We had some time off after our visit to Tonle Sap and lunch in Siem Reap. Each day we would stop for lunch about noon. After lunch Pakdei would drop us off at our hotel for a break. He would pick us up again at 3 pm for our afternoon tour. Today during our break time I was determined to try to get to the market. I wanted to shop for simple souvenirs (translation - tshirts). Our hotel was only a block from the main drag of Siem Reap. The map showed the market as being just off the same road but on the other side of town. I decided to walk. Time to find out how big Siem Reap is. It only took me twenty minutes.
The market was similar to the one in Beijing - a lot of individual stalls in one large building. But it was less crowded, the shopkeepers were more polite and there was more space. A much more pleasant place to shop. I went back to the hotel and told Sandy that the market wasn't far away. She wanted to go as well to find a few things for friends and family. To save time we decided to take a tuk-tuk, Southeast Asia's solution to public transportation. They were similar to the two person carriages which we had on our hutong tour in Beijing except that they were pulled by a small motorcycle instead of a bicycle. We flagged one down just outside our hotel and the driver seemed to understand what I meant when I said "market" so off we went. And we started off in the right direction. But not down the main street. Instead we were going down a street along the river which paralleled the main street. Sort of. Sandy wanted to know if we were going the right way. All I could say was "probably". And I did get a little nervous when it was clear that we had gone farther than I had walked. But he did drop us off at - a market. It turns out that there are two markets in Siem Reap, the Old Market and the New Market. The Old Market is more famous and so that is where he took us. The New Market is where I had gone before and is actually nicer. We looked around the Old Market for a bit and then started to head back towards the hotel.
We found the New Market only about six blocks away. We did most of our shopping there. Sandy was happy - she found some inexpensive jewelry. And I got some Angkor Wat tshirts and a Cambodia baseball cap (which I model in the photo with Pakdei). We even made it back to the hotel by three oclock to meet Pakdei.
For our afternoon tour we visited Banteay Srei, the Citadel of Women. It is about a forty five minute drive from Siem Reap. It was interesting to drive through the outskirts of town and then through the countryside. The temple was built in 967 but because of its distance from the rest of the Ankor complex was not rediscovered until 1914. It was completely covered by jungle and almost totally buried in a mound of dirt. It was excavated and restored over the next twenty years. Banteay Srei is not a royal temple and so it is much smaller than the others that we visited. But every surface area is covered by very intricate carvings that are very well preserved. It became famous in the 1920's when the well-known french author Andre Malraux organized an expedition to steal carvings from the temple. Fortunately he was caught and the carvings were returned.
When our driver dropped us off we had to run the gamut of stands selling souvenirs, food and drinks to tourists before we reached the temple entrance. There were a number of young children who approached us to sell things. One of them looked to be about eight or ten, spoke excellent English, and was selling the photo book that I had already picked out as the one I wanted to get. I told him that I would get it from him on the way out because I didn't want to carry it around the temple. Not wanting to take any chances that someone else would get to me, he sat down to wait at the entrance when we went inside.
The temple was very beautiful. It was quite small - I even had to duck to go through some of the doorways. But the carvings were probably the most elaborate and detailed of any we had seen. They were very well preserved for soft sandstone, perhaps because they had been buried for many years. There were other tourists there but the temple was not crowded. And after the tour my young friend was waiting outside for me with my book. After a tough negotiating session I ended up paying a little more than I expected but still got a good deal. A lot of the background information in these posts came from that book. I ended up buying two tshirts from another lady there. Sandy and Pakdei came back to see why I had fallen behind and found me being swarmed by souvenir vendors. They managed to rescue me and we made it to the car. We had planned to stop in a small village on the way back that was known for its basket weaving crafts. But when we checked I had spent the last of our cash at the temple.
Our last day was open with no touring arranged even though our flight didn't leave till late in the afternoon. In the morning we walked back to the market for some last-minute shopping. Sandy found some pretty fabric and a nice carved-wood wallhanger for it. It was a challenge to get home on the plane though. We picked up a book, When Breaking Glass Floats, mentioned in the last post. I found a bootleg DVD. We figured that we had a pretty good haul of stuff to take home.
After shopping I took a walk around the hotel area. Directly across the street was a park with very tall trees. And in the upper branches of the trees were flocks of very large...bats. Apparently they like to hang out (pun intended) in the park because in the city no one harms them. They are quite safe compared to being in the countryside. During the day you could look up and see lots of bats hanging upside down high up in the trees. In the evening they would all fly around. Although they were just fruit bats and harmless, they were very large bats. And they were quite noisy when they flew around. We heard them every night as we were getting ready to go to dinner.
The park also had a large Buddhist shrine. I looked around and tried to be inconspicuous while I took a few pictures. There were statues of several Cambodian lions in the park. Some of the temples featured statues of lions as well. In Cambodia statues of lions have a distinctive appearance, which actually isn't much like a lion. It is not known if it was just highly stylized on purpose or if the sculptors of the Khmer Empire had just never seen a lion and so had to make their statues based on descriptions of the real animals. I also walked a short way to the Siem Reap river which goes through town. The river area is actually quite nice and green and shaded with trees although the effect is spoiled because the river is so muddy.
Pakdei picked us up for lunch. He had made arrangements at another really good restaurant for us. Lunch was delicious. On our last day he didn't even have to wear his tour guide uniform since we weren't going to the temples. Tour guides are strictly licensed and monitored in Cambodia. They have to wear an official uniform and even a nametag. But since today he only had to take us to lunch and later to the airport he got to go casual.
Pakdei did an outstanding job. The tours he arranged covered the major attractions and his stories about the history were always interesting. He was flexible in adjusting the plans to what we liked and how we were feeling. And it was fun to get to know him. I would highly recommend his services. If you are thinking of going to visit Siem Reap be sure to contact him. He can arrange hotels, cars, drivers and, of course, tours. And he gets the local discount so you'll get a good deal.
To contact Pakdei to make arrangements to visit Siem Reap, email him at:
Sandy and I both thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Cambodia.