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Thursday 30th September - Siem Reap
By Claire
Monday, 4th October 2004 06:28

Mikey started watching a film last night and I got too scared to watch any more. He saw it for me and told me what happened, which is nice of him.

I'd been worrying for most of the night about confronting Suoy, our driver. We didn't want to pay him as much as he'd asked, thinking he was being cheeky, so we'd offer to pay him for his time up until now, add a bit for a shorter day and a bit more for a longer day. It was foolproof and had the added bonus of us not having to make a decision about what to do today. Suoy listened, said that he'd take us to a few places I'd forgotten I'd wanted to see, and our whole plan was thwarted. We agreed to pay him more than we'd said we would, but neither of us minded that much.

Banteay Srey was about thirty miles away, and the main reason Suoy'd wanted more money. The drive out there was lovely, past paddy fields and tiny houses, a lot of people weeing in water, and buffalo, palm trees, pigs wrapped up in bendy wooden blankets and tied to the back of bikes, and women carrying three hundred dead chickens. The mine-clearing truck came past, with twenty people on the back, whole families by the look of their makeshift camp of deck chairs and hammocks. It was a glorious sunny day.

Banteay Srey was lovely, and the light was perfect. This place looked particularly gothic with moss-covered brick walls and pointy windows and spires. The carvings here were beautiful, the turrets completely covered with animals and people and foliage. There was a moat around the main wall, mossy sandstone blocks lining the edges, and tall trees overhung the water. There were not that many people here, and it ws possible to get some nice photos, plenty more windows and pointy roofs. The decorations on the sides of the spires were almost like fractal images - each point had a smaller point growing out of it, as intricately carved as the larger one. It was certainly worth the trip.

On the way back we found Banteay Samre, less decorated but very pleasingly symmetrical. We walked around the coridors just inside the square perimeter walls and peered through the balustraded windows onto the central sanctuary. It was a little place, with lovely green grass, and teasing glimpses of lawn through the stonework. In one place a series of arched doorways, a bit like the underneath of a viaduct, was collapsing gently, all the uprights bowing in and sloping in different directions.

We asked Suoy to take us to the elephants at Angkor Thom because I'd conviced Mikey that elephants would be fun to ride, and he wanted to take a few more pictures of Bayon without too many people around. Unfortunately, the elephants were off sleeping or having lunch, and Suoy took us to the Terrace of the Elephants instead, so we walked slowly to Bayon, admiring the carvings, the froglets hopping round in the sand and some bright shiny lizards enjoying early sunshine. We took a circuitous route into Bayon, climbing through my lovely doorframes and over piles of mossy carvings, just left to the elements. We had a clear run at photos, and managed a few nice wide shots without people in them. And then, for the last temple, and our last couple of hours here, we went back to Angkor Wat.

For some reason, the place was deserted. We concentrated on the famous bas reliefs on the inside wall of the first level, and we were just strolling along, admiring the incredible detail in the carving - absolutely every half inch was covered with figures, all fighting or riding elephants or dancing. A young monk in an orange robe, which, no matter how much I looked, just seemed to be a large sheet wrapped round him with no fastenings, sidled up to us. I'm a bit nervous of monks - the ones I met in Jerusalem just chanted in Latin a lot, which is downright scary, and in Thailand women aren't supposed to touch them or anything they own, and I'm not really sure what they do, so we watched him nervously for a bit. Then he started talking to us, and I think he just wanted to practice his English. He only seemed to have a vocabulary of about ten words, which made converstaion difficult, but it was still 900% more than I could speak Khmer. He tried to ask about us, he pointed to our clothing and then he gestured to the bas relief and said 'elepent' and 'umbrella', only one of which was true. After saying 'hit-kill' for a while, he hinted that he'd be happy to accompany us on our trip round the temple. In any other circumstances I'd have jumped at the chance, but we couldn't talk to one another and besides, I was melting just standing politely next to him for half an hour. When he was distracted, we made a nonchalant escape, and completed the mile-long walk of the reliefs on our own. It was a wonderful, gentle walk round one of the world's most spectacular wonders, and a fantastic way to end our time in Angkor.

In the evening, we went out to a local market and bought a lot of souveneirs. It rained, the water pouring through the market coverings and into buckets on the floor. The area selling the fresh food and meats smelled of dead things and durian fruits. We walked back to the hotel when the rain subsided, passing helpful signs on public buildings that claimed, "Sport provides good health and friendship," or "Plastic bags create waste and environmental destruction'. We would be leaving Cambodia in the morning. We had a quick chat with the receptionist at the hotel, a fifteen-year-old who was virtually running the place, and very proud of her $120 a month salary. She supports nine siblings and her parents and wants to be a good girl, encourage her younger sisters to work hard and is paying for their education. She was quite remarkable, with excellent English and a good sense of humour.

We packed and slept.

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