Angkor is full of great ancient sights besides Angkor Wat, especially Angkor Thom and the “Big Circuit,” a loop which takes in several major sites to the northeast of Angkor Wat. I went to these places on the second day but unlike my first day when I rode to Angkor with several Chinese, this time I went solo on a tuktuk I hired back in Siem Reap. The driver was a nice, middle-aged guy who I also hired to drive me to the airport on my last day. However, I had to endure an uncomfortable experience in the morning just before I met him.
As my Chinese friends had gone to see the sunrise at Angkor earlier that morning, I went out to eat “brunch” and find a driver myself. I passed some guys near the corner from my hotel and I asked them about prices. I tried to negotiate with a guy but I wasn’t satisfied so I decided to move on.
The guy wasn’t pleased and he proceeded to followed me. As I walked along the road, I hailed another driver and he stopped. I told him my itinerary which would mainly be Angkor Thom and several temples on the “Big Circuit” and he gave me a lower price than the previous guy. I agreed, but right then, the previous guy came up and started to complain. Interestingly, he didn’t challenge or try to scare away the other driver, which was good, though he stood nearby glaring at me. As soon as I continued towards a restaurant, he started following me and protesting. “Why you do this? You come to my country and you do this. Why you [take your business away]?” he kept saying. Finally I had enough and I shouted back, “I didn’t promise you anything!” I was worried he would pick a fight but luckily when I went into a restaurant, he went away. I was a bit shaken, though now I could safely say he was probably desperate rather than malicious. The other driver had parked nearby and gave me a ride (free) back to my hotel, where I got my stuff then came back out for my second trip to Angkor.
The rest of my trip went well as I was carried around in comfort on the motorized tuktuk, in contrast to the previous day when my malfunctioning bicycle wheel and hot sun combined to make me exhausted and lightheaded. As I’d already bought the entry pass the previous day, the driver took another road into Angkor that passed through some rural land.
I started at the Sras Srang reservoir, then red Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, the artificial island of Neak Poan, the ruins of Preah Khan before going into Angkor Thom.
The first temple was Pre Rup with its tall, reddish distinctive cone-topped domes. It was an impressive site and gave off a different vibe from Angkor Wat.
Then it was on to East Mebon, which is similar to Pre Rup, but for its elephant statues (which I did not get good photos of).
Ta Som provided a change in scenery, being a one-story temple featuring a long passageway passing through multiple enclosures/gateways and a central shrine. It was a bit similar to Ta Prohm.
After three buildings, it was time for a change- Neak Poan, a small temple on an artificial island in a swamp-like reservoir. You get there by walking on a long wooden boardwalk towards a pit.
The last temple before entering Angkor Thom was Preah Khan, which was filled with ruins, lots of open area, long passageway.
It was great to go inside and explore all these temples but there was one small issue – the persistent vendors and hustlers.
Inside Angkor, there are villages and a lot of people make their livelihoods from visitors. Some set up stalls along the roads and near the sites inside Angkor, while some individuals try to sell books or even wooden instruments from bags. A few act as unofficial guides (the official ones wear badges) and try to latch on to you for $1 or more as you go inside the sites. Most of the time, it wasn’t bad, even a bit amusing.
At a souvenir stall in front of the Sras Srang reservoir, a girl came up to me. Just like that, she gave me a light bamboo woven bracelet and told me it’s a free gift but that I had to buy something. I tried to give it back but she jumped back, saying that “if you give it back, it means you don’t like me.” Since it was the start of my day, I didn’t need to buy any water or any souvenirs so I didn’t buy anything from her, but now that I think about it I should have, if only to be nice. I still have her bracelet, a reminder of her entrepreneurial flirtatiousness and my stinginess.
There were a lot of child vendors and while they can be cute, it is hard to have to keep ignoring them or telling them no since I didn’t want to buy their postcards and trinkets. However at one site, there were a few child vendors, with the youngest a toddler or 3-year-old vendor. This very little one was so young he could only say “one dollar” and not even fully, while holding a few postcards. And because he was so little, he didn’t hassle or follow you like the older kids, but just stood to one side. It’s kind of cute, but it is also worrying to think that h might grow up to be follow in the footsteps of those older child vendors.
Inside another temple ruins, I saw a heartbreaking scene with another tiny child vendor. There was a European family with two young kids and the little vendor walked up to the younger white kid (maybe around 2). It was a stark contrast – the brown Cambodian 4 or 5-year-old selling stuff standing next to a 2-year-old European boy traveling with his family. It might have made for a cute photo but what happened is the mother saw this and quickly took her son’s hand and pulled him away from the little Cambodian. You can see the mother leading her child away from the little vendor (far left) in the photo below which I took about a minute after it happened – I was actually trying to take a photo of the building and tree but by coincidence I saw the above event unfold. It seemed like the mother was apprehensive about the Cambodian kid being near her own child, and it did seem a bit haughty, but to be honest, parents have to be very careful with their kids and can’t be concerned about political correctness.
I also encountered some hustlers, both adults and kids.
One guy came up to me inside a temple and started pointing out different spots to take good photos. Then he wanted to lead me to other places inside the temple (I did feel a bit worried but he was smaller than me and didn’t seem like a thief) and describe interesting features. When I started walking off, having thanked him, he asked me for a dollar or two which I don’t think I gave him. I mean, it’s no big deal but it is annoying and it’s a bad precedent.
At another site inside Angkor Thom, a young boy started following me and telling me about the history, in decent English. He was about 10 or so, followed by a few other kids, and he was with me for about 8 minutes as we walked across forested area (again I did feel a tiny bit worried, not so much of him, but of whether other people would suddenly come out). As expected, he asked me for something and I gave him $1, since I felt a little admiration. I complimented him on his English and urged him to keep studying.
If you’ve made it all the way to here, good for you. Enjoy this bonus photo of a small standalone structure outside of Preah Khan.