Wat to do for Golden Week?

Only one week to go to Chinese New Year and I have realised that I started this blog (well only the title and covering picture) in October and didn’t finish it.

Martin and I were both in Thailand for different courses, and as the courses coincided with the start of the Chinese national holiday it made sense for Eleanor to come along to. She stayed with Martin at the Banyan Tree hotel in Bangkok, while I stayed in the Shang-ri La hotel on the river.

For the first time, we got hotel staff to look after Eleanor on the first day. She loved it.  She went swimming, ordered room service and generally had a chilled day.  On the second day, my friend from Guiding who now teaches in Bangkok, collected her from the airport and they had a day of socialising, crafting (something she will never get from me) and a visit to the Unicorn Cafe… think pink, think dressing up in unicorn outfits, think My Little Pony, think cupcakes… a little girl’s haven – only I am told that the clientele was not solely little girls, but adults finding their inner little girl!

That night we all met up for steak at Kai, a New Zealand restaurant with amazing fresh food. It was lovely to meet with up Kathy who had been an absolute star in having Eleanor for the day. It is fantastic that guiding and scouting have given us some great lasting friendships around the world, and that Facebook has enabled us to keep in touch!

We left Thailand and went to Cambodia. One of my Mum’s friends now teaches in Siem Reap and so the idea was to combine a bit of sight seeing and culture with seeing Cecil before heading onto Sihanoukville, on the coast for some rest and relaxation.

Being first of the plane, meant first in the queue for our Cambodian visa which we paid $30 for. It probably could have been a little cheaper had we brought passport photos with us, but that would have required a little more organisation on my part. Luggage collected, and off we went by pre-arranged Tuk Tuk to our hotel which I had booked on Air BnB. img_8849

The scenery was very different to Bangkok, China etc, it wasn’t built up, no sky scrapers. As we got closer to town, we saw some big hotels, but we had decided to go for something a little smaller and more personal.

On arrival our Tuk-Tuk driver said that if we needed a driver he would be available. On arrival we got cold towels, which surprised Eleanor but it was lovely and refreshing. We were shown a map of the area, and booked our Tuk-Tuk driver for later on the night to go and meet Cecil. We also took the decision that we would not be collected at some unearthly hour to go to Angkor Wat. We had left ourselves one day for seeing the temples, and with sunrise being early, we did not want to have a grumpy child. For that is what we then encountered at dinner that night.

Our hotel had a small swimming pool but it was enough to keep Eleanor occupied for a few hours. Our hotel room had been disappointing in that there had been a curtain over one wall. I had pulled the curtain back only to discover a window with a view of the corridor. At one point, it must have looked over the pool, but extension work had happened and the view had been removed.  However, a hotel room is ostensibly for sleeping in, we had three beds and it was comfortable enough.

We had a lovely dinner with Cecil, only marginally spoiled by Eleanor having a tantrum over wanting to buy many many things at a market place run by NGOs.  We did buy a few handmade crafts that were in an marketplace just by the Hard Rock Cafe but it was not enough to placate the shopper that is our daughter. Cecil showed us a local monastery, he is well known and has even been “immortalised” in a concrete step with his initials. Though the steps are now in ruins as they are demolishing many buildings. Cecil now teaches at the university and gets a great satisfaction from it.

The next day we were collected by our Tuk-Tuk driver for our “Temple Run”. We arrived at Angkor Wat as many people were leaving – clearly because they had done it at sunrise. img_6455

I had chosen to wear a long dress, but my shoulders weren’t covered. I had packed a light shirt as a just in case, but when we had gone to get tickets (no where near the temples!) I bought a lovely scarf with the purpose of covering my shoulders. It seemed to be fine, no one stopped me, until I wanted to go up into the central part. Eleanor wasn’t allowed as she didn’t reach the minimum height, so Martin stayed with her. I was almost turned away because my scarf wasn’t an appropriate piece of clothing, so I dug out the shirt from my camera bag. It was a steep climb but the views were worth it. img_6523

Angkor is believed to be the largest religious monument in the world. It was definitely the best preserved temple that we saw that day. We chose not to have a guide, but should we go back in the future, I definitely would.  A guide would bring what we saw to life, more than a book. But that is just my opinion.

The engineering is what strikes me.  The sandstone for such an architectural  adventure is thought to have been from 50kms away and brought to the site by rafts on the river. This logistical operation without modern day inventions of cranes and lorries makes you stop and think. The carvings in the wall are so detailed. But of course our darling daughter wasn’t quite as impressed as we had hoped! No longer can we say to her “we haven’t seen anything like this”…because as she pointed out – she has. Maybe not on the scale of Angkor Wat, but the carvings in the caves outside Datong in China which we had only done a few weeks before… img_6458

With an underwhelmed child we moved on. A one day pass gets you into all the temples in the area, and there are  routes that you can do.  On the basis that we had one day and a 7 year old child we decided on the “Small Circuit” of 17kms. We visited the walled city of Angkor Thom (Bayon) and Ta Phohm. There were many that we didn’t visit, and as I have left it soo long to do my blog, I confess I can’t quite remember all the places we visited…however, the place we went for lunch had hammocks outside for the afternoon siesta. We realised that our cash flow might actually mean we didn’t have enough dollars to not worry about the price.  Before we ordered anything, we had to add everything up and check if the money we had was enough to cover it! It was. Phew.

The temples we were taken too, had very much been left to the jungle, buttresses held doors open and held walls up as gnarled tree roots climbed through and up and over the walls.  It was fascinating so see how nature can take such a hold on buildings/ruins.

The Bayon Temple was our last visit, and this is the one that I would have liked to have spent more time photographing.

Up until this point if I had stopped to take photos, I could (more or less) find Eleanor and Martin… however, in the top two photos of the set above I had lost them and only by chance stumbled on the tree. I stayed in the “queue” to take a picture, and by chance Eleanor and Martin found me. I was not to be so lucky at Bayon.

Bayon, is three tiered. You do a lot of steps!

Having got separated a number of times over the day, I thought that I would try to keep with them this time.  But as we got to a staircase, Eleanor and Martin disappeared up it, and I got stuck behind some other tourists. By the time I got to the steps (I was only seconds behind them), someone had moved and revealed a sign that denoted the stairs as down, not up. And someone told me I couldn’t go up them.  So I embarked on going down stone corridors, until I found a staircase that I could go up.  I went up and proceeded to go “round” the “square” but couldn’t see them. I did this several times, until I asked someone if they had seen a girl – I reckoned Eleanor would be easily memorable as she was the youngest and palest one around! Thankfully we were reunited, though if I recall Martin didn’t know what all the fuss was about!

Angkor Wat maybe the biggest and most famous, but I was more intrigued with the temples that are crumbling ruins.  The history behind Angkor Wat is still unfolding, and the temples that are being overcome by the jungle are being slowly rebuilt, but I hope that the mystical feeling created by the jungle isn’t lost in years to come.

After a day of sightseeing we were exhausted. Eleanor fell asleep in the tuk-tuk, and it took all our powers of persuasion to go for dinner.

The next day we departed for Sihanoukville.  We flew there, but options do include a bus or driver. A car may have given us more of an insight into what Cambodia looks like, but as time was against us, a flight was just fine.

We didn’t do anything of note here  except swim, sunbath, relax, take a few sunset pictures, go on a boat trip – try in vain to catch fish, snorkel but I lacerated my foot (exaggeration) on coral – it is really sharp if you don’t have protection (I know that now), eat, drink and have massages on the beach.

A few of our friends have fallen in love with Cambodia, and it is easy to see why. There is so much we didn’t do, which includes Phnom Penh, and the Killing Fields. There are Killing Fields around Siem Reap, but with a 7 year old in tow, we did not think it appropriate.

We might be back…just not sure when.