Sunday, April 14, 2013

Siem Reap/Angkor Wat, Cambodia *EDITED*

The Cambodian side of the Laos/Cambodia border.
We traveled with an Estonian, who bought deep-fried whole birds...
...and proceeded to try and eat the little guys like chicken (I think the locals would pop them in whole).
Siem Reap's Pub Street. 
A couple of the people we drank with. She's a German/Russian musician who carries around an Iranian Satar. He is a Canadian record producer living in Los Angeles but building clean water wells in the Rift Valley.
Fish foot massage.
We decided to follow the crowd, and booked the tourist bus from 4 thousand islands, Laos, all the way to Siem Reap, Cambodia. A journey that would take 15 hours, hotel to hotel. We got suckered into the $30 deal to have the bus company get us our visa at the border. Turned out to be the right move: the travelers who decided to take care of it themselves were hit with so many $1 to $5 "fees", we only paid an extra $2 with a lot fewer headaches. As the other foreigners got off at various stops along the way, it got down to one Estonian guy and us, left in a desolate bus stop, waiting for the bus to take us the last leg of our journey.

Arriving in Siem Reap we found a tuk tuk driver who agreed to call our hotel to get directions (and not take us to the hotel of his choosing, this is a bit of a feat here). We dropped our stuff in the room and set out for a late dinner and a drink. I'm not sure if it was the 15 hour trip, the lack of sleep or food or what, but I was pretty taken aback by the full-on party we arrived into. I should have expected it I guess (it is called Pub Street...) but I was thinking about visiting ancient religious ruins, not parties 'til sunrise and sex tourism.

We were also a little surprised at the aggressiveness of some of the vendors and beggars. As the third dirty kid with a baby on their hip came up and assured me they didn't want money, "just milk from the store for the baby", and I denied them as their nimble fingers felt across my pockets, the child left us with a "fuck you, lady". I knew we were not in Laos anymore. I recognize that anytime extreme poverty meets with hoards of tourist dollars they have every right to get as much of it they can. It was just more jarring I think than Thailand or Laos or even India.

We were warned by our hotel owner not to trust our tuk tuk driver, and he encouraged us to arrange a tour with him. We were warned by our tuk tuk driver that the hotel owner bad mouths drivers, and then he set up his teenaged cousin/brother to drive us instead of him. Our young driver in the end complained of how his cousin didn't pay him anything, and asked for more tip. The Cambodians we came across who were not actively involved in relieving us of our money were incredibly warm and friendly and seemed happy to have us there (yes, maybe because their family and friends were making their living off us). I know that we (the oft-mentioned hoards) and our dollars (the ATMs only give USD!?!) brought all this on ourselves, it's just hard to suffer personally for the transgressions of the masses.

Angkor Wat is the big draw in Siem Reap, and, is its main redeeming feature. The whole site (30+ open temples and other structures) really do live up to the hype. I will admit we've been a little "templed out" for months now, but we were able to easily fill our 3 days, and wish we had more time. Unfortunately, our sunrise and sunset experiences did not blow us away, we were plagued with unimpressive weather, over-zealous guards wanting to kick us out as soon as the ball of fire hit the horizon (just as the good stuff gets started!) and an over-sleeping teenage driver. Still, the rare occasions when we stumbled across small paths and followed them to deserted and over-grown ruins were enough to satisfy our intrepid explorer fantasies.

(this was left off the original post, sorry!)
Next time, (and there will be a next time as Matt has more time-lapse to do than 3 days allow) we might stay away from town, and pack our own lunch (lunch at Angkor cost more than the veggie Khmer feast, with beer, we had for dinner). We will not go see the sunrise at 5am, and then tour temples, after coming home from Angkor What? the dance club at 3. We will also try to stay longer and combine bike riding with taking a tuk tuk for the farther sites. Finally, we will have to visit more of Cambodia, to get away from the isolated areas of concentrated tourists.

All in all we had a fabulous, albeit complicated, time there.

- Bree

And now a bunch of photos of Angkor:

Our hostel owner with us as we leave Siem Reap. After this photo was taken, he said "I run now." and he ran away.