I’ve been writing these blogs after the fact, sometimes up to a week or two late. This has mostly been innocent enough; I’m on holiday, dammit, and enjoying myself and seeking out experiences takes priority over vain internet self-promotion (although not as much as I’d like to admit).
Here’s me on some stairs.
This had been fine up until now but I’m feeling a little bit false in writing this one, mostly because although it concerns the awesomeness of Cambodia, it is being written from the other side of the world from the first world safety and under the dreary grey skies of Britannia.
You may have noticed that my last few blogs have been put up in quick succession, following each other much more closely than usual. This is due to a conscious effort to get these posts about South East Asia done whilst I was still in South East Asia. However due to both time constraints and my habit of not writing about a particular stage of our trip until we had finished it, this was not possible for this post.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m kind of bummed about not being in Asia anymore. But I’ve rambled enough.
Siem Reap, baby! What a place! Closest town to the impressive Angkor Archaeological Park, where you can get some super interesting South East Asian history right up you! Siem Reap is great, and not only because it has a kick-arse Mexican restaurant.
Are you even ready for this much Siem Reap?
Our bus from Sihanoukville arrived in Siem Reap at the completely reasonable hour of 2 am in the morning, after a reasonably harrowing journey where I was certain we were to be killed in a traffic catastrophe at least a couple of times.
After getting a tuk tuk driver to take us into town and his pathetic attempt to change the initial agreed upon price (by this point I was a stone cold price killer), we managed to find some apparently decent accommodation. Unfortunately, this place proved to be Bed Bugs 2: Judgement Day and we had to make a speedy exit the next morning. Luckily, our next guesthouse housed us in comfort for a cheaper price and without incident (apart from some butt-hole making off with my thongs under the cloak of darkness – It would almost be worth having tinea just so he might have caught it from me).
What Siem Reap lacked in beaches, it more than made up for in its holy trinity of temple ruins, monkeys, and one dollar tacos. Whilst it’s still a tourist centre, it’s not nearly as douchey as Sihanoukville and yet there is still a lot of fun to be had. Apart from the obvious Angkor attractions, Siem Reap’s tourist focal point is the aptly (if unimaginatively) named Pub Street: a short, garish strip lined with places where you can buy some cheap beers and possibly even some food. The street is situated in the Old Market area which, if you can suspend your disbelief, is an area with markets. Both Pub Street and the Old Market can be easily located by their bright neon signs rendered in popular fonts from the 90s.
And haven’t they aged well?
Siem Reap has its fair share of trinket hawkers, beggars, and tuk tuk drivers, but it somehow manages to retain some charm, perhaps due to the crowd there and perhaps due to that fact that one place sells beers for 35 cents throughout the daylight hours. Also, one freaking dollar for a taco!
Our first excursion out of the main town of Siem Reap was to the floating village on Tongle Sap. Tongle Sap is a not insignificant body of water near Siem Reap. It’s also near a bunch of other places, mostly on account of its size.
The tour of the floating village is little bit of a rort, actually. The lake itself is pretty immense, and the clusters of mutant house/boat combinations are interesting. The floating village has everything a usual village might have, only in floating mode – a floating barber, a floating market, a floating pub, and a floating basketball court all feature. It also has a floating orphanage, and here in lies the rort. After paying $20 per person to even reach the village (and I think we have been rorted in that respect as well), you are then taken to a floating market where your guides attempt to guilt you into purchasing an extortionately priced bag of rice to give to the poor orphan kids. When we balked at the price, we were told that 45% of the money spent goes into the village to help support the villagers. Even taking this in this into consideration it was still far too much for a bag of rice, and since when does buying rice for orphans have a compulsory additional donation attached to it anyway? When we made it clear that we weren’t going to be purchasing the rice our guide informed us that if we didn’t “care” about the orphans, then he didn’t care about us and the tour would end.
Orphanages can be good business in Cambodia, to the point that people will manufacture them by taking kids from their parents and encouraging tourists to donate money. Whilst this was more than likely not the case with the Tongle Sap orphanage, it’s definitely not something to be encouraged. By this point of our two and a half month long trip we were already low on cash and not in the mood to be extorted so we refused to buy the rice and our tour ended. This was fine because we also managed to visit a war museum on the way back and the trip in the tuk tuk was pleasant enough, giving us a decent peek at the villages surrounding Siem Reap.
Looking at things.
Whilst the Tongle Sap experience left a bit of a sour taste in our mouth, the temples of Angkor did the opposite. All the ruins of Angkor are in the Angkor Archaeological Park, in which you need a pass to enter. Within the park there are a series of impressive constructions dating back to the 12th century or perhaps earlier.
There are Cambodians living within the park itself, setting up pop up restaurants and trinket stalls and selling what they can. Every temple had at least a few vendors trying to sell everything from scarves and souvenirs to fruit and drinks. We managed to get a really good guide book that had a $28 RRP for $6, which we thought was pretty excellent until we found another guy trying to sell it to us for $1. Not complaining, just making the point that you can always barter for a better price. You might also get some amateur guides trying to attach themselves to you, including off duty police officers who like to hang around in uniform. They will often try and give you a tour without asking if you want one. In this situation the easiest way to get rid of them is to just tell them you either don’t have money or you won’t be paying them.
The temples themselves are extremely impressive. Some have been restored quite a bit whilst others have been less so, being at least partially reclaimed by the forest. Hiring a tuk tuk can be done very cheaply and he’ll be more than happy to secure a days or even a few days work to take you around the park, stopping at number of temples on the way. Guides can also be hired but we found our guide book was pretty excellent.
Would a guide let you climb on stuff?
Also, there are monkeys. And monkeys are awesome. Really, really awesome.
Nights were spent relaxing with our trip buddies and eating the food around town, which even when not dining in the Mexican place was markedly better than most of the stuff we had in Sihanoukville. All round Siem Reap was easily one of our favourite places, and even though we spent nearly a week there we were a little sad to depart.
In my next entry I will be recounting our short and largely uneventful journey to the mysterious and exotic land of Sidcup, UK.
This post ends kind of abruptly, but I can’t help being a maverick.
N.B. – Bonus monkey!
Look at this fucking monkey!