Wednesday, 11 March 2009


Not much to say about Angkor Wat, the temples are pretty amazing and that, but I probably would have been more impressed if I hadn't seen the big temples in Java and the thousands of them in Burma. There's pictures here but they all kind of look a bit samey: Angkor Wat photos. Although hot, Siem Reap is a nice place, especially the Warehouse Bar where I spent half my time - hi Josh, Sony and Soda!

From Siem Reap I caught the boat across the enormous Tonle Sap flood lake, and up the river to Battambang, past miles of floating villages. In the wet season, this supposedly takes four hours, which would have been perfect. Being the dry season, and being that our boat broke down a dozen times, it took eleven hours.

Yesterday I hired a motorbike to explore the area around Battambang, firstly heading up north to see Wat Ek Phnom, a Buddhist temple and ancient ruins older than Angkor Wat. On the way back on a dirt road about half an hour from town, I got flat tire. I was out in the middle of nowhere with a broken bike, and probably no-one within ten miles that could speak English.

As I slowly rode my crippled bike towards town, the locals that I passed saw my predicament and all pointed further down the road. Eventually I arrived at a "garage", marked by a bicycle tire hanging from a post.

The guy took my bike, and removed the inner tube without taking the back wheel off. He found the hole was an old split that had been badly patched. He ripped off the old patch and actually stitched the split with thread, then put it under a clamp with a hole in the middle. In this he lit a small fire to melt the new patch on. After about 20 minutes, he tested the new patch, but wasn't happy with it and ended up just swapping the whole inner tube.

During this time, his daughters arrived home from school, and were amazed to see a white guy at their house. They sat there the whole time with the rest of the family, watching me, gesturing about how I barely fit under the roof, and giggling to themselves. The only English that one of them knew was "what is your name".

All up, the guy spent the best part of an hour working on this tire, and I was worried how much it would be, since I didn't have much cash on me. I didn't have a lot to worry about, in the end he only asked for 3000 riel... 75 cents. Less than a dollar for an hour's work plus a new inner tube. I gave the guy two bucks and still felt like I ripped him off.

Later that afternoon, I rode southwest on a dusty dirt road to Phnom Sampeu, where there was a monastery, and some killing caves of the Khmer Rouge. I was met by the head monk who showed me around the temple, and the classrooms where they taught English to poor or orphaned kids. He even dragged me in front of a class to talk about myself with the students for 15 minutes. I donated a few bucks to the school, which I would later regret.

By now it was too late to climb up to the caves, but at dusk the many bats which inhabit them came out to feed. They streamed out of the cave by their thousands for almost an hour, and the monk told me the caves on the other side had even more bats.

As I went to head home, I discovered the headlight of my scooter didn't work, so I had to slowly make my way back along the unfinished dirt highway in the dark. To make things worse, every time a truck roared past it kicked up a thick cloud of dust which made seeing anything even more impossible. To top it off, I had barely any petrol left and was worried about running dry at any second.

Yet somehow I managed to make it back to the guesthouse for a well deserved beer (only 60 cents!) and a game of poker with a few of the ex-pats. I mentioned that I'd been out to see the monastery, and the owner of the bar, an Aussie, says "you didn't give any money to that head monk did you? He's a scammer, it's funded by the government and he keeps all the donations himself. How many monks have a $300 mobile phone?". Teach me for being altruistic.

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