Sunday, 30 October 2011

Siem Reap Day 1 - Sojourn Boutique Villa, Old Market

Cured Travel Bug got Dragged to See World UNESCO site. Villa Dejavu. Travelling the Middle Way. Feet for Fish. Fish for House cat.

semi-overcast 30 °C
Had been wanting to see Angkor Wat for ages. It's even got included in my Bucket List (The phrase "Bucket List" should be said in a loud, booming voice with many echoes. Preferably accompanied by 2 files of trumpeters blaring their horns). Atta had been dragging her feet when it comes to Angkor Wat. In last few years, bugs that I got from my travels had wearing down me of my travel bug. To the point that I'm so low in travel bug count that I need a fresh transfusion just to keep me interested. It's only then that she said, "Let's go to Siem Reap".

She knows my desire for travelling had been buried deep underground like the tombs of 13 Ming Dynasty Emperors (明十三陵) near Beijing. Like the dead emperors, I'm only wished to be visited, not visiting others (and visits to my place is free). What's more, discounting her business trips to Istanbul, Jakarta, Doha and Bangkok this year (of which I didn't go), we already toured Taiwan during Chinese New Year, and joined a 3 weeks Baltic cruise just a few months ago. Boy, I feel tired just recounting it. I opposed to this trip vehemently. Man, she has definitely suffered from a bad case of Severe and Acute Travelling Bug Syndrome (aka SATBS, unrelated to SARS). As she was born in HK (birth place of SARS and one of PRC's 2 SARs), she must have contracted SATBS there from birth. I'm very much cured of this incurable disease.

I jumped up and down screaming "No more for this year!" (I should have also dropped onto the floor and kicked like a kid in tantrums for a good measure, but I feared that I hurt my hip performing this childish act. A damaged hip is really bad for travelling, and future tantrums if I so wich to perform this ritual again). I said to her with my Bruce Lee's (1940 - 1973) trademarked finger pointing pose, "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry!" while imitating the voice of Bill Bixby (1934 - 1993), who played "The Incredible Hulk" (1978 - 1982). Between my busy acts of celebrity impressions and limited Stanislavski's method acting, I heard that we should take advantage of the Frequent Flyers Miles before it lapsed in November. The Krisflyer points were only enough to cover us to fly to Cambodia (or is it Kampuchea?). I may not multitask very well. But I heard her between my Oscar winning impromptu performance. And finally, to win me completely over, she said the 2 little magic words, "3 days". It's only for 3 days. She made the gesture that saying both 'ok' and '3'. So I replied with the same gesture (in my mind, my gesture to her involved 2 fingers. 'V' sign for victory. What were you thinking? Get your head out of the gutter. Would ya?).

On the plane, she dropped the bomb on me (nobody on the plane got hurt but me) that we didn't really have to use the points after all. It didn't expire. Somehow. Uhmmm...."after all", "somehow". Interesting choice of words. when it comes to this matter, she's so creative. Never mind, it's only for 3 days. I told meself, I can handle 3 days. Finger cross. Touch wood. Pray to god (I'm agnostic. But desperate times call for desperate measure. I would convert to any god who can do me a solid). I chanted to myself, "3 more days" like voters chanted "4 more years" in election campaign but without the enthusiasm. I chanted repeatedly amid the loud drones of jet engines. I hope one of the gods can hear me. I guess they can. I hope they can. Be positive, they can! Hullaleyah!!! Call me Lucky!

Sojourn Villa, Siem Reap, CambodiaWe stayed in Sojourn Villa for the 3-day trip. This reminds me of Villa Sungei in Bali we visited about 4 years ago. Everything. If you followed my hyperlinks to these 2 villas and look at the photos, you'll know what I mean. The overall vibes of the 2 places has so much similarities in its tropical idyllic charms - the tropical flora, featured strongly in frangipini and palms, swimming pool, and the surrounding bungalows (or villas), right down to the cats. More about the cats later. Not to mention the Buddhist-Hindu religious decors dotted around the Villas. Both of these villas nestled in their local villages, instead of the town centre. Even the typical Hindu morning food offering that left outside our porch is the same.

Speaking of this Bali Hindu's tradition, this reminds me of something quite interesting - you may find it dead boring - between Bali, Indonesia and India. The single most touristy iconic image of India is Taj Mahal. It's a UNESCO heritage site. It's a Islamic architecture, a mosque, in a predominant Hindu country. While the single most touristy iconic image of Indonesia is Borobudur. It's a UNESCO heritage site. It's a Hindu architecture, a temple, in a predominant Muslim country. Many Hindu images of Bali too make into covers of Indonesia travel brochures. And not just tourist brochures, but many other product/service brochures. Did you find it interesting or dead boring? You don't care! I see.

Ok, back to Siem Reap. The similarities between the 2 villas are more than just on the surface - i.e. scenery, decor, and architecture. They also provide similar services.

You have 3 ways to do sightseeing. You can join a packaged tour and give yourself minimum hassles, and minimum flexibility. You go where the tour group goes, you get up when they tell you to, etc. On the other hand, you can go for the DIY option where you have maximum hassles, and maximum flexibility. Or you can go the middle way. This is where the villas concept comes in. This is where they shine. The villa provides you with a driver for a whole day, and suggests some itineraries for the typical sights. You can either follow their suggestion to the letters, or design your own itineraries, just tell your driver to take you there. The most likely scenario would be what we had done - we took up some of their suggestions (which is usually a good suggestion anyway), but we also have some specific things we like to do that's not been suggested. The time is of course flexible. They even provide us lunch.

One more similarity. Both of these villas are run by Aussies. I don't know if these concepts are invented by the Aussies or not, but these concepts can only work if the labour cost of the country is quite low. Since the driver they provide are for the whole day, and the villa is located in a local village, thus away from anywhere a touristy. Your own personal driver becomes very convenient, almost essential. I couldn't imagine I can afford this kind of chauffeuring service even in country like Thailand. And so it didn't come as a surprise that Siem Reap has something similar to Bali. We took up this package. The damage of this package is $200 USD per night for us. Of course, price is subjected to changes. Would imagine this costs more in peak season.

By the way, peak season is in December when the weather here is quite mild and pleasant. The weather in the months of June to August are insufferably hot and humid, as we were told by the tour guide. In the start of November, we've arrived just at the very beginning of the Peak Season. It's sandwiched between perfect and miserable weather. We hoped for the best. Actually, this time isn't so bad as the tourist numbers are quite low. In Peak Season, you get the good weather, but also the crowds.

I did enjoy my previous 2 trips to Bali, so I imagine, I would also enjoy this trip with this similar setup.

Angkor Wat at dusk, Siem ReapIt was about 2:45PM when we arrived at the villa. The immediate itinerary that they suggested was a sunset picnic outside - not a sightseeing tour of - Angkor Wat. We get the sightseeing tour tomorrow.
After unpacking and down a honey tasting welcome drink, we made our way to the picnic around at 5:15PM. We turned the corner around the moat and from our car windows we saw Angkor Wat in the distant bathed in the warm golden glow of the sunset. Temples in Angkor face West, which in Hindu religion meaning death. When a Chinese says somebody is going to the Western Sky (="xi tian"=西天[1]), it means someone is going to meet the Maker.

Monk at the causeway of Angkor Wat, Sien Reap, Cambodia
Monk at the causeway of Angkor Wat

I was quite anxious to take the photo of Angkor Wat in the magic hours. As we parked our car, and walked to the moat side where we stayed for picnic, the cloud made their way to blanket out the sun just in time. Not a minute too late. Any keen photographer knows the difference of any scene between sunset and cloudy condition is like heaven and earth (ok, rainbow and mud). The sun never returned. The lazy bugger knocked off for the day while we were there. Better luck next time, if there's a next time.

Old Market, Siem Reap, CambodiaAfter the picnic, we were driven to the Old Market in the town centre and bought a guide book for $4, which we bargained down from $6 USD. We weren't trying to save 2 bucks. We simply respect the tradition. When in Rome you wear a revealing tunic, but when in Siem Reap, you haggle until the cows (or bucks) come home.

I only did some light research on the net (by light, I mean on a laptop), and never bought a guidebook for this trip (only 3 days, why bother?). So we thought we brought "The Treasures of Angkor Wat", published by White Star (I imagine it would cost about 30 AUD/SGD in Australia/Singapore). The guidebook is 2 years old (is brand new condition and still in shrink wrap). It didn't really matter. This isn't one of those guidebook that's big on facts and figures, and low on photos like "Lonely Planets". This one is all about gorgeous glossy photos and some maps. It's like postcards on the cheap. Perfect as a souvenir, and so doesn't matter if it's published this year or 5 years ago.

The town centre is dotted with quite a few street stalls with signs of Dr. Fish around. They're essentially businesses based on Doctor Fish. Their business consists of an aquarium with fishes that eat your feet. I didn't see too many pedi-daredevils. But it wasn't the Peak Season. Also, this fishy pedicure is one of those new fashion like Kindle ebook reader, it isn't quite caught on yet.

Doctor Fish stand, Sieam Reap, CambodiaWhen we returned, the sun had set, and on my way to back to our rooms/bungalow, I nearly stepped on a frog. They're so small and cute (no bigger than my thumb), and so they could be very easily stepped on and got squashed if you don't look where you're walking. They come out during, before or after a rain. Like most Aussies, they love wetness and outdoor.

After a repose, we dined at the Villa's restaurant. Just like the restaurant in Villa Sungei in Bali, the restaurant in this villa is also a alfresco dining. That is, it has ceiling, but no walls. Because it's open, the house cat - or should I say Cat of the House - came to dine with us with no RSVP. We certainly didn't mind this uninvited guest because it was such a pretty cute pussy. We fed it with our 3 course square meal.

Yep, you've guessed it, this unofficial itinerary is also identical to that of Villa Sungei. We fed their cat as an after dinner activity. Now you know what I meant when I said that the similarities of the 2 villas are right down to the house cat.

The 1 difference between these 2 villas is the bathroom. In Villa Sungei, the bathroom is what I would call an alfresco shower. Alfresco shower isn't as good a concept as alfresco dining. In fact, the 2 enclosures are reversed. In alfresco restaurant, there's ceiling, but no walls. In alfresco shower, there're walls, but no ceiling. So how are we going to have a shower when it's raining? Also, in the morning, we found all kinda of dead leaves and creepy crawlies took over our washing basins. The bathroom in Sojourn Villa is good. It's totally enclosed as bathroom is supposed to. Private. It has several very large windows so that you can get that feeling of being outside (if that's your thing), but without the downside of actually being outside. Just draw the blind if you don't like to feel connected to the outdoor when you doing your private things. Leave the blind up if you're way too proud of your body. No problemo.

No, I don't believe they're operated by the same Aussie.

Yes, I'm reasonably proud of my body. But I close the blinds anyway. I don't want anyone goes blind after seeing me naked.

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[1]   西天 = "Western Sky" is translated into English as "Western Paradise". Time again and again, they interpret rather than translate. Another example, 中国="Zhong gou" was interpreted as "Middle Kingdom", once again the term should be translated as "Middle Country". This interpretation annoyed me to no end. I guess the English speakers aren't dumb to interpret meaning from literal translation. So smart-alecky translator has to become interpreter.