Koh Mak to Siem Reap

Cambodia, Feature, Travelogue — By on January 22, 2011 at 7:34 pm

After spending an evening strolling the market streets of Bangkok, people watching, and eating “vacation food” over a couple of cocktails, we decided to arrange to a private taxi to pick us up at the un-vacation-like hour of 4am to drive us about 350km south to a small city called Trat on the gulf coast.  Once there, (early, because our driver felt it best not to go under the 140kph mark) we boarded a speedboat bound for Koh Mak Island.  It took roughly an hour as there are a few unscheduled delivery stops at Koh Chang, Koh Kood and Koh Kai.  Once docked, we grabbed our gear and set out to find our hotel, which, conveniently, was next to the dock.  TK Huts (it is not recommended you stay here) is a collection of huts all along the beach with some back in the grassy areas away from the sand.  We checked in, they told us to wait, we had lunch, we waited some more, we finally asked and were taken to our room.  Or should I say anthill.  It was completely infested with cobwebs everywhere, and dirty.  We asked to see another room and we were taken to one slightly nicer, but this one had spiders on the floor, the bed, the pillow and who knows where else…next room.  The next one was not much cleaner but this time the front entrance way and porch were covered (COVERED) with very busy fire ants.  Yes, the giant red ones that bite.  Fed up, we went back to the front hut and asked for a refund, indicating that we would go elsewhere.  We were told everywhere was full and could not get our money back because they held the room for us.  We argued because they told us they were not full so we weren’t sure who they could have given it to.  We got 2/3 of our money and decided, if everything was full, to head back to the mainland and start from scratch.  As it turned out the last boat off the island was gone.  Hmmmm, now what?  Well, let’s ask next door.  So much for being full, they had a room, a nice one, a cheap one, they had a pool, great breakfast, masseuses on the beach, a bar, a restaurant, internet, a travel agency and we had walked only about 30 feet to the next hotel and what a difference!  It is called Makathanee Resort, a fantastic place.  And a relief!  We were elated to get some beach time, soak up some sun, do some island exploring, swim.  After a couple days, while exploring on a rented motorcycle, we stopped at a travel agency and inquired about Cambodia.  We had talked about it because we were so close and I hadn’t been, but Katie had spent some time there a few years ago.  It was either a separate trip at another time, or try and kill two birds with one stone and see how we could get there.  As it turned out there is a bus that leaves from the Laem Ngop Pier in Trat at 10am everyday to Siem Reap, Cambodia.  It would get us there in the early evening.  We paid and were to be on the 8am boat the next day.  8am came and so did the wind.  It was howling but the boat left on time anyway.  I have never been on a boat crashing over swells that large in my life.  People were scrambling for the few life jackets available and hung on to anything they could.  Katie huddled on the floor and I hung on to a bar over top of her.  With each crash the floor boards started coming up, the cargo hold door would fly open, water would come crashing in, soaking us and I thought, this is what we read about in the newspapers, “Thailand Ferry Sinks, 18 Dead Including 2 Canadians”, I was mortified, there was no radio, no GPS or anything like that.  After about 30 minutes, we reached another island to pick up more passengers and another one after that.  Once we picked up the first passengers, the sea was never quite as rough.  We made it, late, and soaking wet.  I read about a boat nicknamed “The Vomit Comet”, somewhere, and if there is a “Vomit Comet II” we were on it.  We were rushed to a 14 seat passenger van with some folks already waiting.  The driver threw our bags in and hit the gas pedal.  We stopped to pick up more people and the disgruntled driver stuffed bags in where he could.  To my amazement, I can’t figure out why tour operators can’t grasp that 14 tourists to a region also come with 14 bags, usually big ones, yet they constantly find themselves frustrated with what to do with them.  Three hours in wet clothes to the border.  About 2 hours at the border being handed from one line up to another.  The border crossing at Poipet is ‘thee’ border crossing for Thai visitors to gamble with massive casinos within eyesight of the gate.  The long queues are for exit stamps, health declaration and entry into Cambodia.  We had someone from the tour company with our group the whole time, if he wasn’t there it would have been a nightmare.  Once through we were shown the bus, a dusty coachliner that would take roughly another 4 hours, or we could pay a cab driver about $30 to drive us there in half the time.  We chose the latter and had a British couple split it with us.  Not being from the city of Siem Reap, our driver took us to the tourist office, which was surrounded by eager tuk tuk drivers and “guides” looking to make a buck.  We separated from our new friends and selected a tuk tuk driver who said he would help us find a hotel room for free as long as we hired him the next morning to be our guide to Angkor Wat.  It was frustrating because the driver was taking us to “his” hotels, the ones that gave him money for delivering new guests.  Usually it’s fine and the rooms were ok, but this was not backpacking around South America time, this time we wanted a little more of a ‘vacation’ standard.  We passed many great looking hotels on the way to the next and each time he would say they were full, we knew there was no way of him knowing and there was nothing wrong with what he was showing us, we wanted something specific and it was time to put our foot down.  He was not happy but we made him stop at a hotel of our choice and accepted the room.  We still made arrangements to use his services the next morning.  Siem Reap is bustling with the tourist dollar, quite a contrast from Phnom Penh.  There are strips of every 5-star hotel you can name.  There is a large central market, and surrounding night markets that sell everything imaginable, similar to Bangkok, with many stalls consisting of knock off goods.  Nearby is an avenue called Pub Street which is closed to vehicle traffic, very artsy and bohemian with hand-made crafts upscale from the markets, and of course, pubs and restaurants with outdoor café style sidewalk seating.  It definitely made for a pleasant evening.  Many families, backpackers, single travelers, young and old, here for the main attraction, the largest religious building in the world, Angkor Wat.  This is a city, it is a temple complex consisting of many buildings built almost 1000 years ago.  The walls are intricately lined with hand carved and etched pictographs.  The detail is incredible and the complex is so large that your taxi or tuk tuk driver will have to drive you from Wat (temple) to Wat (temple).  Bicycles are also available and inexpensive to rent but best saved for the cool season when temperatures drop to around the 30C mark.  Bring your most comfortable walking shoes and be prepared for very, very narrow and steep stairs and lots of them.  We visited a few of the main temples before lunch and one after.  You could spend days around the area, as one day, three day and seven day passes are available for purchase.  The complex is being restored with money from Japan and India so if you are going in 2011, you may be a bit disappointed.  It is advisable to brush up on the history before you go, as there are no signs or artifacts on display.  Don’t pay more than $10-12 dollars for a tuk tuk driver for the day and there are many actual guides who speak a variety of languages.  These folks will wear a uniform and will have park identification.

Fishermen on the moat around Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Scenery at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Incredible carving on the walls, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Tree roots growing through the structures at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Tree growing through a structure at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Inside a building at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Endless hallways at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

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