moved to the Shining Angkor Boutique Hotel. If “Boutique” suggests something small, fragile and pretty, think again. Cambodian furniture – chairs especially – are large, solid and uncomfortably hard. Having moved here to be within walking distance of Angkor Wat, I had a long hot walk in the other direction to buy my admission ticket. I then followed the river into town to check out St John’s Church, and had an interesting conversation with Agatha, a Malaysian woman my own age, with a passion for travel and pilgrimage, who is spending six months working in the parish.
Left at 7:45 for a one-hour walk to Angkor Wat. Unusually, nobody offered me a tuk-yuk on the way – but then, I was walking along the edge of a forest and passed no hotels. AW is one of the mountain temples. I thought I heard a tour guide say there had been a Meditation Hall half way up, but if so, it is not open to the public. Admission to the top level involves queuing to go up the very steep steps, and I think a maximum of 20 minutes at the top, so I did not bother. Instead, I found a shady corner to say morning prayer.
This is just one of the many temples, and I did not find it the most attractive. Too many tourists, and scenes of fighting gods and men. A few gold-clad buddhas, to which nobody paid much attention.
Walked back through one of the many villages intent on the tourists’ dollars. I bought a fridge magnet from one little girl and a fan (useful in the tropical heat) from another, but declined an offer of 10 postcards from a persistent little boy. Once over the moat, I saw to my delight an air-conditioned restaurant, the Blue Pumpkin, which is linked to an enterprise training young people in crafts. An iced coffee was very good. I discovered the little white jug served with it contained some kind of honey or syrup.
Thus cooled and fortified, I moved on to the complex Angkor Thom. Another moat, with a bridge of Buddha faces.
Wandered round two more temples, Bayon (Mahayana Buddhist, c 1300) and Baphoun (Hindu temple mountain, c 1050, again I did not go right to the top, but there was a holy place where we had to remove our shoes, and I prayed there).
Many of the stones from these two temples are lying around, waiting for the next stage in the jigsaw puzzle to be completed.
The Terrace of the Elephants was a disappointment; the elephants would not have been photogenic even if the sun had been in the right place.
As I walked back, the tuk-tuk drivers were a nuisance, telling me it was 8 km to my hotel and too hot to walk. My immediate target was the Blue Pumpkin again, where I had a pizza to go with the iced coffee but took half of it home for dinner.
Now I would have been prepared to accept a tuk-tuk ride, and nobody offered until I was almost on a level with the hotel. I think I would have had time to walk to the church, but was pleased to have a ride even if it meant arriving at 5 for the English-language mass at 6:30.
Agatha had told me that the church followed local custom, sitting on mats on the floor, with chairs round the edge for those who couldn’t manage. Two young women with a guitar and an iPad led the music, with the words of the liturgy and hymns projected. We sang Seek ye first, Majesty and Shine, Jesus, Shine. The priest was a Maryknoll Father from the USA, in town for an interfaith conference, since the Jesuits were on retreat. Faced with readings about the end times, plus the US elections, his sermon picked up on Jesus’ words, “fear not” or “do not be terrified”, as a preparation for the new liturgical year two weeks away. It was a joyful service.
I walked into town for the Water Festival. Not really worth the effort, but I did get to see a modern city centre temple with art work depicting the life of Siddhartha.
Getting out of a tuk-tuk on the way back, I must have dropped my purse in the vehicle. Very little money in it, but my ticket for Angkor Wat and, unfortunately, all my plastic cards. I knew it was a bad idea to keep them all together. I do have cash, in my wallet, but will have to be careful what I spend from now on. The good news is that someone found the purse, which had my email address in it, and posted it back to me. The bad news is that, six weeks later, it has not arrived.
While I was eating breakfast, a procession of schoolchildren walked past, followed by a festival float and a few Cambodian adults. I followed shortly after to what is marked on the map as “The Killing Fields”, a temple which had served as a prison during the Pol Pot regime and now houses an exhibition about the history of those days for the 70% of the Cambodian population born since 1979. The children were not looking at the exhibition, nor at the Buddhist monks and lay people sitting on mats and chanting prayers.
Then back to my air-conditioned room where I had the nearest approach to a rest day of the whole trip. I wondered about swimming in the pool, but decided against.
After a bumpy ride via the Angkor Wat coach park (presumably to avoid the traffic as I cannot believe it is shorter than the main road), arrived at the airport too early to check in. Some people were weighing themselves on the scale provided for baggage, so I did the same: 71.4 kg with light clothes but no shoes. This compares with bathroom scales reading 80 kg when I left England, and 75 kg in the USA and Japan. Almost down to a “normal” weight for my height.