Flew to Siem Reap yesterday, which is close to Angkor Watt. I was expecting it to be a small, sleepy town, a sort of Asian equivalent of Knock in Ireland, or Heavies, sorry, Lourdes, whose only raison d'etre is to accommodate the tourists/pilgrims/nutters who visit.
Not a bit of it. It's a city of 300,000 people. For a country decimated by the Khmer Rouge, it's amazingly upbeat. I smile gets you a long way, even with Tuk-tuk drivers and prostitutes - something of a shock for someone living in one of the least smiley countries in the world. You hear 'I will survive' on every sound system. Even the maimed victims of land mines, (there are still a lot lying about), have big grins. Fair play to them. (I really ought to rephrase that penultimate sentence, but what the hell).
Getting in wasn't easy. I suspect that the French influence is responsible for the neurosis with useless pieces of paper. It took an hour to get through customs, with lots of ridiculous forms to fill in. I had some photos taken in Penang, as these were required for entry. On arrival, I couldn't find them anywhere. No problem. On top of a the 30$ visa fee, I was charged 2$ extra. Nobody took my a picture, but that seemed to be OK.
The 30$ really was 30$. The local currency, the Riel, is hardly ever used, apart from small change, a bit like the bon-bons you used to get in Italy at the time of the Lira. The Khmer Rouge abolished currency, along with glasses and laughing. There are now the usual proportion of four eyed folk and lots of laughing, and the dollar somehow slunk in as the principal currency.
After the decadence of Penang, this is very different. Like Thailand, there are Tuk-tuk drivers everywhere. I guy pulled up, this evening on his small motorbike, which had an entire bar on the side of it. Just about any cocktail you like for 1.50$
Guess what this place is called.
Walking down the main strip: Pub Street, I was accosted over and over by Tuk-tuk drivers and prostitutes. The girls actually surrounded me at one point and grabbed hold of me. Some of them look very young indeed.
Of course the reason I'm here is to see Angkor Watt which is only 10km away. (I fall into the tourist/nutter category.) I've booked a Tuk-tuck for 5 in the the morning to catch the legendary sunrise and hopefully get my first memorable shots of the trip. I seem to be doing well at the moment for must see places, having done the Mesquita in Córdoba in November.
The Pyramids and the Taj Mahal go to the top of the list.
I just hope Angkor Watt lives up to the hype. These things can often be disappointing; the Mona Lisa, for example, looks just like the postcards outside The Louvre and the Leaning Tower of Pisa is so familiar that it's a real anticlimax. Maybe the Leaning Pizza of Tours is better.
It really is blisteringly hot here. I went out this morning and finally fitted myself out for the climate with a pair of shorts and a polo shirt, both bearing famous logos, but, I suspect made either in China or locally.*
I realised this morning what it is that is so appealing about the people of south east Asia. They don't take themselves very seriously, unlike some places I could mention. There are jokey things all over the place. A restaurant in Penang called 'No Eyed Deer' and a bar here which proudly trumpets: 'Encouraging irresponsible drinking since 1986.'
Passed a restaurant this morning advertising 'Gordon Bleu.' Betty's brother perhaps.
Night gives the place a completely different aspect. Everything is lit up, less traffic, apart from Tuk-tuks, and lots of people, including locals, doing a sort of passeggiata.
*I hate clothes with logos, but here there was no choice and the shirt was a beautiful green, my favourite color. It ain't easy.