Day 64, Thursday 08 March 2012, Siem Reap – Preah Vihear.
You will recall that a couple of days ago I met Cheeba, a Canadian woman here in Siem Reap for a holiday to see the temples. She had hired a car for a trip up to the Preah Vihear temple up on the border with Thailand and I had agreed to go with her and share some of the cost, and today was the day.
Built in the 9th century the temple has been hotly contested between Thailand and Cambodia for many years and was ‘given’ to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice in 1962, a decision the Thai’s did not and do not agree with. In fact as recently as Feb 2011 both sides were shooting at each other over the temple and some of the damage was pointed out to me on the tour. There was also a massacre of Cambodian refugees by Thai forces here in 1979. So a chequered and violent history to the site, you can read more on it here.
The temple itself is on the top of a 525 metre high cliff and has spectacular views over Cambodia, Thailand and up to Laos – except today of course!.
Right time to get on with my story.
I was up early, really early….
I had set my phone alarm to go off at 6.05. When I woke and groggily checked my watch it was 6.00 so I turned the alarm off, grabbed my clothes and went into the bathroom to get ready for the day, I was fully dressed and brushing my teeth when I glanced at my watch and noticed it was now 12.35 am…. 6.00 and 12.30 look so similar when you are half asleep !!! Alarm back on and back to bed half clothed.
Up again at the real 6.00 am, dressed and teeth again and downstairs for a coffee and wait for the car to get me at 6.30. Come 6.50 I thought I had best walk round to the hostel where Cheeba was staying and find out what the story was, when I got there I found they had left, so the hostel guy rang the car guy and they had been muddling around Siem Reap trying to find my hostel (the name of my hostel had not been remembered correctly!), they were not far out of town and were going to wait. The hostel got me a motorbike so helmetless (as is the norm for passengers) I was soon screaming through the back streets of town out to the car.
There was four of us on the trip, the driver, who spoke pretty good English, myself, Cheeba and the tuk tuk driver Cheeba had been using as he had never been to the site. The drive took about three and half hours over a not too bad road, better than I had expected anyway and our driver was very safe, which was great! We only had to swerve for roaming cattle twice – and once for a pig on the way back..
As mentioned the temple is on the top of a hill and you cannot take a car up there so you have to hire a 4wd drive at the outrageous rate of $35US. This is a business that is dying as the road is being rebuilt. It is not a hard road, but very steep at the top.At the top there was a lot of soldiers and gun emplacements, no big guns in sight, though I am sure they are around, I did see machine gun nests close to the border though. You have to have a soldier take you on a tour – private revenue generation ! and ours had very little English but he did point well.
We got to the start of the temple site and Cheeba had to lie down, she had been feeling unwell on the way up, so I went off down the temple stairs to the border for a look.
And they are serious about keeping it…Saw this little critter on the way back up.Cheeba wasn’t feeling any better after a rest so I went off with my soldier to explore the temple site.My favourite bit of carving at Preah VihearThe holes apparently held large candles ?My guideSome war damageThe token monk shot
My guide took this photo on the cliff edge, the two Cambodian tourists both wanted a photo of me with them, not uncommon, but weird….
There was not a lot to look at the temple, most of the carvings had been looted and I was told the gold Buddha had been stolen by the Thais. But the site was pretty cool, I liked the location and I liked that there was only about 20 people there. Apart from about 50 soldiers, mostly without weapons, and all very friendly, I think that they like it when foreigners come to ‘their’ site.After an hour or so of wandering around I went back down to where Cheeba was and she was not in a good way, fevers and aches, our soldier guide and the car driver had to help her walk back down to the 4wd for a very high speed and dusty drive back down to the car. The ride back to Siem Reap was marked by quite a long rain shower, not heavy rain fortunately, but enough to create a massive puddle in one of the towns we passed through which three small children were paddling in.
Apart from a couple of deep fried somethings, that were possibly rice ? I had no idea, I knew it had no meat ! I had not eaten all day, I was also extremely thirsty having run out of water an hour or so ago. I gulped a very welcome can of Angkor lager as soon as I walked in the hostel door, then had a shower and made Mike go out for an early dinner. After a few days of procrastination we finally purchased some souvenirs from the market and went for dinner at Temple again (free wifi of course). It was soooo good to eat…