After our horrendous 12 hour journey across the border the day before, we knew it wouldn’t be difficult to have a better day in Siem Reap the day after. We purposely hadn’t planned much so that we would be able to relax a bit and explore the city. We hadn’t really heard much about it apart from that everyone comes to Siem Reap to go to Angkor Wat (the same reason we had come), but as a massive tourist spot we knew it must have something to offer and couldn’t be overlooked. We had a quick wander through the town and on first impressions I quite liked it. Despite finding the heat quite unbearable at times I liked the more laid back atmosphere compared to Bangkok. There’s basically a night market and a main tourist stretch called ‘pub street’ and those are the only two places we visited.
The night market is a massive maze of stalls – some more expensive than others and selling more upper class items amongst the usual fake silver, havianas and ray bans. I wanted a bracelet but I couldn’t actually find a standard cheap rope based one – they were all silver or bangles. It’s a good place to buy presents and I loved the look of all the huts joined together in one small area but it wasn’t the best market I’ve been to in Asia and I think you can find a lot cheaper. One thing we’ve realised is that even though for some reason everyone insIsted Cambodia was cheaper than Thailand, it really isn’t. In Bangkok a standard meal would set you back around £2.50, in Siem Reap it’d be more like £4. It doesn’t seem like much of a difference but in South East Asia that’s quite substantial. Add that to the fact you’re constantly losing money with the dollar/riel exchange scam and it really isn’t the cheapest place to travel.
Pub street is basically like Khao San road but a lot wider, a lot colder and less humid, less chaotic and less sleazy. I loved it. Although unfortunately we weren’t there for long enough to experience a proper night out (although we did try last night after being up since 4am and doing 10 hours of temple trekking) I could tell that if we stayed we could have had a lot of fun. The two nights we went for dinner the food was brilliant. We went to a place called ‘Viva’ the first night for a Mexican feast and the second night we had an Italian at a nearby restaurant with rooftop seating (I can’t tell you how much I miss pasta – I know I should be having Asian food more but I like to mix it up a bit!).
We ended up in a backpacker bar called ‘Angkor What?’ (love the name) which would have been brilliant if I wasn’t so exhausted I could barely stand up straight and was still suffering from what was probably a bit of sunstroke. I had a few drinks and found that the alcohol is nowhere near as strong in Cambodia as it is in Thailand. In fact I’d put it on level with drinks in the UK. I had 2 beers and 2 cocktails and it did nothing. I really missed getting drunk off one Chang beer! Just like Khao san road we did have to deal with annoying sound clashes of music, but since the road is a lot wider it’s not quite as bad.
One thing that does get extremely annoying, as it does in Bangkok, is constantly being sold everything and anything. Various items are literally thrown in your face every time you get off a tuk tuk. I got off a mini bus earlier today and I actually got hit in the face with a bag of baguettes. They will battle for your attention and shout at your until you give them eye contact. I won’t be as rude as to completely ignore them but it does get very frustrating not ever seeming to get a moments peace. What you will also get here, which you won’t get in a more wealthy Thailand, is a lot of beggars – children, mothers with babies and men with various limbs missing. One guy we met said a woman had put her baby in his arms and demanded he buy milk. He’d ended up carrying the baby around a store for 10 minutes before they asked for $40 to buy it. It’s pretty disturbing and it really made me feel ungrateful for worrying about my £200 per week budget. Westerners are so, so ungrateful for what we have but it’s not really our fault when that’s all we’ve ever known. Sometimes things like this put it into perspective.
Every time a beggar would come up to me, or children selling bracelets/fruit etc I would give them a small note. 500 riel (about 30p) would put a smile on their face. I wish I could give more but I can’t give masses to every single one – so I’ll just try and give a bit to anyone that approaches me. I’m reserving judgement about Cambodian people until I’ve been to a few more places but at the moment I’m unsure about the country. I hate that you can’t trust a word anyone says to you and I hate being constantly conned out of money – but in the same way I can kind’ve understand it. If you were so poor you struggled to feed your family I don’t think you’d have much of a hard time tricking some rich westerner out of £1. And so I just try and let it go really. But for the more budget conscious (Jess for example) it will really get on your nerves. I thought I would write about Siem Reap (as well as Angkor Wat – to come) as I think it’s often overlooked as a city. People come here to do the temples and then leave, but it really does have it’s charms and it’s worth giving it a couple of nights before moving on. Next stop – Phnom Penh.