We arrived exhausted in Siem Reap around 9pm. Siem Reap is the gateway for the Angkor Wat temple complex about four miles away. You can’t stay in the actual complex. Angkor Wat is such a massive tourist draw that Siem Reap has its own airport. You can fly direct to Siem Reap from all South East Asia capital cities and many secondary cities as well. Travelling to Siem Reap by bus or car from Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia is another option. We had opted for a direct flight from Ho Chi Minh City, the last leg of a long journey through Vietnam by train, boat, bus, car, foot and tuk-tuk, the ubiquitous South East Asian rickshaw. All we wanted was to decompress.
The ride into Siem Reap is surprising. The city looks like a mini-South East Asian version of Las Vegas. Flashing neon lights are everywhere advertising luxury hotels, elaborate shows and sumptuous buffets. We had booked at a budget guest house. These are establishments where local people rent out rooms in their homes to paying guests with breakfast included. These can be hit and miss but I’ve found most to be clean, comfortable and centrally located which is really all you need. The hosts were nice, gave us a couple of towels and said goodnight.
In the morning we were in a rush to get out and see Angkor Wat but right outside the house I saw a monkey holding her baby. She and the baby monkey were so cute and this scene was so typical of the area that I took picture and gave the monkey a little piece of fruit I had with me. That was my big mistake.
The magnificence of Angkor Wat cannot be overstated. It is a vast complex of massive temples built between 1130 and 1150 as a Hindu structure dedicated to the god Vishnu. As the political and religious vagaries of the area shifted so did the temple’s dedication and by the late 12th century, it was Buddhist. Some people think Angkor Wat is just the main temple that graces the Cambodian flag but it is actually a complex covering over 400 square miles with many other temple complexes. Some of the “must sees” include Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider was filmed, Banteays Srei and Kdei and Bayon. All told the area is larger than the 5 boroughs of New York City combined! You need more than a day to see the entire complex comfortably so a three day pass at $40 is actually a bargain. You can also buy a one day pass for $20.
After a day of temple hopping we caught a traditional dancing show and dinner at one of the local hotels and headed back to the guest house.
WHO PLANS FOR THIS?
In the morning we were anxious to head back to Angkor Wat but when we left the house we saw two huge monkeys blocking our entrance to the road. We shoed them but they didn’t budge. We tried walking around them but they again blocked our path. We decided to walk straight through them making a lot of noise and waving our arms. As we readied ourselves a monkey came from behind, jumped on my back and tore off my hair beret while another grabbed at my backpack which contained fruit. By now I’m screaming “get it off!…get it off!”. We ran to the road pursued part way by a couple of monkeys. In the safety of the main road I looked back and saw the mother monkey I had seen the first day, still holding her baby, looking at us. This was not cute anymore. These guys were playing for keeps. Clearly the mother monkey had alerted her cohorts to the presence of two human patsies that gave away food. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. You plan for many unexpected incidents on a foreign trip. But who plans for a monkey attack!
The monkey attack was the major topic of conversation that entire day of temple tripping. When we cautiously returned to the guest house that evening there were no monkeys to be seen. Apparently traveler harassment was only a morning thing.
Next morning was out last in Siem Reap. We peeked out our window and heard a screech pierce the morning calm. The monkeys started to amass in the clearing in front of our room. They had actually been stalking us. I swear I am not making this up. This was just such a bizarre experience. We nervously joked that we could never leave the room and would simply have to learn Cambodian and order take out forever. There must have been 15 monkeys out there. And those were just the ones that we could see! I spied the mother monkey with her baby. She was probably the ring leader. Suddenly the woman that checked us in the first day showed up with a large dog of unrecognizable pedigree. They walked toward our room and the monkeys dispersed long enough for us to get to the main road with our bags.
As we left, the woman told us that the monkeys sometimes get friendly if you feed them. Yeah, right.
Have you ever had an unexpected incident – good or bad – involving animals on a trip?