Cambodia Trip – Preah Vihear and Koh Ker


After the more off the beaten paths, we are getting mentally ready for a temple and tourist overload in the coming days.

Cambodian style resort

Sarak – our driver/ guide/ personal photographer and soon to be friend – has found us a nice resort to stay in Preah Vihear, completely with pool. This place is the first to sell out during Cambodian New year, but this time of year it is quiet. Sarak’s wife has a big smile on her face… she seems quite happy with the choice of her husband and clearly enjoys this weekend getaway.

After our visit to Preah Vihear we are again overheated and soaking wet, we get back to our hotel, get changed into our swimming gear and make our way to the pool.

As we are standing by the pool getting ready to get in, we see the teenagers across the pool giggling with their eyes not knowing which way to look. We are trying to understand what is so funny. We are also looking at them, some of them are in the pool with ALL of their clothes on… O right! Now we got it! We must be naked in their eyes… like seeing their mum under the shower… And in our eyes, we feel going into a public pool with so many clothes is dirty.

Preah Vihear

This temple was initially not on our list. It seemed not feasible, too far away, on the border with Thailand and conflicts throughout the years. Sarak convinced us to include it in our schedule anyway. He loves this one. It has been a long lasting dispute on who owns it: Cambodia or Thailand. There has been numerous conflicts about it. The last one dating from as fresh as 2008. The army on both sides are still present, spying on each other through googles from a long time ago.

 

There is a bit of logistics to be followed here, we need to change into 4 wheel drives to get up the mountain… a bit further up we understand why… the ramp is about 45°…. We are the first Westerners of the day, and we don’t see many or even any other throughout our visit. This is made up by dozens of monks in their beautiful orange attires. These monks are much more modern than you might anticipate. Busy on their smartphones, posing and taking selfies. We have been briefed we can take pictures of them if we are not in their face and leave them to their activities. Asking for selfies with monks is a no-no. And then we notice monks taking pictures of us in a sneaky manner. My friend has noticed, and right before they pressed the button she puts on a crazy face and puts her tongue out. We are observing them while they check out the catch on their smartphones. And then there is that brilliant moment they understand they have been caught in the act… lol! So, they ask US for a selfie. OK, no worries, if we have to. And so, WE also got our selfie with monks without breaking the rule .

The temple complex is impressive. Large parts are crumbling down and some are being restored. Guess this is part of the charm. Sarak guides us through the premises and knows exactly where and how to take pictures. We are introduced to the “Sarak picture”, a panoramic picture featuring us 3 times. It takes a steady hand at the phone and 2 out of breath ladies running circles around Sarak to get this right. It was great fun playing around with photoshoots. One way or another we manage to have pictures at this fabulous site as if we have it all to ourselves. Love it.

Koh Ker

After lunch we head towards Koh Ker and arrive in the late afternoon. How brilliant is this! For the first time we see strangling fig trees in action. Well… not the real action, but the results of decades of slow motion action, determination and muscle. The trees are not the only ones taken over the temple complex… thousands of big ants marching purposefully and dragging everything and anything to their nest… and the noise of the cicadas is overwhelming as if the whole population in the French Provence has migrated to this place.

While we are marveling at the structures of Prasat Pram, looking up inside the temples, and taking the iconic pictures in between the roots of the trees, we see a group of tourists packed with cameras heading our way. They spotted two colorful ladies and clearly have determined we will be their models. So, this is how it feels to be cornered by paparazzi’s… this is hilarious… they are from Hong Kong doing a day trip from Siem Reap. They are supersweet and our willingness to pose for them will pay off half an hour later.

We need to hurry up as the sun is going down and we want to watch it from atop Prasat Thom, the 40 m tall structure that we need to climb. We are in such a hurry we don’t even have time to buy some more water. But then again, we have already pored in more than 2 liters today, guess we will survive… Not! By the time we have climbed to the top we are exhausted and dehydrated. (Note to myself for next trip: lose weight and get into shape!!!!!) We see one of the guys from the Hong Kong crowd pulling out a water bottle, sips on it and wants to put it back in his bag. “GIVE ME THAT BOTTLE!!”… my friend loses it, she is so thirsty… Guess our posing has earned us two bottles of water :).

It is really beautiful here, what a view, so peaceful. We are so lucky to be able to witness this. Up to the early 2000’s this complex could only be reached by helicopter and it is still dotted with land mines.

As we return I get caught up in taking pictures and lose sight of my company. I found my friend back closer to the entrance in her personal walhalla, at the cloths stalls, browsing through the racks and looking for bargains, being fast and efficient as by this time there is almost no daylight left… Fasted and most sweaty shopping trip ever.

Homely diner

During our trip Sarak asked me “You want to have dinner with my family-in-law?”. Absolutely! What a nice invitation. It clicks with the four of us and we really like Sarak and his wife. We feel honored to be invited. As Sarak can be impulsive – which I so like! – I need to ask him “Have you checked with your wife that it is fine and that her family is able and willing to host us?”. The look at his face says it all… he didn’t think about that yet.

It is already late when we arrive in Siem Reap and pull onto the driveway of the house. It is a traditional wooden home on stilts and the whole family has gathered on the 1st floor deck to welcome us. Big smiles. I get a warm, fuzzy feeling. Unlike in Belgium, a family home is a real FAMILY home, with grandparents, their children and grandchildren. Some of the brothers/ sisters are working in Thailand for months and even years in a row to earn a good living that would provide a kick start for the whole family. Their children stay here, with the rest of the family. It is heart breaking on the one hand, but also fortunate that the family makes this possible and takes care of the children.

They have cooked a nice dinner for us, serving one of their chicken. I smile when I see the chicken, it is a “long” one, high on its paws, unlike the short and chubby ones we have at home. My friend is teasing me “That might be the last and only chicken they have?”. I feel instantly bad and ask Sarak if that is the case… absolutely not. Thank God! The family enjoys themselves watching us eat, probably clumsy in their eyes.

We had brought clothes from my kids they had grown out of and some barely worn. I had asked Sarak before we got to Cambodia if that would be something that would be appreciated. “Absolutely!” was the answer. So, I wanted to share it with his family. His mother-in-law was brilliant. She spotted the nice pale-pink size 35 crocs of my daughter, inspected them, smiled, tried them on and smiled even more. She had decided these were hers 🙂

*** As you will have noticed we were quite fond of Sarak and his family and would recommend booking him for your trips in the area of Siem Reap. You can check out Sarak on TripAdvisor and reach him through the info on his Facebook page. Say “hi” to him from “Black & White”. More on our trips with Sarak in the next posts. ***