Car Ride to Angkor Wat for Sunrise
We woke up at 4.30 am and was seated at the receptionist area by 4.45am. A short while later the hotel main gate was slided open and a few tuk-tuks came in to pick up other hotel customers for their sunrise view at Angkor Wat. We waited but our taxis did not arrive. I told the hotel receptionist about our missing taxis so he checked the hotel record to find out the details. Unfortunately he could not find any recorded instruction about our taxis request. I made my request the day before when we checked in, but it seemed that the request was not acted on or recorded.
I was very disappointed as I thought it would be too late to get a taxis at such ungodly hour and we would surely miss the sunrise. The hotel staff was very helpful, he offered to send us to the sunrise site using the hotel van once another staff arrived to take over his shift. He assured us that we would not be late for the sunrise.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
When we reached the west entrance (main entrance) of Angkor Wat compound it was still dark. There were already many people all walking towards the temple. It was amazing that with so many tourists crowding into the entrance the security guards still managed to stop everyone of us and validated our tickets. By the time we reached the two ponds on the west front of the temple it was already packed with people. The best position to take photograph would be the first line at the banks of the two ponds.
he sunrise was not as spectacular as we expected, it could be the wrong time of the year or there was too much clouds in the sky.
Once the sky brightened the sunrise was considered over and all the tourists started moving away. Most of the tourists left and went back to their hotels. Very soon the place became deserted and the ambience of the temple ground became tranquil and silent.
It was about 6.30am and we still had about an hour to wait before our hotel driver would return to pick us up at the west entrance. So we strolled leisurely around the ground. There were two structures, one infront of each of the two ponds. These structures were called libraries. I guessed they must be places for keeping records in the past.
Breakfast at the hotel
We were back at the hotel by around 8am and were too energetic to go back to bed so we headed straight to the dining room for our breakfast. We had two hours before our next activity so we decided to have a slow breakfast. The waiter came over to give us the breakfast menu and informed us that we could order anything on the menu and as many times as we wished.
My children ate eggs, poached and scrambled, I ate Khmer porridge and noodle. In most hotels where breakfast was included in the room charges, breakfast was normally served buffet style which meant they were precooked. In this hotel, besides the bread and pasteries all other foods were cooked only when we placed the order so they tasted fresher and nicer.
Khmer Pottery Center
I had booked pottery class for three of us (my son, daughter and me) at Khmer Pottery Center before leaving for Siem Reap. The fee was US$20 per person inclusive of transport to and from hotel. At 9.50am our transport arrived, 10 minutes early, it was a tuk tuk for four.
On the way to the center, my hat got blew off. Before I could yell out the tuk tuk had already advance so much ahead. When the driver heard me talking about my flown away hat he surprised us by turning the tuk tuk around. He had to drive some 300 metres back before we found my flattened hat in the middle of the road. Before my son could get down the tuk tuk the driver already jumped of his scooter and picked up my hat.
We were the only three trainees in the class, our trainer was a lady and she demonstrated how to go about shaping a lump of clay into a small bowl. She could not speak English so another staff explained the process stage by stage. After one demonstration we were given our first piece of clay to work on.
Each of us had a personal tutor who would help us whenever we encountered a problem. After the first practice we were given two more lumps of clay to practice a second and third times under the watchful eyes of our personal tutors. After completing three practices we were ready to work on our own. We were given another three lumps of clay to create three items. I had quite a lot of fun shaping the clay.
After we were done with our “bowls” we were given some pattern stamps, toothpicks, sticks and pencils and our tutor told us to put some design on our creations. We could carve anything we like and be as creative as we wanted. Since we were not in a rush to go anywhere we spent the rest of the morning “putting” design on our creations. When all were done, each of us selected one “master piece” for “firing”.
The “firing” would take about 10 hours and when completed these “masterpieces” would be sent to our hotel.
Pottery was so fun! It was fun for me and my two grown up children and I could not wait to see the final products.
Tonle Sap Lake
I had booked a sunset Tonle Sap Lake tour with Tara Riverboat at US$36 per person that included aircon van transfer to and fro our hotel and the lake, boat trip on the lake, dinner on Tara Riverboat anchored in the middle of the lake and an English speaking guide.
Our guide and aircon van arrived at 3.00pm. Though they were early by 30 minutes we were ready and waiting for them as they had called earlier to inform us about their early arrival. The driver drove a short distance to another hotel to pick up another family. Unfortunately that family was nowhere to be found and finally after waiting for more than half an hour they appeared. We would have been less upset if the latecomers expressed some sort of apologies unfortunately they did not seem to care about causing inconvenience to others. The family had three adults and one child and spoke mainland Mandarin, so I guessed they must be China Chinese.
The Tonle Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. It has an attached river, Tonle Sap River, which is 120km long that connects the lake to the Mekong. The lake is smallest in size (about 3000 square Km) during the dry season (March/April) and expands five folds to about 16000 square Km by November.
From our guide we understood that the raining season had started but the lake was still not at its largest. As our van travelled on the road, we notice that the houses on one side (down slope) of the road were built on 10 feet high stilts. Our guide told us that all these stilts would be covered by water in November when the water from the Tonle Sap Lake flowed onto the flood plain.
The journey took about 20 minutes before we reached the jetty (Port of Chong Khneas). Our guide went off to get the tickets and gave us one each, I was not sure if the ticket was for the boat ride or for entrance to the lake. We did not have to wait for long, a boat arrived and all the people from my van and another group went on to the boat, there were about 20 of tourists.
The boat chugged up the river and we saw floating houses, big, small, very run down ones and some nice ones along the river. The river were full of activities, kids were paddling by on small sampan, some boats were speeding up and down the “road” water way, men were casting nets etc.
Most of the houseboats were “opened” and we could see into the interior of the houses as our boat passed by. Hammocks seemed to be a favourite “furniture” and we saw many boathouses had one strung across two vertical columns on their “pouchs”. It was amusing to see one occupant of a hammock forcefully swinging the hammock from side to side on a boathouse that was bouncing up and down with the water motion.
We passed a floating school with classrooms and children running about, another floating school with a basket ball court on its upper deck, a floating church, a floating farm, a floating market. This was no doubt a real live-in floating village!
The boat stopped at a crocodile farm, there were just a few crocodiles lying in an enclosure quite lifelessly, there was not much to see. The only interesting part was walking up to the 3rd level of the farm which was an open deck. From the high point I could see a huge body of muddy water ahead. That was the lake.
From a distance we could already see Tara Riverboat, it was huge and was anchored on the lake a short distance from the where the river joined the lake.
From the Tara Riverboat website, the photos of the boat looked much newer than the actual one. I guessed those pictures must have been taken many years ago. We went up the riverboat and were guided up to its 2nd deck.
The 2nd deck was sort of “half open”, there were no walls just simple railing all round. At the front was a drink bar serving hot and cold drinks and beer. Dinner had been prepared and our guide invited us to start our meal. It was a buffet meal, food taste was pretty decent, it would have been better if the food had not already cooled down.
After dinner we stay on the deck to enjoy the view. The view was not fantastic but because the lake was so huge and calm that it gave me a sense of peacefulness. I did not mind sitting low in my chair, propping my legs on the railing and staring into the great big body of water.Many others had also finished their dinner and we were already lying on the hammocks that were strung near back of the deck.
After a while I went up onto the 3rd deck to explore. It was a open deck and was very windy. From the 3rd deck the view was a slight improvement over that from the 2nd deck. I would have stayed up there longer unfortunately as I walked on the deck I kept walking into sticky spider webs that criss crossing all over the place. The web kept hitting my face and I had a hard time brushing them off under the strong wind that kept blowing the webs back onto my body. It was funny how these webs stayed intact under the strong wind till I walked into them. I wondered why the staff of Tara Riverboat did not bother to keep the 3rd level web free, so as to give customers a better experience. In fact even at the 2nd deck there were many spider webs but just not as much as that on the 3rd level.
We saw the sunset, unfortunately again nothing as spectacular as the ones I saw at Tara Riverboat website, probably wrong time of the year again. It was about 7.00pm when we were transferred back to the little boat and left Tara Riverboat.
Back on the river leading to the jetty, we saw a different scene. There were much less activities on the water as the villagers were settling down into their boathouses. We saw more home based activities like cooking, washing up and eating dinner together. The sky had darkened and each boat house was lighted by one or two dim bulbs.
Soon we reached the jetty and our guide brought us back to our hotel.