There was an urge to get out of this polluted city of Jakarta, away from the hustles and bustles, perhaps a change of scenery… We concluded that Cambodia is our next destination, plus AirAsia’s airfare seemed affordable for the ever inflated Rupiah.
Day 1: Saturday, 15 November
AirAsia was 15 minutes late before we took off from Sukarno Hatta. Still tolerable. The 2 hour journey to Kuala Lumpur was filled with anticipation. We arrived in KL Low Cost Carrier Terminal (KL LCCT), on the other end of the monumental KLIA. There was no train to KL Sentral Station, only bus. So we decided to take a cab, which cost MYR61 for an hour- or- so drive to Number Eight Guesthouse in Jalan Tengkat Tong Shin. The guesthouse was located right in the middle of the city, walking distance to Bukit Bintang, Jalan Alor which is full of local eateries (including the famous KL Durian) and a 10-minute walk to KLCC. Across the guesthouse there is 24-house Warung Nasi Kandar and convenient store. It is also closed to Lorong Ceylon, the happening place in KL these days, with its rows of various selection of restaurants, such as Lebanese, Russian, North Indian, Japanese, Brazilian, Irish Pub with its fish and chips specialty, as well as a German Brauhaus.
The two old shop houses were converted into 18-20 bedrooms in two-storey. Some rooms with en-suite, most of them with shared shower/toilet. Our room was on the top floor, precisely at the attic angle. It was a clean one with the ensuite and wash basin, worth it for the price of MYR120 per nite, inclusive breakfast, internet/wi-fi access. Other recommended guest houses around the area are: Anjung KL or Anjung Suites (www.anjungkl.com); or Pujangga Homestay on Jalan Berangan 21, off jalan Nagasari.
We walked leisurely to KLCC park, amidst the greenery which we missed a lot in Jakarta. The weather was quite humid, but clear sky. A bottle of Warsteiner beer was easy on a thirsty throat for my partner, I chose lemon squash, while doing people-watching in Santini Bar, right at the edge of Suria KLCC and the park. We walked back to meet our friends for dinner and more drinks in Jalan Alor and along Lorong Ceylon. The evening was closed with a 1.5hour foot massage in KL Valley right across our guesthouse. Heaven!
Day 2: Sunday, 16 November
Felt totally refreshed, we had our Nasi Lemak breakfast across the guesthouse. Fueled and energized, we were ready to tackle Suria KLCC. Only to find out that all KL-ers also had the same idea to spend their Sunday. Too much, we decided to walk further to Bukit Bintang in time for an afternoon down-pour. While waiting for the rain to stop, we had our late lunch in Chee Meng Resto, who boasted to serve chicken rice since 1965. My choice was mango salad and barley lemon for drink.
Having watched about this fish spa in CNN, I could not help but notice there is one place Jalan Tong Shin who offered such service. Also I saw several others along Jalan Bukit Bintang. Out of curiosity, I came to Tropical Spa and chose foot fish spa treatment. I was asked to wash my feet and change into the spa flip-flop. A seating cushion was made ready for me to sit at the edge of a see-through fish pool. The minute I put my feet into the water, I was ‘eaten’ alive by hundreds of small fish. Not a pretty scene and not a nice feeling either at the very beginning. I kept of jolting and moving away my feet from the water, the feeling was very tingly. After a while, and putting my mind somewhere else, the treatment became bearable and the fish worked diligently along my feet.
So what is this fish therapy? These fish are garra rufa and chin-chin fish typ, which live in an environment of 36 degree water. They exude dithranol enzymes while nibbling, and the enzymes help to prevent skin problems. Originating in Kangal, Turkey, an army doctor dipped his injured leg in the springs and fish gathered to nibble the damaged skins and his wounds. The fish do not have teeth, so they were actually rid me off, promoting better blood circulation. 30 minutes and MYR38 later, my feet looked clean, similar to having a pedicure. Do I want to do it again? Absolutely, it is a mutual symbiosis at work.
It was a quiet evening, light dinner, tasting local beer called Jaz, also a Myanmar one; while ensuring our transportation booking for dawn tomorrow. This was actually the first time I enjoyed KL on holiday mode, with different scenery and setting, then the usual business standards.
Day 3: Monday, 17 November 2008
It rained again. We started early for our 7 o’clock flight to Siem Reap. AirAsia was on time and efficient, arriving in Siem Reap International Airport 2 hours later. Still thinking that Cambodia was still part of ASEAN, thus we did not need an entry visa, we were down right wrong. An entry tourist visa and a passport scanned copy cost USD22 per person. It took 10 people to process it from table to table, and then.. voila.. it was ready in 10 minutes.
The airport pick up was late and the hotel staff was doing too much talking for first thing in the morning. I was not in my best possible chance for a conversation. A consolation happened the minute we entered into our room or shall I say, our unit.. because it looked like one studio apartment in itself. Yes, we had arrived in Hotel Be Angkor, a 3-bed room boutique hotel owned by Martin Dishman. It was located right in the Passage of Old Market, off Sivatha Road, in the heart of Siem Reap. Other establishment owned by Mr Dishman is Linga Bar across the Hotel, One Hotel Angkor (which is literally one-room hotel) next door and also a modern minimalist AHA restaurant facing the Old Market.
The Bamboo Room which I reserved had its private roof top and in the room, as the name implies was decorated in minimalist bamboo style by a Khmer artist, Sopheap Pich.
After a simple home-cooked lunch at Khmer Kitchen Resto across the street and made the necessary arrangement with our guide, Darith, we went by car to our first destination, Angkor Wat. It was about 6km north of the city. First, we stopped to purchase our 3-day entry pass with our individual photo, to the temples around Angkor. It cost USD40 per person. A hindu temple situated in a 1.5km by 1.3km land was built at the beginning of 12th century by Suryavarman 2nd, to
commemorate as his funeral temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Overall it has a square kilometer of bas-relief sculpture to view, more than 1500 apsara or celestial dancers, with more than 60 head/hairstyles. Most of the main towers were being restored and the project was donated and done by the Japanese Government, some other part of the temple was donated by the French government. We had our water supply handy for walk around this vast site. We arrived around lunch time and therefore, there was less crowd of people. When we left, herds of tourists started to come. On the entrance of the Wat, there was a moat or canal, whereby used by children to swim and play, especially in a hot and humid afternoon like today.
Next we drove north to Angkor Thom (Great City), the last city of Angkor, was largest in scale, some 10 sq km entering through the South Gate which was guarded by an array of 54 giant statues of gods and 54 demons on the causeway, before we faced with a 20km in height gate, decorated with stone elephant trunks and crowned by four faces of Avalokiteshvara, the Boddhisattva of compassion.
We continued our journey to Bayon, a Buddhist temple inside Angkor Thom built at the end of 12th century by Jayavarman 7th. As we walked around, it was like we were surrounded by heads, staring down from above, from every angle. There were 54 gothic towers, which meant 216 faces of Avalokiteshvara, which bear more than a passing resemblance to the great king himself. With the stooped corridors and steeped flights of stairs I decided to wait downstairs, while my partner continued to enjoy every angle and every turn. With the heat of the afternoon sun, we decided to call it a day and returned to the Passage, quenching our thirst with Angkor Beer at Amok Resto.
The evening became alive around Old Market with tourists returning from their day trip to the temples and either catching up on their shopping, having dinner or walking around the area. Dinner was a tough decision from so many selection of restaurants, but seemed that we could not get enough of Khmer food. Thus we decided to have a ‘split’ dinner menu, my partner at the Cambodia BBQ and I stick with vegetarian resto next to it, called Chamkar. Cambodia BBQ offered various meats for such as crocodile, snake, ostrich, kangaroo, goat, frog legs, fish, beef and many more… A crocodile BBQ with rice and vegetables was the choice. The meat looked thick and tough, I dare not to ask how it tasted or else I had to do it myself. I chose a fruit salad with no fish sauce for entrée, and oyster mushroom and various other vege stir fry, and of course the fragrant pandan rice. The evening was young and the Passage was such a happening one, minus the loudness, compared to Bar Street. Next place was Linga Bar, across the hotel. It is a chic gay bar, but others are welcome, too. They served Lavazza coffee and beautiful espresso martini, not to mention other cracking cocktail list (they call it ‘monumental’), loved the atmosphere here. We called it a day!
Day 4: Tuesday, 18 November
Started early with breakfast at the hotel resto, before we drove straight to Banteay Srei, about 35 km north east of Siem Reap, or about an hour by car. The weather today was cloudy, definitely cooler then yesterday. It rained at dawn. Banteay Srei is considered by many to be the jewel in the crown of Angkorian art. The name means a Citadel of the Women. A Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, it is also called Lady’s temple and includes a delicate carving. It is definitely the smallest site on what we had seen so far. It was built towards end of 10th century by a Brahmin tutor of Jayavarman 5th. It used a fine textured rose colored sandstone. The whole morning visit was made more colorful with a live traditional music ensemble played by victims of land mine.
The next destination was Ta Prohm.. a very green monumental ruins, surrounded by gigantic tree roots. Most of the trees here were there since more than 400 years ago. It was a Buddhist monastery and dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman 7th, built towards the end of 12th century. The reliefs on the walls were covered with moss and creeping plants. Although some of the trees are dying, some are still giving effect by growing into the wall.
Driving back to civilization, we went straight to Artisans D’Angkor, a shop who sold the products done by impoverished youngsters trained in the arts of their ancestors. Various silk, homewares, repro of carvings, were sold at a higher price then those around the market.
After a hearty lunch at the local Khmer resto, we went to the floating village of Chong Kneas. A good break from looking at the temples. We stepped on a boat in Phnom Krom and cruised along the Ton Le Sap river. During the dry season, the villagers moved closer to the lake, whereby in the rainy season, they parked themselves near the boat dock in Phnom Krom. Day-to-day living activities can be seen along side the river, including the pig ‘farm’, kids playing in the living room, vegetable/grocery shopping from another boat vendor. The rain could not resist but to drop it heavily that afternoon. We stopped by on a floating restaurant-cum-shop to check whether they had some local music ensemble CD, we could purchase. It was a long day and we headed back to the city.
Later in the evening, we ate at the Khmer Soup on Bar Street. We tried amok, the national dish which I would consider as a lighter version of curry, sweeter with more lemongrass taste, and could be made with fish or chicken, beef or pork. You know which one I chose. It was served with a fragrant jasmine rice. We checked out the crowded Angkor What? Bar across the street. With a full tummy and long day behind us, we called it a beautiful and cultured experienced.
Day 5: Wednesday, 19 November
Initially we thought of driving to Pnom Penh. But with a 5-hour trip one way would not make it worthwhile if we did not stay there. Thus we wanted just to enjoy Siem Reap, doing one of my favourite passing time: shopping. We just went around the old market and bargain hard for the raw silk bags, kraam (the local and traditional scarf made of cotton), knickknacks and what not, till my heart contend!
Across the market we found a shop called Boom Boom Room, dedicated in selling iPods and its accessories, t-shirts and stuff, but most importantly they have a vast selection of various downloads to any format (iPod or MP3 or else…) Love this place and they worked so efficiently. They also served beautiful coffee, so what else could I ask. My partner happily tried Anchor beer, another local beer, which turned out not too tasty as Angkor one.
There are several shops which support the disabled, through which profits of selling their end products would go back for their living survival. One of them I mentioned about Artisans D’Angkor. The others I visited such as Rajana, which promotes fair trade and employment opportunities for Cambodians. Senteurs d’Angkor has quite a selection of eclectic silk and carvings, traditional beauty products and spices, made locally.
We came back to the Passage’s Traditional Khmer Food for a very late lunch of beef loklak set menu with rice and beer. I had my dose of mango salad and fresh vegetable Khmer spring rolls, served with clear and sour peanut sauce.
Next to our hotel is McDermott Gallery, complete with its collection of calendars, cards, writing set and conducting the unusual photo exhibition of Sandy Shum, a California-born artist, depicting Bhutan as her object. I had to try the best ginger ice cream blended with black sesames, just outside the Gallery. Melted!
Lazing around in our room which was equipped with wi-fi and Bose’s iPod docking, we could see the afternoon rain from our rooftop terrace. Life is good!
We stopped by Molly Maloney’s Irish bar for a good shot of whiskey or two.. and some Sambucca, which was mistakenly mixed with black coffee.. still drinkable and gave a good cure for cold. A stroll to the Angkor Night Market, packed with stalls selling a variety of handicrafts, souvenirs, silks and stuff. All the same stuff, like we found in the Old Market. I thought I also saw Dr Fish, another name for fish spa. Obviously I still can’t get over it. We walked back to the hotel to pack and prepare for an early flight tomorrow.
Day 6: Thursday, 20 November
2 flights to catch today: Siem Reap to KL, then KL to Jakarta. The hotel was another disappointment, since there was no one at the receptionist. I was glad I did my check out bill settled the night before. The hotel staffs were scrambling to prepare a take away breakfast and coffee. Not a very good impression for such a high profiled establishment. I shared my opinion in TripAdvisor during my transit in KL.
We arrived home late in the evening. The drive from Cengkareng was smooth. This journey was another acid test for me, my patient and how we viewed our relations. We had our lows, too, during this journey, only to bring us closer and hopefully, the bond is becoming stronger. Mostly, we enjoyed our cultural destinations, places we went, people we met.