Siem Reap, Cambodia, Thursday October 4th, 2007
Posted by Lisa Hill on December 8, 2007
We flew out of Saigon for Siem Reap in Cambodia at about eleven, Tim upgraded to business class and me gnashing my teeth back in cattle class with the plebs, because once again the system hadn’t recognised us as a husband and wife since we have different surnames. Still, it was only a short flight and (unlike the return flight home) not worth any major indignation. And I was rather charmed by the ‘well-wishers’ gallery’ in the departure lounge…
Cambodia is very different, with a stunning new airport building in the shape of pagodas and symbols of the Buddha and elephants here and there. We were met by our new guide, Bun, a more reserved personality than the ebullient Long, but very nice and helpful all the same. The bus ride to our hotel was quite comfortable along the highway, but we discovered later that the other roads are not so good, with potholes everywhere. Ok if you have a careful driver like the one we had, and if it’s dry, but probably terrible in the rain.
The Day Inn Angkor Resort was splendid. To service the Angkor Wat tourist market there are huge new hotels springing up everywhere, massive because they emulate the palaces and pagodas but attractive because there’s a height limit. Ours was painted crisp white with red tiles, surrounded by lush gardens. All the rooms face inward to the Olympic sized swimming pool with covered verandas for lounging about with a G & T after a swim. Here there were silk hangings on the walls instead of garish paintings, white tiles instead of dingy carpets and the aircon was excellent. The poor old Grand Hotel looked very mediocre by comparison!
Tim and I whizzed into the hotel restaurant for a hasty spring roll and won ton, just in time to depart for our tour of Angkor Thom. It is a fantastic temple, built by Jayavarman VII – rather like Borobodur except that Borobodur ascends in levels which show the Buddha’s enlightenment and detachment from everyday life whereas this one is full of little scenes of daily life, including blacksmiths and carpenters, cooks and charioteers and so on. But oh dear – it was so hot and humid! Not only that, there were some perilous stairs that completely defeated my wonky ankle so I had to walk around from the west gate to the east by myself while the others clambered up to see the sights.
After that we saw the Elephant Terrace of the Leper King. It was used as a platform for the king to view his armies but most of it is a ruin now, though you can still see the elephant carvings at one end. However, by this time we’d had enough of the heat and Bun wisely took us back to the hotel to recover…
After a rest, we took ourselves off to the restaurant next door. It’s called L’Escale and it’s run by a French chef who uses local ingredients and recipes in fusion with French techniques.
We had the set menu, which started with a delicious light soup, followed by eight tiny appetisers: one little serve of crumbed frog’s legs; a scrumptious snail; three small slices of pate; a cold rice paper roll; a fried spring roll; soup-in-the-middle; fish amok (fish with coconut in a banana leaf); some more morsels of fish with dipping sauces & some herb juice and rice wine. Then we had ‘beef cooked seven different ways’: mild curry; dried and mixed with a kind of coleslaw; flattened, barbecued & impaled on a piece of lemon grass; some tiny little morsels sauteed in a kind of soup; more in a sweet tomato sauce and two more which neither of us could remember when I came to write in my journal about it the next day! We remembered dessert, however: creme brulee with banana & passionfruit sorbet.
We washed all this down with a familiar Australian D’Arenburg sauvignon blanc, with a Sidecar for Tim beforehand and something called a Mai Tai constructed out of all sorts of weird things for me. We were very impressed by this restaurant, and were not at all surprised to discover when we got home that it is Siem Reap’s premier restaurant.