Preah Khan is a large temple. After visiting Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som and Neak Pean temple ruins, I was a bit spoiled because each of them was relatively small (not that small, but compared to most temples along the Petit Circuit, these were smaller) and didn’t take all that much time to explore. Coming to a temple that counted as one of the largest I have visited anywhere in Angkor yet, I had to mobilize much of my strength to still pull it off after 4 stops full of thorough explorations in this heat. It was already mid afternoon so the temperature were soaring, but the realization that I’m doing pretty good keeping up with schedule, and this is the last big task of the day, I was very eager to get right down to it.
Preah Khan was built during reign of Khmer king Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery which also housed a centre of Buddhist studies. Finalized in 1191, Jayavarman VII dedicated the temple which was built on the site of his victory over the invading Chams to his father Dharanindra. Temple’s central sanctuary originally housed the statue of Lokesvara, the savior god of Mahayana Buddhism which was carved in the image of the king’s father. Unfortunately, this image, as well as all other images representing Buddhism were vandalized during the reign of king destroyer Jayavarman VIII who initiated the reform of Angkor’s religion in favor of Hinduism.
Being similar in layout and style to Ta Prohm (which Jayavarman VII dedicated to his mother), Preah Khan bears further similarities to the former in the many trees which grow among and over the ruins. I found Preah Khan to be the second most jungle overgrown in a huge-trees-intertwined-with-ancient-rock way temple – after Ta Prohm. That just about made it the second most photogenic temple as spots with those monster roots running down the crumbling walls like spilled honey were the most visually appealing feature of Angkor Archaeological Park that drew me to Cambodia in the first place.
Preah Khan, whose name means ‘sacred sword’ (derived from its original name of Nagara Jayasri – meaning holy city of victory) was built on an area covering 56 hectares (138 acres). Including the moat (now dry) which surrounds the outer enclosure, Preah Khan measures 800 x 700 meters. The Jayatataka Baray (huge artificial, rectangular shaped pond) which had the unusually round Neak Pean temple in its middle, was right to the east of Preah Khan. The temple is oriented to the east (as are all Buddhist temples) with eastern wall bearing the main gopura (entrance gate). Each of the exterior walls (each cardinal point) has its own gopura and each has its own causeway over the moat lined on both sides with (now headless) asuras and devatas carrying a body of a naga serpent – similar to what can be found at each entrance to Angkor Thom (best seen at the South Gate).
Preah Khan’s central sanctuary (now housing a Buddhist Stupa) is surrounded with four rectangular enclosures. Coming from the east (that’s where you will most likely come from), when you reach the second wall (third enclosure), you will have come to its, rather large gopura which has two huge silk trees growing over its southern side. One of the trees was leaning too much and threatened to take the entire structure down and had to be cut down. Its roots, which hold the coridor together, were however left in place (along with the other tree) and offer a fantastic opportunity for photography. Except that if you come in the afternoon, like I did, you will have the sun creating strong backlight, pretty much ruining what could have been an otherwise awesome picture. You can also take a picture from the opposite side of the wall and have a sun nicely illuminate it, but it doesn’t look nowhere as impressive from there.
Needless to say, the corridor over which the two giant trees grow is crumbled up and very unstable, presenting a very realistic danger of crushing down hence there are signs warning the visitors not to enter that spot. I had to be the one with the death wish and climbed over rubble to get in there for a picture from within the roots and even though nothing happened to me, I must strongly discourage anyone considering doing the same. If you decide to copy my reckless behavior and the weight of the trees delivers the wall its final blow, there will be no saving you. I could think of better ways to die than by being crushed by giant stones. Don’t do it!
Further into the temple you would find another photogenic spot with what was once a huge tree growing over an ancient wall however the wall below that tree already did crumble down and only parts of it still stand supported by the roots and a wooden frame made by the restorers. The tree was too big and threatened further damage to the structure which sealed its demise. Only a stump is left of this once monster, however the stump is atop a big set of roots still encompassing much of the former wall in a composition that is sure to leave the viewer in awe.
Unfortunately, I only got a chance to go across the temple all the way to its western gopura (via the south which is flanked on both sides with cool stone guardians) and back before I started feeling uneasy about leaving my bike out of my sight while only locked against itself and went to repark it only to catch a group of greedy Cambodians attempting to steal it. This unpleasant experience had me abandon further exploration of Preah Khan and even though rather shaken, I moved on to the last few ruins on the Grand Circle.
There is an exceptionally unique two storey high, stand alone building just north of the Hall of Dancers which is on the west side of the third gopura (second wall from the east to cross, aka the one with two trees growing over it). This unique building features round columns – something that’s not found anywhere else in Angkor. Because of the bicycle stealing episode, I did not go back to Preah Khan and as such, didn’t get a chance to take a picture of this unique building (and a bunch of others).
Overall, I did enjoy my time exploring Preah Khan – too bad a bunch of self righteous locals had to totally ruin the experience for me. Its location on the Grand Circuit makes Preah Khan a less attractive target which results in incomparably fewer visitors crossing its gates. If you’re an enthusiast, I’d say the temple is definitely worth the time and would reward the you with great photo opportunities. If you can time your visit for the morning, you’d also get good light for more captivating shots which would make the whole experience so much better.
By the time I got to explore Angkor temples on the Grand Circuit, I have been in Cambodia for one and a half weeks. I adopted to the local way of thinking quickly and took all the precautions to minimize chances of being a subject of crime. The local way of thinking – as it exists in Cambodia – revolves around personal enrichment that involves anything other than working for money. Theft, robberies, assaults and various forms of violent crime (including murder and rape) are a daily happening.
As an observant person, I kept my eyes wide open while I was making my way around the country I have temporarily become a part of. The number of people I securely observed checking my pockets and bags to estimate whether they bore content worth a move was frightening. Frustration I observed in their eyes as I let them know that I am aware of what they are thinking and will be keeping a keen eye on their every move so they can’t make me a victim was noteworthy. I did stand my ground firmly and faced the dangers even though it continuously jeopardize my personal safety.
I did good though. By the time I reached Preah Khan temple, almost two weeks into my stay in Cambodia, I still have not had anything stolen from me. Few people who visited Cambodia can say that. With majority of the local population being constantly, round the clock on the lookout for a foreigner who would drop their guard for a second, it’s always a mere question of time before one succeeds with their pull. And after years of doing nothing but perfecting their art of crime, they’ve become masters of theft capable of getting almost anything from anyone. It’s unfortunate, but no matter how careful and vigilant you are, you cannot be 100% alert 100% of the time. There is bound to be a moment during your visit to Cambodia when you have had a long day and as you blink your eye to sooth your mind, your possessions will be gone. There will always be a local in your vicinity checking out whether an opportune moment to rob you has come. And when it comes – which is something that comes upon each and every one of us – you can bet your Scooby Doo Panties that Cambodians will be there to take advantage of you.
Cambodians are well aware of the above mentioned fact and rely on it for their daily thieving missions to be successful. They are ridiculously skilled in thievery and often work in teams to keep you distracted while the one with the most skilled fingers makes the pull. They are so skilled as thieves, many foreigners who were deprived of their possessions would actually believe that they must have forgotten their wallet, camera, laptop, or whatever the thieves attempted to steal in the restaurant where they dined earlier.
It only gets better in the fact that the restaurant staff, the police and virtually everyone else you encounter as a tourist in Cambodia would also never pass on an opportunity to steal from a foreigner so even if they don’t happen to be around skilled thieves themselves, locals you are around will be well connected with groups who are skilled thieves and will tip them off. You visit a restaurant and the server notices that you are a potentially easy target because you left your camera on the table while you were reading the menu, thus neither holding the camera securely in your hand nor keeping your eyes firmly locked on it, or they would notice that you keep your wallet loosely in your pocket and don’t have it on a chain fastened against yourself, or would simply notice that you carry on yourself something that seems of good value (laptop, jewelry, SLR camera, etc.) and you are a marked man. Cambodia is both a breeding ground for thieves as well as a well connected network of commission seekers. Nobody does anything in Cambodia unless there is a kick back in it for them. And since they are also inherently lazy and always looking for personal enrichment that doesn’t require working for money, vast majority of your day to day encounters will be with locals who will either try to steal from you themselves or will set somebody who is better at it than themselves on you.
Taking all that into an account, there are hardly few people who visited Cambodia and lasted for a week and a half without having something stolen off them by the locals. Being a rare one of the few, I knew that my “luck” if you can call it so was not because thieves never stumbled across me – that is impossible in Cambodia where there are more thieves per cubic meter than there are mosquitoes. It was only and solely because I always made sure that stealing from me would be impossible. I always made everyone visually checking my pockets know that I am aware that they are checking my pockets. I always made it clear that my camera or bag never leaves my grip and are always zipped up and across my shoulders. When I sat in a restaurant to do some work on the laptop, I got the laptop chained against an unmovable bar and laptop bag locked against the chain. When someone came within an arm’s reach of me, I increased my mental alertness to 100% and watched every move of the person closely while at the same time periodically checking my surroundings to make sure nobody else is getting close enough from behind to take advantage of me while the other fellow/lady is keeping me preoccupied.
The reason why virtually everybody who comes to Cambodia ends up having had something of their stolen, is that they do not do it the way I did. It has absolutely nothing to do with being paranoid and everything to do with reading people who surround you well and not fooling yourself they are nice when they are not. Being extra cautious when your environment warrants it is smart, not paranoid. But that’s why I lasted for a whole week and a half without having anything stolen, unlike vast majority of other people who visit Cambodia.
It was only thanks to that utmost vigilance that those suspicious individuals who kept checking my pockets and trying to take a peek inside my bag, started to back off instead of crawling nearer and took their stare away instead of systematically continuing to assess the contents of my pockets. And after whole week and a half, I still had everything that was rightfully mine under my control. And then I came to Preah Khan.
At the Preah Khan Temple
When I was at Angkor, I only carried my camera with me and always made sure I could physically feel it. The only other possessions I had with me while exploring Angkor temples were the cell phone in my pocket and my mountain bike. Cheap and beat up as it was, the bike was still mine and I wanted to keep it for future use as my transportation means to avoid having to deal with the aggressive tuk tuk drivers. However in order to ensure that Angkor touts can successfully bother foreigners out of their money, it is not possible for the visitors to Angkor to take bicycles inside the temples. You will see the locals entering temples with both bicycles and motorcycles, but if they allowed for tourists to do that, it would be much more difficult to for touts to pester them, hence ban.
As a result, if you come to a temple on a bicycle, you have to leave it outside of the entrance gate. This is usually not much of an issue on the Petit Circuit, as there is always a busy flow of tourists coming in and out at all times and some have small structural fences around parking areas you can use as unmovable bike racks. However it’s a whole different story in temples that are less popular. Cambodians are always on the lookout for something to steal from tourists. They won’t hesitate stealing if they have to pull it out of your pocket so when you make it easy on them and leave your possession in a stealable form don’t keep a keen eye on it, you will have created an opportunity for which they would hate themselves if they passed up on. It’s a way of personal enrichment without work, which fits their profile to the dot.
Fake Orphanage Kids
When I came to Preah Khan, I did just that. It was incredibly hot and all I could see in the vicinity were trees too big to wrap my chain around. So I merely leaned my bike against one of them and locked the wheel against the frame. This would make it impossible to ride the bike, but if someone were to come with a truck, they could easily load the bike up and ride off. Then once safely in their home, they would deploy whatever tools they had (or borrowed) to remove the chain and voila – they would have just become the new owners of a mountain bike.
I sort of suspected that something like this could happen, but fooled myself for a second that since Preah Khan is on the Grand Circuit and it doesn’t see that many visitors, local traffic in and out of it is not as heavy either so perhaps no truck would come while I’m inside. To further secure my position and have the locals who saw me leave the bike there be on my side and watch it for me, I responded to a swarm of kids who jumped me as soon as I was done locking my bike and insisted that I donate to their orphanage cause they are oh so poor orphans and will starve to death unless I give them money.
Cambodians, in their divine greediness will not hesitate to pull off lies that will stop your brain just to get money off of gullible tourists. They play with visitor’s feelings and try various things until a certain something proves to work. In less visited temples, such as those along the Grand Circuit, they really have to get creative in order to succeed because these temple simply don’t receive traffic comparable to the traffic popular temples along the Small Tour get. So they set up booths, print out a sign and pose as people from an orphanage to make their efforts more fruitful. Knowing darn well that they are fake orphans only using the sob story because it works better in getting money off tourists, I was reluctant to contribute. However since there was nowhere to securely lock my bicycle, I thought that if I gave them money, they would feel grateful and would in return ensure that if someone did try to steal my bike, they would prevent them from doing it. What foolish thinking on my behalf!
Exploring Preah Khan While Bicycle Easily Movable
Feeling slightly better about leaving my bike out of my sight while not properly secured, I walked into the Preah Khan temple and started exploring. The temple looked pretty good – overgrown with jungle intertwined with collapsing walls kind of like Ta Prohm, it offered many great opportunities for photography. It was early afternoon, though, so face of the temple and all of its important elements which were built to face the east had sun behind them, creating a mighty strong backlight which spoilt most of the pictures, but the impressive size of the trees growing over the structure left me in awe never the less.
Still, while I was exploring Preah Khan and taking pictures, I started feeling uneasy about my bike being out of sight and not fastened to anything unmovable. It was extremely hot so any extra steps to take would lead to extra wastage of energy of which you never have enough in this sun, but I decided to backtrack anyway, take my bike down to the paved road and look for a thin enough tree there to lock the bike against. Granted, a dedicated thief could saw the tree down to gain possession of the bike, but the likelihood of one armed with a saw walking around just after I locked my bike there seemed minimal. Plus the effort needed to mow the tree down would take some time which could serve as a deterrent because if it takes an extra time, then chances of the bike’s owner returning to get it increase dramatically. Plus it takes quite a bit of work to take a tree down and Cambodians don’t like to work hard. Locking the bike against a tree simply seemed like the only way to get a more realistic peace of mind, even if it meant extra walking in this unbearable heat. So I interrupted the exploration of Preah Khan to move my bike somewhere where I could lock it against a tree.
Thieving Fake Orphanage Kids
As I come out of the temple unexpectedly early, I see the group of kids and their supervising adults to whom I previously donated money all packed up, leaving with their table used for donations and my bicycle lifted up on their shoulders because they couldn’t roll it due to a locked up wheel and dashing off. The group, after I donated money to them even though they were no orphans, saw the bike was stealable and as I got out of sight, they quickly started packing to be gone the hell out of there along with my stealable bicycle by the time I was done exploring the temple. Somehow early on, I had my guardian angel watching over me and the feeling of uneasiness because I left my bike out of my sight while improperly secured continued to grow until it reached the level of being unbearable so despite the heat, I invested extra energy to return and have my bike reparked somewhere where I could lock it up securely.
I just spotted the thieving kids in the last moment, let out the deadliest shout I could summon and charged full speed towards the group. Scared by my yell of doom, the thieves dropped my biked and took off for their lives. Happy to know that in this, furthest from home point on the Grand Circuit I am still left with my transportation so I’m not at the mercy of greedy tuk tuk drivers who would only see it as an opportunity in itself and would take advantage of me for being out of options, I did not return back to Preah Khan and abandoned this temple never to return. Quite shaken and distressed, I rode on to my next destination. Not only was I shocked to have just nearly had my bike stolen, I was also disgusted by the fact that it was done by the kids to whom I previously donated money. Greed of Cambodians knows no limits whatsoever. You can simply never trust one as giving them a finger merely translates into an opportunity to snatch an entire hand.
The First Mistake
I guess all you can do is give them the finger the right way – by giving them the right one and nicely upright. For one and a half weeks I was able to keep relentless Cambodian thieves at bay only to make my first mistake by fooling myself into believing that by giving Cambodians money, they would respect me and in turn watch out for my property while I am exploring the temple. It was a ridiculously foolish thing of me to think and a valuable lesson to learn. Cambodians are not only greedy beyond words, they are also a bunch of backstabbers without a back bone of their own. There is no low to which a Cambodian would not stoop. And to no surprise of mine, I had it later confirmed by my friends from the Sras Srang village that none of these kids were orphans, none of the adults who were with them were orphanage owners and there was no such orphanage under any such name anywhere in the Angkor Archeological Park.
A trip to the Preah Khan Temple is one of those I will never forget. This is where I had fake orphanage kids attempt to steal my bicycle and had it not been for an intervention by the divine providence, they would have succeeded. Not only would I end up without something that was rightfully mine, I would also end up stuck without transportation at the part of the Grand Circuit that just happens to be the furthest from Siem Reap. And that is not a very positive outlook in a country like Cambodia. I would have to rent services of a tuk tuk driver who, seeing that I was just a subject to crime, would take advantage of the situation for his own personal enrichment. For Cambodians, a person in need is not a person to whom to assist. For Cambodians, a person in need is a person easier to exploit because they are out of the options and cannot be choosers.
Luckily for me, in the nick of time I got that funny feeling that I should repark my bike somewhere where it would be more difficult to steal so I interrupted my visit to Preah Khan only to catch the fake orphanage kids to whom I previously donated money thinking that they would gratefully watch over my bike in return, dashing off carrying my bicycle with them. My untimely show-up with a follow up yell from hell made them drop the bike on the spot and run for their lives. It was hot and I was tired from whole day exposure to that devastating Cambodian sun, but when the feeling of uneasiness about the insecurely parked bike came upon me, I interrupted my visit to the temple thinking that I would return to finish the exploration after I had my bike reparked and locked against something unmovable.
Needless to say, the distress the discovery of the theft attempt caused made the return to Preah Khan a no option. I counted my blessings and feeling happy I still had my bicycle, I rode off, away from this God-forbidden place where some of the most horrible inhabitants of the Earth operate as the lowest form of scum imaginable. However, because I was only partially done exploring Preah Khan when I left to repark my bicycle, I don’t have pictures of all of it. The gallery below contains the images I did take, however I left some for after the repark, which I ultimately ended up not having a chance to capture. Those include a picture of that unique two storey stand alone building with circular columns – something very unique for Angkor Archaeological Park as nothing of sorts can be seen anywhere else within the area. And it also includes the missing picture of the central sanctuary itself.
Now to the gallery of photos of the Preah Khan temple:
The entrance causeway is lined on both sides with the same row of Asuras carrying a body of a huge naga serpent that can be found at the South Gate to Angkor Thom, however all Asuras at the Preah Khan Temple are headless. Locals stole the heads during their looting raids and sold them to rich foreigners who yearned to have a historically significant rock in their possession. Some speculate that presence of these Asuras at the entrance to the temple makes Preah Khan more significant than Banteai Kdei or Ta Prohm, both of which receive incomparably more visitor traffic (mostly because they are on the Small Tour).
As for the pictures with those giant trees growing over the structures – because the passages immediately below the trees are crumbling and no way has been found to secure them yet, the access to these parts is restricted by the warning signs (as you can see from one of the photo in the gallery). However there is no one enforcing the no access requirement so a visitor to Angkor with a death wish can freely proceed and stand right below the crumbling rocks on top of which a monster tree is growing ever so tall. I had to be one of the crazy ones. I just could not pass up on this opportunity to stand right below those enormous trees knowing that the piles of huge rocks that support them could come crushing down at any given time. Utmost stupidity and I was fully aware of it at the time, yet still I wanted to stick my head where the danger was. It was my time at Angkor, afterall. For me it was a one in a lifetime opportunity to stand below those famous silk trees that brace the stones of Angkor in substitute for pillars in a frisk of nature that is as astounding as it is precarious. It was this close knit of nature with ancient architecture that drove me to Angkor in the first place.
Anyway, without further ado, below is the gallery of photos of the Preah Khan temple I took before the attempt to steal my bicycle by the fake orphanage kids took place. The few spots I left for after the bicycle repark I never eventually got a chance to photograph as I could not comfortably walk inside the temple outside of which an organized group of large caliber crooks operated without backbone of any form:
Shortly after the purchase of bicycle I started having troubles with leaking rear tire valve. I was excited to have my own ride but the excitement only lasted a day. I went for a ride the following day and found the rear tire completely flat. Unable to ride, I took the bicycle back to the shop where it was purchased and insisted that they replace the leaking valve. Dealing with Cambodians, there was a lot of customer mistreatment when they would say something to each other in a language I clearly did not understand and had a good laugh at it while I was standing there puzzled. This type of behaviour is very common in Cambodia as is zero after-sale support.
I knew I stood a very little chance of having the issue with leaking valve resolved, but I was determined to get results. After a good while of obvious abuse when I was being ignored and had jokes made on my behalf, I made a firm requirement again that they fix the problem with rear tire valve. Eventually, after seeing that I meant business, one of the boys working in the shop inflated the tire with a hand pump. I knew this was not gonna resolve the problem as if tire held air, it wouldn’t have gone flat within one day in the first place.
Seeing that none of the shop people were willing to spend any more time with me, I left. Not surprisingly, the tire was solid flat within a day again. There was an obvious issue with the valve that could not be solved by re-inflating. I headed back to the shop and stayed very adamant demanding a solution to this and re-inflating was not it. They were not willing to take care of it as in Cambodia, after money is spent, the deal is closed and if you bought a piece of junk, it’s just tough luck.
I stood behind my rights and showed I was not going anywhere unless the valve is fixed so one of the boys eventually took the bike and started working on the leaking valve. New valve solved my problem and there were no more flat tires every day. It wasn’t easy, but standing up for myself and my rights as a customer even in a country like Cambodia where no one has any rights did eventually deliver results. It was tight, but it worked.
After my failed attempt to buy a bicycle with help from a Tuk Tuk driver, I knew I was gonna have to take some risk and rely more upon myself in dealing with shops where English is not spoken. The question of “where to buy a mountain bike in Siem Reap” became more pressing as did the question of how to buy it without excessive overpaying (aka getting ripped off) just because I’m a foreigner in Cambodia. In all this melee, I’ve managed to get help from people on Couch Surfing.
It became apparent that National Road 6 is the place to go shopping for bicycles. That’s exactly the place where I was taken by a Tuk Tuk driver the day prior and had been over quoted. The hints I have received clearly suggested that there are more bicycle selling shops on National Road #6, they are just further down east. And that’s where I went.
I strolled down National Road 6 in Siem Reap, passed by the bicycle shop I went to day prior and just a bit further there was another. As it goes with National Road 6 – the shops are primarily geared towards locals so nobody, absolutely nobody speaks English and if a tourist shows up, everyone starts the smell big cash-in as that’s what Cambodians see tourists as (walking bag of money, or walking ATM machine if you will).
Realizing my options were limited, I popped in next bicycle shop and started looking at available mountain bikes and attempted to use sign language to ask about price. Everything was far more reasonable that the day prior and even though I knew I was gonna pay way more than a local would for the same piece of bike wreck, I was OK with it as prices quoted seemed to be in a more reasonable level than yesterday.
The bikes were obviously second hand (aka stolen), no names, all made in China. One way or another, I was gonna end up with a piece of junk, but this was Cambodia, I could go with the junkyard items or pay Tuk Tuks to drive me everywhere. The latter didn’t seem like a good option so bike it was gonna have to be regardless of how awful a piece of scrap metal I would get.
I tried a couple, each seemed as though it was gonna break apart upon third use but I eventually settled with imitated mountain bike that was probably stolen from a guy in Japan as it had a Japanese name painted on it. It had gears and looked a bit like a mountain bike which was a step up from most other bikes which look like they belonged in the 70’s. Pedals seemed to click in an awful way, making unpleasant rattling noise and trembled as used, but it was the best I could get for $38. Yeah, that’s what I paid for my primary means of transportation in Cambodia. Mighty $38.
It was all worth it. I noticed the difference right upon my first ride from the bike shop back to the guesthouse. I rode past several Tuk Tuk drivers who all just stared at me. Bike eliminate a lot of annoyance from Tuk Tuk drivers and other touts who are everywhere, never leaving you alone from the day you set foot in Cambodia till the time to leave. It was awesome not being harassed by them just because I was on a bike, the only tricky part was extreme heat which made bike riding a bid challenging, but that (nature) I could deal with. Vastly encouraged, I drove my bike everywhere.
I didn’t know where to start with my bicycle purchase so regardless of how much I have already hated Tuk Tuk drivers, I have jumped on one and asked him to take me to a bicycle shop. I primarily needed to know where the good shop is and wanted to see what they have and what the prices are like.
I was taken by the same Tuk Tuk driver who drove me to Two Dragons Guesthouse from the airport when it was raining cats and dogs. The bicycle shop he took me to was not far from the guesthouse at all. It was just up the Wat Bo street and then turn right on National Road 6. This whole area seemed vastly local, full of shops with signs in unreadable Khmer language and full of Khmer people shopping there.
We went probably only about a kilometre (likely less) down National Road #6 and stopped at the bicycle shop on the side of the road. The entire road is lined on both sides with shops of all sorts. The bicycle one we stopped at had dozens of bicycles piled up one next to another outside of the shop for easy access form the road.
I got off the Tuk Tuk and the driver offered me he would help translating since as he had claimed, none of the staff spoke any English. The offer was a kind one and I welcomed it with a smile, but unfortunately, the greed and intent to take advantage of me were the real reasons why I was offered this “help”.
I started looking at the bicycles and mostly saw second hand, bad quality bikes I thought went extinct at the end of 70’s. But not in Cambodia. These looked like overused rejects from perhaps China or maybe somewhere else. Most bikes looked in very poor shape but as I took a closer look at locals riding along the National Road 6, I noticed that this is in fact what they ride here.
My Tuk Tuk driver translated for me that these are “only” $40 each. I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. Further at the back of the store, they had a few, also overused second hand bikes, but these were with gears and resembled mountain bikes, hence did not have the 70’s feel and were presumably newer. When I asked about prices for those, I was translated that they were going for about $185 each, depending on the model.
At this time I surely knew he was messing with me. First of all – I imagined what kind of mountain bike I could buy in Canadian Tire for $50. It would be a no name, not much bike, but it would still be a usable mountain bike with frontal suspension, derailleur made by Shimano and would come with 1 year warranty. And here I am, in a country which is far less expensive than Canada and they are allegedly asking $185 for a visibly inferior beater that was no longer usable for its previous owner and was replaced, discarded and somehow made its way to Cambodia. This beater would come with no warranty whatsoever, had no recognizable components on it and would require constant flow of money on maintenance to keep it going. I kept doing my math, but in no way did I see myself spending this type of inadequate money for this type of piece of crap bicycle.
I firmly assumed that the Tuk Tuk driver was abusing the fact that this is the second time I was riding with him and wrongly assumed that since this is only my second day in Cambodia, I won’t know any better and will pay vastly overquoted price. He was obviously “translating” actual quotes and bumped them up sky high to keep the difference for himself. He did not take into an account that while this is my second day in Cambodia, I am not new to budget travelling and have spent a lot of time in other third world countries. I instantly knew the “free translation service” he offered was not a service but an attempt to make money at me.
There was truly no way why a beater like that was to cost $185 and whatever was the real reason behind such high quotes, I did not see myself spending this type of money for that type of bicycle no matter what. I closed it with “I will think about it” and told the Tuk Tuk driver I would walk back to Two Dragons. I explained my reasons by saying that I wanted to go to a nearby open air market and have more look around other shops in the area.
I have come to solid conclusion that asking Tuk Tuk drivers for help translating is not the best of ideas. Unless it’s someone you know well and trust, you may be subjected to overpaying. How to deal with these situations, when you want to buy something from a store where they don’t speak English is a whole new issue I had to face.
Straight after I have come to Cambodia I wanted to buy a bicycle. There were several reasons why I didn’t want to wait with it and needed to get myself one as soon as possible:
Bicycle is the most environmentally friendly transportation option, which is extremely important to me
Bicycle is a neat form of exercise that one may not otherwise get a chance to do due to busy schedule
Bicycle is an inexpensive form of transportation, ideal for travelers on a budget as it doesn’t require gasoline to keep going
Bicycle makes you independent. There is nothing worse than having to depend on other people and/or means to move from point A to point B
In Cambodia where Tuk Tuks – primary means of short distance transportation for majority of tourists – are driven by excessively irritating and rude people, bicycle gives you an option to show them all a finger and make yourself self sufficient, aka completely and entirely capable of moving yourself around without ever needing a Tuk Tuk
Also in Cambodia where Tuk Tuk drivers clap at foreigners from across the street and yell at them like they are cheap whores, riding around in your own means of transport (bicycle, since tourists are not allowed to drive motorcycles or automobiles) makes you unreachable for any of them. Taking this into an account, a bicycle will help you retain sanity as at least 90% of those irritating Tuk Tuk drivers will be unable to clap and yell at you ala crack whore style. The remaining 10% will still do it and ask you whether you want Tuk Tuk even though you are well off on your own way with your own transport. Tuk Tuk drivers simply don’t try to make their living by offering quality service or good price, but rather by irritating the crap out of tourists who will not take a ride with them because they need it, but just to get spared from being repeatedly approached in an uncivilized way
To further preserve your sanity, having a bicycle gives you the peace of mind because you know Tuk Tuk drivers will not see a penny from you which is awesome way to pay back for treating you like cheap hooker. If you didn’t have the bicycle, from time to time you will catch yourself needing transport other than your feet. You are likely to go ahead with a Tuk Tuk because they are omnipresent and represent a less expensive option to get moved around. An example of needing a transport even though you can do long distances walking is after you went for a beer in the evening and it’s time to go back to the guesthouse. Unless your guesthouse is located immediately next to the pub where you went for a beer, taking a walk through seedy neighbourhoods populated by local Cambodians will give you creeps and you will rightfully fear for your life. While everyone says that violent crime is low in Cambodia, the same people and publication warn against walking the streets after dark. No matter what the name of the publication that talks about Cambodia, they all warn about the same thing – there truly must be good reason for this unison. And there really is. Hence unless you have your own transport (such as bicycle), sooner or later you WILL get to a situation in which you will need to take a Tuk Tuk regardless of how irritating and rude those drivers are. Bicycle solves this issue once and for all
Bicycle is absolutely the way to go in Cambodia. I understood it right off the bat and would recommend it to everyone who is heading this way. I knew I was going to stay in Cambodia for a while so I decided to purchase one, however most guesthouses and hotels rent bicycles and if yours doesn’t, you can rent one from countless shops selling tour tickets or simply specializing in renting bicycles. There is no shortage of bike rentals in Cambodia and prices start at $1 for a basic one without gears. I once met two guys riding Cannondale mountain bikes – Cannondale is a pro line of bicycles so I immediately enquired whether they brought them with them to Cambodia but was told they rented it out here in Siem Reap for $5 per day. I don’t know where exactly it was, but there is a way to also rent quality bikes for those who prefer reliable and well equipped bicycles.
Area around Siem Reap and Angkor Archaeological Park is predominantly flat so riding bikes is easy. There are virtually no hills here whatsoever. The only challenging part is heat. Cambodian sun is scorching and difficult to handle especially if you putting your body through a workout by pedalling. Keep yourself hydrated and drink a lot of coconut water which costs only 2000 Riel ($0.50) and has all nutrients you need to keep you going in this sun.
For me it was a no brainer that I was going to buy a bicycle, I just didn’t quite know where to go to buy one. I have only been in Cambodia for one day and Siem Reap was small enough to manage on foot, but I needed a bicycle to keep me free from Tuk Tuk drivers and to have transport for Angkor (one way lift by Tuk Tuk to Angkor area from Siem Reap costs $5, or you can hire one for $15 a day, unless you want to visit more remote temples, such as Banteay Srei). Since I wanted by purchase a 7 day pass for Angkor and explore the area relentlessly as much as possible, I’d be looking at quite a bill for Tuk Tuks hence bicycle was absolutely the way to go for me. Furthermore – I’m very environmentally concerned and support transport option that don’t harm environment. Having nice exercise is an added bonus of riding a bicycle. As I had said, for me, this was a no brainer but I would highly recommend it as hands down the best option for transport in Cambodia, especially if you have primarily come here to see Angkor Wat and other temples from the Archaeological Park.
The last possession I had to store was my mountain bike. I loved my Specialized Hard Rock Pro. I paid top dollars for it, but it was my main means of transportation for two years and the only means for almost a year. Very reliable bike and a pleasure to ride.
I phoned Dave on Sunday to see if he was at home so I can ride the bike to his place. I got a message back that he’d be around till about 5pm as he had to go see his cousin afterwards. I sent him a text back that I was jumping on the bike ride away to head to his place.
It took me almost an hour to get there – Dave lives that far. It was a nice ride for the most part, except from Fort Road which had construction on it with traffic lights not working and car traffic restricted to one lane. It gave me no chance to cross the road. I was stuck there for good 15 minutes before there was a gap big enough between cars to quickly squeeze through.
Dave gave me lift in his car back home, I filled up his tank with gas. I had been meaning to do that all along as small thanks for storing my items while I was abroad. I was glad I got the opportunity to take care of it while I was still in Canada. It was my last day there, so it worked out last minute, but I did it, which is all that counts.
The picture of Specialized Hard Rock Pro mountain bike taken from Specialized.com
My blood was boiling with excitement and anticipation. I was mere two days away from my big departure and had almost everything necessary taken care of. There were only a few minor things to still do – things that would ultimately end the “pre-departure preparations” and set me ready to board a plane to Vancouver. I was still physically present in Edmonton, Alberta but my mind was already in Cambodia. Last weekend’s road trip through the Rocky Mountains put me in the right mind set of a dedicated traveller. And that mood kept growing exponentially.
My plane was leaving on Monday early in the morning. I was half way through my last weekend in Edmonton when I found out that Big Lake – large lake North West of Edmonton is home to many pairs of Bald Eagles that nest in tall trees on its west bank during summer months. I knew my life from this point on would be all about exploring amazing corners of this planet so I thought that while I’m still here, maybe I should sit on my bike and ride there with my camera to get some amazing shots of these majestic birds of prey just before I take off for South East Asia.
The premise of this idea seemed very tempting and I was determined to do my best not to pass on this opportunity. I have lived in Edmonton for so many years and I didn’t even know that Bald Eagles can be seen in their natural habitat only few kilometres from the city. It would have been amazing if I got a chance to photograph some of those birds.
The trick was the Big Lake is just as the name suggests – big. I no longer had a car, only my awesome bike. It looked like I would have to cover about 40 kilometres each way in order to get to the west side of the lake. That’s all merely because of the size of the lake. It’s south east corner starts right at the north west end of Edmonton, but the lake spreads on for quite a bit so in order to make it all the way to the west side on a bike, I’d be pedalling for more than two hours. And then I’d have at least two hours to pedal all the way back home so riding itself would eat up a better chunk of the day.
This part itself was making the Bald Eagle spotting adventure difficult to arrange. But the trickiest part was that even if I was able to get there swiftly, I didn’t know where exactly the nests of Bald Eagles were. In order to truly have a nice spotting of Bald Eagle adventure happening, I’d need to dedicate whole unrushed day to the exploration of the forest on the west bank of Big Lake. If I only had a couple of hours, I’d be under pressure, rushing it through the forest to quickly find a nesting place of Bald Eagles which would likely prove contra productive and bring no results.
But that was not it. Sunday was also my last day to ride my bike to Dave’s. I needed to keep my bike with me until the last minute because it was my sole means of transportation. Besides, I would never fit it in the Toyota Corolla I had rented so riding it all the way to Dave’s was the only option. That meant I had to be at home in the afternoon not to keep Dave up waiting for me needlessly. He was doing me hell of a favour already. As tempting as the idea of riding a bicycle to the Big Lake to photograph Bald Eagles seemed, it was just not realistically doable.
Instead, I did last minute shopping, made last minute arrangements with Matthew – apartment’s on site manager to come do an inspection in the evening and left to take my bike to Dave’s as it was an hour long ride across Edmonton. I needed to do some packing as well and find the best way to get to the airport the following so I don’t have to take expensive cabs (Edmonton International Airport is an hour drive away from Inglewoods in NW Edmonton where I lived – it would be a mighty charge if I were to take this route).
I had most of my possessions taken care of – majority went to the garbage bin while the rest was donated as a merchandise donation to One Child’s Village. However there were still some items I had left that I couldn’t get rid of. They were either legally important, or personally inseparable with. I had to find the way to store these while I was on the road so I started looking into self storage solutions in Edmonton. The items I could not get rid of included the following:
Bookkeeping – Revenue Canada can audit your books from up to 7 years back
Software – instead of just sticking with downloads, I used to buy boxed versions of each software… bad idea!
DVD Collection – it’s quite vast. I had some precious, hard to find titles there, especially the ones from Asian Extreme Cinema or old Italian horror movies
Photo Albums – I have a small collection of photos from the past, many irreplaceable, taken long before the age of digital cameras
Medieval Weaponry – I’m into all things medieval big time and my collection of swords and armor grew overtime. Could not find the strength to part with it
Photography Studio Equipment – I closed down the shop long time ago, but I still did a lot of studio photography as a hobbyist
Mountain Bike – my precious Specialized bike, the sole means of transport for over two years
Desktop Computer – I still had a whole pile of data on the 1TB hard drive on my desktop
Guitar – I have a custom made Ibanez JS Model – it’s a copy of Joe Satriani’s electric guitar in beautiful read made to fit in my hands. So awesome…
The only feasible solution to the storage problem I was facing seemed to be the self storage facilities located throughout the city. So I started my hunt for the best priced and best located one. I’ve done thorough web search for self storage solutions in Edmonton and also proceeded to search through the Yellow Pages and contacted the rest by phone. I’ve then personally paid the ones that were close to me a visit to see what was going on, yet none made me feel confident that this was the right path to take. The biggest deterrent was the price.
Self storage solutions are extremely expensive. Given the size of the room you get, the price per square meter is almost as high, or higher as for the room where you people live. This was simply way too much. There were rooms priced at under $100 a month, but these were so small I wouldn’t fit my mountain bike in there. The rest of the stuff I needed to store wasn’t that much. It was compacted in boxes so I could easily fit it in a miniature room, however my mountain bike required a room that’s at least 2 meters long or wide. Rooms like that typically run at more than $100 a month – crazy. You could get whole apartment for $500 with living room, kitchen, and bathroom.
Trouble with on line research was that you couldn’t get a sense of the price from their websites. They treat it like it’s a top secret. You have to go through painful process of enquiring via email or phone. I went though Sentinel Self Storage Edmonton, Instant Storage Edmonton, Storage King Edmonton, U Store It Edmonton, Affordable Storage Edmonton, Minerva Mini Storage Edmonton, etc – but they were all either very inconveniently located or way overpriced.
I went to the most conveniently located one in person. It was the Sentinel Self Storage one in NW Edmonton, but was strongly discouraged the moment I stepped my foot in. The woman who owns it smokes non stop so the office is full of cigarette smoke to the point that it’s beyond disgusting. When she starts talking to you, she sounds like the witch with burnt out vocal cords which is without doubt the result of her heavy smoking. She’s not very friendly either and just beat me off by saying that summer is a busy season for them and she doesn’t have time to talk to me unless I’m already ready to buy my self storage with them. The most conveniently located or not, this was no longer an option.
So I went to the second most conveniently located facility with which I made an appointment via phone, because they were not open during convenient hours. Someone was supposed to meet me there on a weekend day. Their facility is in one of the hangars at Edmonton City Airport not far from Kingsway Mall. I sat on my bike and rode all the way there. It was very tricky to find as those hangars are at oddly placed, unmarked streets, but I have eventually found it only to learn that their office was closed and there was nobody there. I waited around for 20 minutes but nobody showed up which was my cue to get the hell out of there and forget this facility.
Given high prices of self storage solutions in Edmonton, I didn’t see the point in checking out the facilities located at the opposite end of the city. It would take me an hour to drive there so what’s the point? Taking a few turns with a small car I’d be renting would end up being a pain. I was stuck with one last option I really didn’t want to consider, but as my last resort, I had to give it a try.
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