Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lotus garden, Phnom Krom and a Boxing day!

Most tourists and travelers visit Siem Reap just for Angkor temples and rightly so. There is not much else to do in the town unless you are ready to find and experience new things yourself. On one particular afternoon, me, Kim and Bjorn set off to explore the town and check out few souvenir shops. It was a red, hot day as usual and we kept ourselves hydrated by drinking a lot of water. There are many markets in the city center and all claiming to be original markets. All these markets have similar stuff to sell though. Key-chains, bracelets, jewelry, bags, paintings brandishing Ankor temples during different times of the day, sketches, postcards, small idols of Hindu gods and so on.  We stopped briefly for lunch and then continued walking again, a cold coffee in hand...aimlessly. In spite of the heat, the time went by pretty fast and it was 4 on the clock already, sun starting to go down slowly. Tired, we sat at the canal, staring at the water and enjoying the cool breeze. And out of nowhere, I said, "Let's go to Phmom's supposed to be a nice hill with temple ruins on top...view from the top will be awesome..and sunset also". As I said this, a big mass of cloud had started to gather and cover the sky. Kim said she wasn't really interested in anymore activity and wanted to go back to hotel to take rest. But Bjorn was all up for it. So me and Bjorn picked up a tuk tuk, negotiated the fair at $ 7 for a return trip and were off!
Phnom Krom is around 15 kms from the city and is on the way to famous floating village of Chong Kneas. (Do not got to Chong Kneas. It's a rip off. I had to pay $ 25 for a very short trip. The guide was useless and arrogant and kept asking for donations and tip. Not the best 25 bucks I spent in my life.) The road to the hill is not in a very good condition and we felt the bumps throughout our body as the suspension of our tuk-tuk failed miserably. We past numerous small houses on stilts on the canal side and many locals smiling at us. Within 20 minutes we had left crowded streets and houses behind and we were on a street with rice fields on either sides. The rice fields stretched as far as the our naked eyes could see, dotted with palm trees every now and then. Since the weather had taken a turn, the evening had become cooler and Bjorn was sure that it would be second time I would be leading him into rain. Soil on the street kept creating clouds of dust as our tuk-tuk continued on and on. And all of a sudden, scene on our right side changed. Instead of rice fields, the whole ground was covered with lotus farms, with squarish ditches filled with water, lotus leaves covering the surface and thousands of pink lotus flowers jutting out...all together creating very beautiful image. We decided to take a stop and went into the farm. A small family of husband and wife, welcomed us into the farm. They didn't know much English but were communicating through their eyes and smiles. Bjorn decided to surprise Kim and bought a couple of flowers from them and then we were off again.
We reached the base of the hill and it had already started to get dark, especially because of presence of clouds. As we started to climb the stairs, a distant thunder made us believe that we will be soaking wet in next 15 minutes. But we continued on. As the steps end, a small winding road leads the path upwards. On one side is the hill itself and on the other vast, stretching rice fields and beyond that....the famous Tonle Sap lake, which looks almost like an ocean. We kept walking as the cold wind ruffled our hair. It was quiet, really quiet and the hill looked totally deserted. As we reached the landing, there was no one to be seen except a few monks hurrying to their quarters. There is a small modern temple on the top which looks nothing like Angkorian and going around it, we did not come across any other ruins. Dejected, we felt that we came on a wrong hull. A path, straight ahead of this modern temple takes you to a cliff which has a big tower, maybe a telecommunication/satellite tower. Reaching this point we could see the whole view of Siem Reap and the rice fields that lay before it. We tried to spot Ankor wat from there, but could not...thanks to the storm reducing our visibility. And as we turned back, behind the modern temple and on a little elevated ground, we could see old temple ruins. The time was against us and it was getting dark, so we rushed towards this marvel. These temple ruins, presumably date back before the more famous Angkor wat was built. There are around six small temples, each one in ruin, carved out of black stone. Lack of attention and conservation has resulted in decay of this temple. But you can almost imagine, standing there, how magnificent these would have been before the time consumed their magnificence. The wind blows from all the sides and you get a feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. I started to shoot a video, trying to cover the state of these temples, the rustling of tree leaves, a distant roar of thunder and as I pointed my camera towards the sky, there was a great lightening; it was so big and so bright that it almost made me take step back. I had witnessed it and I had it on my camera...I was feeling particularly thrilled!
The sun had set beyond the ocean -like lake, sky had begun to darken even more and we started to descend. Soon, we were heading back towards the city, the feel of exhilaration and thrill still in our minds. This time, there was no rain though...only clouds and thunders.
All this excitement, I think, helped me to do something I never had done before. Eating a giant spider. Yes! A big, black, slithery, hairy...spider. Almost like a tarantula. I broke one of it's many hairy legs and put in my mouth as Kim and Bjorn acted as photographers. It took more courage than appearing for an interview as I chewed it and swallowed it. Actually, I must admit, it wasn't bad. It tasted a bit like....nothing! No taste..just something crispy in my mouth. But as I ate the middle part, it was more juicy and had taste like some sort of sea food, maybe squid, flavored with chocolate. It was yet another adventure!
There is one thing you should not miss when in Cambodia and it's Kickboxing. Like many other South East Asian countries, kick boxing is quite of a craze in Cambodia. And hence, when I saw a board advertising kick boxing matches in my hotel, I decided to buy the ticket. The ticket was $ 15 and was for much awaited international event. Match between Thailand and Cambodia. My hotel manager allowed me to go with him and his friends and as we were heading to the arena, he told me that Thailand are the favorites as they have much better boxers than Cambodia. The arena had a normal sized boxing ring in the middle, surrounded with seats rising gradually on all sides except one. One side was a podium where guests would be sitting. Within 15 minutes the arena was packed, mostly with locals. Each match has 5 rounds lasting a few minutes. Judges on all the sides of the ring were counting the score.
The opener was a match between two Cambodians and then began. The noise from the crowd was still subdued, perhaps they were reserving it for more important matches ahead. As the more important match began...the first one between Thailand and Cambodia, traditional music started to play. Coupe of guys came in the center, both dressed in suits and introduced the players in typical, high pitched voices. Standing up, I saw that the music was not recorded and rather it was life music being played by some people using traditional instruments. As the music started its slow rhythm, both the fighters began to move their body slowly, crouching every now and then or sitting on one knee, their hands moving and joining together in the form of traditional greeting. It was a traditional dance, which also served as a kind of warm up for the fighters. The bell rang, and the fighters were ready. They were not lunging at each other...rather waiting for right moment, judging their opponents. Crowd was getting restless, each casual punch or kick drew shouts from crowds. Soon, they were closing on each other, trying to dominate. Crowd was on their feet. There was shouting and many people raised there hands and shouted at each other and then shook their hands. I could not believe. This was the rawest form of betting I had seen till now! I spent too much time looking at the crowd and a big roar from crowd made me look back at the ring. The Cambodian fighter had knocked down the Thai fighter. The referee and medical staff checked the Thai fighter, helped him on his feet and the winner's name was announced. Delighted, the Cambodian fighter leapt from the ring and into the crowd, where he was given dollars upon dollars by delighted crowd. Next four matches went the similar way, but towards the last match, the whole crowd was on their feet. A local guy next to me knew a bit of English and he told me about sad state the Cambodian boxers are in. He told me, looking sad "They don't get money...not much...not from government..if they win, they can go to crowd and ask tips. Most of them are tuk-tuk drivers". Now I was looking at them from a different angle. Their eyes and their expressions were clearer now, which carried a sort of hunger. It was not about winning and it was not about glory. It was about food and running a family!


  1. The part about the Thunderstorm is really well written.. Why not add a picture to match it with the imagination.. :)

    1. Hey thanks :) yes need to add pictures..but net is very slow and takes ages to upload one picture..maybe when I get good internet again :)