Another post not about China, but at least it’s about a place in Asia. This is mission creep happening in real time: The scope of this blog is changing and has changed from “Charles’s activities in China” to “Charles’s activities.” This is the stuff of project management nightmares.
I went to Siem Reap, Cambodia in early December to run in a half marathon. For those unfamiliar with Cambodian geography (including me before going there), Siem Reap is the home of Angkor Wat (of World Wonder fame in the video game Civilization). Siem Reap is in the GMT +7 time zone, which is unfortunate given the name of this blog.
Traveling to Siem Reap
I ate at the McDonalds at Beijing Airport before flying (I usually eat junk food when travelling). They had a featured item of Thai pulled chicken on black-colored bread, which is a marketing gimmick that uses squid ink (I think) to color the buns. Maybe it’s the fast-food analogue to squid ink pasta. The sandwich wasn’t very good:
I had a stopover at Kunming airport in Yunnan (a mountainous province in southern China that is famous for having lots of ethnic minorities). One of my grandmothers grew up in Kunming, or at least spent a lot of time there. The airport was very nice:
Based on the view from the airport entrance, Kunming looks like a place worth visiting:
As can be seen in the photo above right, the airport had a heavy security presence. I suspect this had something to do with the terrorist attack in Kunming a couple years ago (a group of baddies armed with big knives went through the train station and killed like 30 people).
The airport also had a display of scorpions (lobsters?) and scorpion-infused liquor next to the customs entrance:
Minor observations about Siem Reap
Anyway, onto Siem Reap proper. First, a brief discussion about transportation. The main way other than walking that tourists get around is via tuk-tuk (where the “u” is pronounced “oo”). A tuk-tuk is a rickshaw pulled by a motorcycle. Here’s a shot from riding inside a tuk-tuk:
The way you refuel a tuk-tuk is that you pull up to a roadside stand and the person who runs the stand will fill your tank from a liquor bottle filled with gasoline:
Speaking of transportation, the folks at Stanford Public Safety would probably be nervous wrecks during a visit to Siem Reap:
Next, a word about petty peddlers. There was a huge market area with hundreds of stands selling everything: vegetables, fish, sandals, fake brand clothes, etc. One of my friends lost his luggage so we visited some of the clothes stands. I bought a wide-brimmed twine hat to use in the race and in general tourism. The market clearly was not up to the fire code:
The main things to see there were ruins associated with the old Angkor/Khmer empire, including the famous Angkor Wat complex. Anyway, here are some outdoor photos of the Angkor Wat complex:
Some indoor photos:
The area has something like 200 different ruins, many of which are as grand as Angkor Wat. The various buildings had different roles and were constructed over the span of hundreds of years. Some buildings were governmental, and others were religious (devoted to various Hindu deities, and also Buddhist ones). Apparently there were a lot of Hindus in Cambodia way back when. According to the tuk-tuk driver, the local people are descended from Indian men and Chinese women.
Anyway, we visited what felt like 20 different ruins, and I have no idea of how to tell them apart from each other. I imagine that, in much the same way, 1,000 years from now, casual tourists at the ruins of Washington, DC won’t be able to tell apart the ruins of the Supreme Court, White House, Capitol, National Cathedral, Smithsonian, etc., either. Instead of trying to describe anything, I’ll just post photos and make snarky comments. Overall, it felt a lot like I was on the set of an Indiana Jones movie. (Actually, they filmed parts of one of the Tomb Raider movies at Angkor Wat. Angelina Jolie was here!)
One of the ruins was in the middle of a lake/pond:
There was a building that looked like a Catholic-style chapel. Maybe it was built during the French colonial period?
The ancient Cambodians liked to make animal sculptures:
There were many unrestored and partially restored ruins. Note that the ruins are quite old, as can be seen by the big trees growing amidst them.
An example of restoration work:
There was this cool gate thing that the road went through. The race path went through this so I got to run through it.
There were lots of faces built into walls:
The ancient Cambodians liked to have very steep staircases. These were very difficult to climb, especially on the way down, after running a half marathon.
Aside from visiting ruins, we also took a boat ride (and got cheated by the boat pilot). Some photos on the water:
Some people lived and worked on stationary barges.
At least one of the barges was at least partially solar-powered
As for the race itself, it started at 6 a.m. (actually more like 6:20), and all combined (half marathon, 10K, wheelchair race, and some others) there were about 8,000 participants. The half marathon path took us around the Angkor Wat complex, which was fun. Because Siem Reap is near the equator and not at high elevation, it was warm even in December — the low right before dawn was typically about 70 F, and the high in mid afternoon was in the 90s. Also, perhaps because Siem Reap is not too far from the coast, it was humid — perhaps 90% relative humidity. On race day, it was maybe 75-80 F at race start and maybe 90 F at the finish, and about 90% relative humidity. This heat and moisture level might have contributed to the relatively slow race times.
The starting line was very crowded:
Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos during the race, nor of the finish. But finish I did! I placed reasonably well, 315 out of 1400 or so in the men’s division (as well I should, seeing as I, a late 20s male, am at the demographic peak for running). Interestingly, if I ran my 21K pace in the 10K race, I would’ve placed something like 130 out of 1200.
Siem Reap was definitely worth visiting. The ruins were very impressive (in my book, on a similar level to the Roman Colosseum), the weather was pleasant if a bit warm, and (not discussed in this post) the town itself had good food, low prices, etc. The competition in the half marathon wasn’t too strong, which could be a positive or a negative depending on the participant (I, for one, seek extrinsic rewards so weak competition is a big plus to me). Finally, riding tuk-tuks is a lot of fun!