Cambodia 1: Angkor, What?

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For Paul and I, Cambodia represents our first step into the real unknown. While we’ve been to India, Thailand and Finland before, Cambodia is somewhere quite new.

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We flew in on Cambodia’s premier (and only) airline Angkor Air to Siem Reap on a sub-forty-five-minute journey where the crew attempted to serve us a meal in the whole five minutes that the plane wasn’t ascending or descending.

I couldn’t get my head out of the inflight magazine – particularly loving the article about Cambodia’s first Western-Style cinemas, which arrived last year.

Siem Reap is best-known as the jumping-off point for Angkor Wat, the fantastic jungle temples that are so much part of Cambodian heritage that they now grace its flag

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For us it was less a jumping-off point and more a splashing-off point, as we arrived at the same time as Tropical Storm Vamco, which provided atmospheric and somewhat inconvenient sheets of rain.

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Siem Reap also very much attracts the backpacker crowd to its ‘Pub Street’, a mass of cheap beer and pizza joints near the main market. Next to the real Gap Year students we felt particularly ancient – you’re practically invisible to other backpackers when you have children, they clearly just don’t see you as part of the same category.

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Angkor’s temples can be best described by photo – so I’ll let Paul’s pictures show you how impressive they are. The girls liked the tuk tuk rides in between sites, and suffered the temples extremely well (Daisy even said ‘Wow’ in the right places), but they were mostly playing some imaginative game in which they were being princesses – so if you ask them what they thoughts of Angkor Wat I suspect they might just look a bit baffled – Clover in particular.

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Top highlight for them, apart from the swimming pool at the hotel, was a night at the Circus called Phare. We’d impressed on the children a little of Cambodia’s bloody recent history (since there are landmine victims everywhere, it would have been hard to conceal it), and the Phare Circus is one of the initiatives to get Cambodian families back on their feet.

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The Phare Project is a school teaching circus skills, amongst other things, and the most promising performers put on a nightly ‘Cirque de Soleil’ style performance in a big top in Siem Reap. It might be a charity, but it was very far from worthy- think huge skipping ropes of fire, improbable gymnastics and impressive climbing. The girls were far more entranced by this than they were by Angkor Wat.

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