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How To Avoid "Temple Fatigue" in SIEM REAP

A Flashpacker's tips to avoid coming down with a bad case of the temple lurgie

It's hard work being a tourist. I think my Tuk Tuk driver, "No.9", got the smart part of the deal. He's not paying to clamber up stone temple ruins in 30 degree heat. Instead, he's being paid to listen to his ipod and chat with his mates under a tree while he waits for me to return with half a heart attack from heatstroke.

To be fair, 32 degrees isn't that hot for an Aussie, it's more that I normally spend this kind of weather at the beach or pool or in an air-conditioned office. And when I get back to the hotel I'm going to be straight in their pool, no worries about that.

Do these people suffer Temple Fatigue?

"Temple Fatigue" is a common first world problem contracted by people, with an otherwise passing interest in religious archaeology, trying to get the most out of their Angkor 3 Day Pass. It's rarely fatal, but it is sure to put a downer on your Siem Reap holiday and may have a residual effect on templing in other parts of South East Asia. So here's a health guide on how to avoid the dreaded Temple lurgie.

1. Fly there

Amongst the things you can't take on board are: hand grenades, fireworks, guns and tennis rackets. Yeah, I don't get that one either. It's a short trip by plane from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap, under an hour to fly the 200 air kilometres compared to the 12+ hours to cover the 500km by road backtracking through Phnom Pehn. I even got free pick up at the airport to my hotel. Bonus! It cost $50 more to fly, a lot by Cambodian standards but with the total still well under $100 it's ridiculously worth it. Flights to Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and other parts of Asia are just as cheap or cheaper, like Bangkok for $19. So think about that when you're changing into your 3rd diesel spewing minibus and being visa scammed at the border.

2. Choose accommodation with a pool

Even the skintist of backpackers can find access to a poolside lounge in this town. And you should. It's hot in Cambodia. In winter it's dusty dry and in summer is hellish humid and neither get much below 30 degrees. You need to keep your temple cool by the pool.

3. Get a driver

It's enough to be walking and climbing the complexes without having to ride a clunky Cambodian push bike the kilometres between. Unless that's 'your thing'. My hotel had free bikes and I like cycling in the sunshine but when I saw the sweating exhausted riders we passed in my tuk-tuk I was soooo glad I didn't bike it.

Most accommodations will have a team of Tuk Tuk drivers they deal with for a set price, so there's no need to haggle on the street. $15 will get you a tuk tuk driver for the day who'll do a 'tour' (read circuit) of the temples, dropping you at the gate of each temple and waiting for you without a time limit on your visit. Plus you're giving a job to a guy who needs the work. My driver was ecstatic I booked him. Being a tuk tuk driver can be a hit and miss affair with more and more people taking tour buses and taxis. Well, yeah, coaches do have better suspension but are you really experiencing SEAsia if you're not pin balling down a dusty road in a Tuk Tuk? I don't think so.

4. Don't overdose on temples

Flush faced and stooped is how many people look as they limp back from the temples. Temple Tours are generally arranged in circuits. Each circuit has about half a dozen temples. Many of these are intricate and large and can take an hour or more to see. Unless you're an archaeologist, spending consecutive days trying to see every temple on the map is a guaranteed way to come down with a bad dose of Temple Fatigue.

Firstly, you don't have to do it all in one day. A 3-day ticket is $40 and you have a week to use it. All the temples are different, but in the searing heat, when you'd rather be by the pool, they can start to look the same. Take a long lunch or the afternoon off. You've got a multi-day pass so it won't kill you to come back another day if you're that insistent about seeing the ruin you missed.

Information overload makes your head hurt. Don't get too caught up with understanding every carving or Sanskrit inscription. It's taken years for experts to unravel this detail and you have 3 days. The tour guides are great. Or you can buy a thick glossy book with pictures and in-depth explanations from a good half dozen vendors at pretty much any temple for only one buck but, tempting as that was, I was taking loads of photos myself and had downloaded some bite-size information on each temple to my phone. That, and an air-conditioned visit to the multimedia National Museum, was enough for me. I like my ruins with a little mystery still attached.

5. Accept what you cannot change

Angkor Wat was dug out of the jungle in the 20th Century. After 5 centuries of disregard, it has become one of the tourist wonders of the world. But a foray into this jungle isn't much of an Indiana Jones experience. These days the wats are covered more by a jungle of people to fight your way through and who obscure it from view. Busloads of international tourists descend on the 'main' temple ruins filling them with a cacophony of noise, selfie sticks and colossal cameras. Somehow sitting placidly alongside this microcosm of tourism insanity are rice paddies, forests and wetlands full of birds. Some temples are quiet, especially in the late afternoons and when the hoards are still at lunch, or given up. You can also get away from the crowds by walking the 'natural paths' around the ruins. But in the centre of Angkor Wat there will be crowds. Accept it.

6. Hit Pub Street

The perfect antidote to an ancient cultural experience is flashy neon lights, night markets, loud music, 2 for 1 cocktails and foot massages. If you can't be bothered with going downtown, stay by the pool and get it all brought to you. For less than the price of a day in a Tuk Tuk you can get your Temple Fatigue care package.

7. Try something different

Believe it or not, there is more to Siem Reap than temples and Pub Street. Cycle the villages; take a boat to see the stilt houses and floating villages on Lake Tonle Sap; go wild ziplining the jungle or birding the wetlands; try a craft or catch a show; take a crash course in Khmer (good luck with that!); or learn about Khmer ancient history at the National Museum or Cambodia's more recent history at the Landmine and War Museums. There is so much to see and do in this region that you won't be short of an antidote to Temple Fatigue.

No. 9 asks if I want some music and the beatbox under my seat kicks into life with Khmer club music. We're thumping along the dusty road past temples like a mobile jukebox, as the other Tuk Tuks turn their heads in envy at our Angkor Kool. With all those images of celestial dancing girls carved on the temples, I reckon this may have been the way they travelled 'back in the day'.



MY TUK TUK DRIVER: "No.9" Chhoeurn Sovann he's No.1 in my books and highly recommended (

BEST VEGETARIAN FOOD: Peace Cafe - organic garden, cooking class, yoga classes, and free khmer language class (at least i tried!)

STAFF AT: Kiri Boutique Hotel who were really just fabulous, happy, smiley people. :)


FLICKR 00 | South Vietnam




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