I know many people who have been there might disagree with me when I say that Angkor Wat did not come up to our expectations. I suppose it's partly our fault since we had very high expectations of this popular destination. In my travels, I have been both disappointed and delighted due to having either high or low expectations before actually seeing a new place. Now that I have mellowed, at least travel wise, my outlook on life in general, and travel in particular has changed quite a bit.

We took the Bangkok Airways flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap. It was very short flight (one of the shortest I've ever taken) of only 45 minutes duration. No complaints at all about the airline. They provided a hot meal and their service was excellent. I mention about meals because of the nearly 90 airlines I have flown on, the US and European airlines have never served any sort of food on flights lasting an hour or less.

When we arrived at Siem Reap International airport, we had to line up for the usual immigration formalities at the 'Visa on Arrival' counter. Actually, the procedures were a little different than at other airports. Instead of going through with passports in hand, we had to wait while one officer took our passports with the forms and $20 visa fee, plus one photo of the applicant. He then gives it to the next fellow who checks all the necessary documents and records them on his computer. Next, he passes the passport to another man who pastes the actual hand written visa on it, and then hands it over to yet another officer. He is the final authority who calls out your name and gives the passport back to you. Anyhow, when this guy finished giving back the passports my name wasn't called at all, and I was the last person left at the immigration section. There was a small problem which I'm not going to bother going into detail, but I ended up paying a $10 'fine' for the 'trouble' I had caused. Didn't get any receipt for it, but it was such a small sum that I didn't mind at all at not getting any official receipt.

When we finally came out of the airport nearly all the arriving passengers had already left and there were only a few locals around. We didn't see any sign of the hotel pick up which we had arranged beforehand. However, there was this one chap who introduced himself as Paul. He was well dressed and looked quite presentable, so we used his car (which was not a regular taxi) to send us to the Allson Angkor Hotel. While I was busy with checking in, I found out that my friend had already hired him for the rest of the day as well as the next day.

I must say that Paul was quite a character. During the period of our time with him he continually threw sarcastic remarks at me. I suppose he was not happy that I kept on declining his various offers to take us to jewelry shops, floating markets and massage parlors. We didn't come to Siem Reap for shopping or taking a massage. God knows, there were enough of those in Bangkok where I was living at that time. He had told us earlier that he wasn't a guide but only a driver, and that's what we wanted him to do, take us around the city in his car. Anyway, we went to the ticket booths at the Angkor Archaeological Park and bought our 3 day passes for US$20 each.

Next, we went to Phnom Bakheng which was built in the 10th century. The temple is located on a hillside and you have to either walk up a steep route or take a elephant up the path. We opted to walk and so did many others as all the elephants were kept busy shuttling tourists up and down the hill. We were told that this temple is always busy in the late afternoon as it is one of the most popular sites for taking pictures of the sunset from the top. Our driver Paul made the first of his many wisecracks when he remarked that I may not make it up the hill because of my weak knees! But not only did I make it up that hill, I even managed to climb up to the top of Phnom Bakheng, and was rewarded with a stunning spectacle of a glorious sunset and the surrounding environs. I would say that the view is comparable to the one many years ago in Bagan, Myanmar when I saw the vast array of pagodas dotting the Bagan plains.

That evening we took in a cultural show with traditional Khmer dancing, which we had booked through the hotel at a cost of $12 per person which also included a buffet dinner. Although the show lasted for only about 45 minutes, at least the dinner was satisfying and I felt that the fee was worth it. It was at a restaurant within walking distance (5 minutes) of our hotel and the place was full when we were there. Luckily, we had a table on the second floor and could see the performance well.

Breakfast at the hotel the following morning was a little disappointing. The Allson Hotel itself is a four star hotel and the rooms are nice. They had a big swimming pool in which I took a dip the first evening. But the breakfast for this hotel category was of limited choices. Anyway, the second day was our full day of touring the huge complex of temples of which Angkor Wat was the principal one with Angkor Thom a close second. Paul came to pick us up in the morning. To his credit, he was always there waiting for us whenever we returned to the car park. We walked around Angkor Thom first, and after lunch at a restaurant we went to see Angkor Wat. I think we spent a lot of time at these two temples, and therefore missed the other ones which are not as well known, but still has some historical significance. Most of them were built between the 10th and 12th centuries. I learned later that there are actually about 1,000 temple sites on the grounds, but most of them in ruins and barely standing. I believe some of the destruction of the temples were also caused by extremists of the Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot when they took control of the country in the early 1970's, and massacred over a quarter its population in the 'Killing Fields.' The name of the country was also changed to Kampuchea. Although the Cambodian people I met were all smiling, I could sense that the scars, especially the internal scars still remained.

On the first day of our arrival I had taken a short stroll outside the hotel and found this little restaurant in a side street and had a good meal there. The owner of the restaurant was a young lady who spoke a little Thai, and I managed to have a conversation with her. Well, on the last morning of our stay I went back to that restaurant and met her husband and her brother. The husband spoke quite good English and I struck a deal with them to take us around town on their motorcycles for $10 per passenger. It turned out to be a good arrangement for all of us as they earned some pocket money, and we got to see a lot of the city of Siem Reap. They stopped at various places, including a grocery store, the central market, a silk farm/weaving factory, and a temple. I think we had them for almost two hours and the motorcycle ride was a lot of fun too, especially since it was our last day in Cambodia.

For the most part, I can say that our trip to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat was enjoyable as we did see one of the "new" wonders of the world. There were a great number of tourists at the temple sites, and I am sure there are even more people going there nowadays. Siem Reap has become a very popular destination, and I heard that prices there have increased accordingly. I am glad that we went there, but as far as temple sightseeing goes, my next dream destination is Borobudur the ancient (9th century) Buddhist temple near Yogyakarta, Indonesia which is not as well known as Angkor Wat. Here again, if I ever make it to Borobudur I am going to keep my expectations low before seeing it with my own eyes!