Saturday 9 September, fine, showers, thunderstorm 32°
We got up at 6:30am and headed down for breakfast, then upstairs to pack again. We checked out at 8:15am and waited for our minibus to pick us up at 8:30am. Once on in the minibus we carried on through town picking up a few extra people then got of at the Giant Ibis office next to the night market. Our main bus arrived and we jumped on board, and left on time at 8:45am. This bus was a VIP bus and had extra leg room, reclining seats, wifi and USB chargers. Nice.
We headed north past Wat Phnom then crossed over the Tonle Sap River and then north and east for a bit, then the road turned northwest and we headed to Siem Reap. The entire trip was through flat flood plains with farm paddocks and rice fields. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant on the way where they did nice ham and cheese sandwich!
We arrived at 3:15pm in Siem Reap; the first impressions were of a big wide busy road, with 4-5 storey buildings, hotels and banks etc. We then crossed the Siem Reap River and skirted the old town and stopped at the depot for Giant Ibis, in what used to be a sports ground carpark. We grabbed our bags from the pile and talked to one of the waiting ' authorised ' tuk tuk drivers, and agreed a price with "Mr Clean" to take us to the Bopha Siem Reap Boutique Hotel.
We headed off back across the river and into the quieter 'east side' area and found our hotel. We had booked and paid for 4 nights through Expedia, and had all the normal confirmations, so it was a surprise to find the hotel gates shut and locked. A quick conversation with the tuk tuk drivers nearby confirmed that the hotel was shut, permanently. Thankfully the drivers suggested we try at the Terrasse des Elephants hotel, which was owned by the same people and see what was going on.
So Mr Clean took us to the edge of the old town to the Terrasse des Elephants and Liz went in while I stayed with the bags and tuk tuk. It turned out that our booking was in place at this hotel, even though we had not booked it, and no one thought that they should let us know that we weren't at the Bopha Siem Reap Boutiqe Hotel. Nevermind, the price was the same and we were closer to town so we checked in. We paid Mr Clean US$10 for his trouble ( but we deflected his requests to book him to take us around the temples over next few days, as we weren't sure what we were doing yet ) and went up to our room.
Wow, what a room. The room was massive but was themed after the Bayon temple, so the walls were covered 1/2 way up with dark concrete tiles, and we had a replica of some of the Bayon faces in the room with us. But the weirdest thing was that shower and basin were on 2 separate raised platforms within the main room, and they had a pond underneath them. Thankfully the toilet had it's own room. If the photos look a little dark it is because the room was a little dark.
We dropped our bags and went for a walk around the town of Siem Reap. The main part of town primarily consisted of bars, restaurants, massage shops and trinket sellers, and ( as with Vang Vieng in Laos ) it made me wonder where the real town was. We had a look around and then walked over the river to one of the markets ( there seems to be 3-4 markets, and they all say they are the night market... ) for a look, then back to Tous les Jours ( a bakery chain in Cambodia ) for a cold drink, and then back to our hotel after grabbing some supplies. Siem Reap feels very much like a tourist town, but at least we have a choice of restaurants, and we aren't here to enjoy the town.
We organised our tuk tuk for the next 3 days. We paid US$82 for a driver to pick us up for sunrise, then tour around the temples, bring us back to the hotel in the afternoon and then take us back for sunset, each day. I think the receptionist at the hotel thought there was something seriously wrong with us because we wanted to do sunrise and sunset for 3 days in a row.
The standard tuk tuk temple tour consists of 2 loops of temples, normally covered over 2 days. The smaller loop covers the most well known temples ( Angkor Wat, Angkor Tom, Bayon , Ta Prohm ) as well as a few others, with short distances between them ( in some cases they are across the road from each other ). The larger loop is more driving with less temples, but they are the lesser know ones, and tend to be less conjested with tourists. So our initial plan was to cover the small loop on day 1, the larger loop on day 2 and go back to temples we had liked or find new ones off the beaten track on day 3.
Having organised that we headed out for dinner at the Khmer Kitchen ( US$13 tonight, including a $4 jug of beer ) then to the ' official ' night market for a look at the same trinkets we had already seen, although Liz bought a laquerware bowl with a lid for US$4 ( after a haggle and a walk away ). We headed back to the hotel at 8pm, and prepared for the early start in the morning.