A week in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Trying to get to Siem Reap was an adventure in itself which I will share in a different blog post. I arrived about 9 pm at the Siem Reap Airport. Despite it being an international airport it reminded me of the Airlie Beach airport in North Queensland.
Having no set plans and return ticket booked from Cambodia I had no issues being allowed into Cambodia. After I had organized a SIM card from a shop outside the airport I headed to the Airport “taxi” service. They had three modes of transport available, a car, tuk-tuk or even a motorbike. I opted for a tuk-tuk that was $9 to my hostel. I later found out that these guys actually work for free in the hopes they will be able to get you to agree to take you for any tours you may have planned whilst in Siem Reap.
The type of traveler I am now I am not their ideal candidate. I tend to go much slower and arrive with minimum plans and just a vague idea of what I would like to see.
I had booked into Mad Monkey Hostel which happens to be a party hostel. I had no desire to party whilst I was here and never made it up to their bar despite all the free alcohol available every night. I was more interested in learning about the culture, community, and history.
On the first day, I went and got some lunch at this Indian restaurant that turned into my regular breakfast/lunch spot. I also gave in to one of the many tuk-tuk drivers to take me to a massage place. In hindsight the $15 I paid for the tuk-tuk driver and massage was too much for Siem Reap however it is not enough of a rip off to make you angry.
On my second day, I went to the War Museum. This is by no means a 5-star museum however it held a lot of information in regards to the history of the Civil War. I got a guided tour and you are not obligated to pay anything, however, I was already aware of the poverty in Cambodia and made sure I gave a direct tip to the guide. I made the mistake of not getting my driver to wait for me so I was asking the tuk-tuk drivers there if they had a customer. The one guy ended up calling one of his friends. He was so open and honest. He was 60 years old and told me about when he was 16 and watched both his parents being tied up with vines and shot in front of him. My heart went out to him and the tragedies he has experienced in his life. He was one of the few tuk-tuk drivers who were openly honest about his feelings against other drivers who try to scam tourists.
His friend took me to get a ticket for the National Angkor Museum. He was meant to pick me up 2 hours later, when they would not allow me to enter with my handbag I refused to go in. After an emotionally draining morning at the National Museum, I was not in a pleasant mood, walked out got a tuk-tuk back to the hostel and went for a walk. About 800m from the Hostel was the famous “Pub Street” This is where I tried some fried ice cream – I have had it before in Dubai and it was rather disappointing compared to the ice cream I had there. Instead the next day I found Gelato Lab which I would return to on the hot South East Asia monsoon weather days. I went and got a massage and once finished got a driver to take me to “Phare – The Cambodian Circus”.
Now, this was an amazing experience. I would not compare it to a Cirque du Soleil however it was very entertaining and culturally orientated with an engaging storyline. The performers were also artistically accomplished. Once the show finished the monsoon had struck. People were everywhere hiding under cover. I made a dash for it and waited for about two minutes until I saw my driver. (I had learned from my mistake at the War Museum) He helped me over to his tuk-tuk in the rain which had the covers on. It was a hectic scene riding home with the roads have turned into rivers and the rain pelting down like I have never experienced before. We had originally agreed on $3 to take me home but I decided anyone who is willing to work in that weather deserves more so ended up giving him $5. This may seem like nothing but I have since learned that the average salary in Cambodia is between $40 and $50 a month so to them it is a fair bit of money.
I luckily returned to an empty room had a warm shower and headed off to sleep. It was day 3 and I still had no plans to go see the famous Angkor Wat. I knew it wasn’t running away and decided the first time I see it I want it to be at sunrise. Instead, I decided to go to the floating village on day 3. This was an eye-opening experience. I witnessed people living in some of the poorest conditions. I had very little cash on me so I was not a target for the scam they had running between an orphanage and nearby shop. I still gave what I had on me to the orphanage because they are clearly in more need than myself. According to my guide, the people live on the water so they do not need to pay taxes to the government. There was about a population of 5000 people living in the floating village. A little more about the scam they will take you to a shop where they try to sell a kilo of rice for $10 and then you will take it to the school. Now from reading other blogs, it seems that they just take it back again to the shop and sell it to the next unknowing tourist. Your heart will bleed going there so my advice is to buy some toys, lollies, books etc from a shop in Siem Reap before going.
Apart from sightseeing my days were very repetitive between escaping the heat for gelato and massages. I also found an Italian restaurant that had an Australian beef salad reasonably priced which was my go to dinner. The driver who took me to the floating village was honest so I decided I will keep him for the rest of my stay in Siem Reap. We agreed to meet the next morning so I could go to Angkor Wat at sunrise. Even at 5 am in the morning, the heat was intolerable and I just got annoyed with the enormous crowd and wanted to disappear. It was breathtakingly beautiful but I did not stay longer than an hour. After Angkor Wat, I went to Angkor Thom. By 9 am I was so frustrated with the heat and just asked my driver to take me back to my Hostel. He had invited me to a wedding. I now regret not going but I really just wanted to escape the heat.
Lately, huge crowds i0s too stimulating for me and I get extremely anxious and drained. Afterwards, it is like I need a good day or two to just hide away and not have any social interaction. Not the best qualities to have when you are traveling to foreign lands. I still challenge myself to persevere and get outside my comfort zone. The week in Siem Reap I did it several times begrudgingly. It was on my bucket list since 2011 so my inner me told me I have to go to these beautiful postcard locations which turned out to be anything but due to the large crowds of tourists as well as hagglers trying to get you to buy clothes, books, postcards etc. I even reached a point where I would not even look at kids anymore who would approach me. I am heavily against young kids not being in school and will tell them straight up that is where they should be. They will cheekily reply that there is no school today so I will tell them that they should be playing then and being a kid. Call me heartless but the longer we keep supporting kids trying to pull at tourists heartstrings the longer this will keep happening and children will keep being denied childhood.
I bought a three-day pass for the temples because I really wanted to take my time to explore it. I only ended up going two days because my last two days in Siem Reap it was overcast and rainy. Take note do not come in the raining season if you want some stunning photos of the sunset/sunrise of the temples. For me getting a three-day pass was better because I could only tolerate so much time with the crowds. I know some people just go to have a look and see the beauty without understanding what it is all about and not knowing the history. Before I went to the temples I did go to the National Museum and watched all the videos they had available. I spent about three hours there. I would highly recommend going before you see the temples. You will see different Buddha’s or God’s and you will know the story behind them. You will also understand the craftsmanship and years that went into building this Ancient Wonder of the World. I do not regret going, I just did not enjoy it as much with the massive crowd despite it being low season.
Some other interesting things that happened was wherever you go you will be hassled by tuk-tuk drivers. I am polite and will usually say no thank you. They may then proceed to list of different drugs you can buy from them. I did hear there is a shirt you can buy that says no tuk-tuk and sometimes I thought this may be a wise investment. I am talking about having ten drivers hassle you when you are walking 50 meters. I did spend the time to get to know my driver and learned that he only earns about $3000 a year. With that, he supports his wife and 4 kids. I also learned how much they get paid when our drivers take us to “those” shops where they always try to get you to buy something ridiculously overpriced. For a hostel, they may get $3 and for a 5-star hotel, they will get $10. I never learned how much they get from travel agents because they are always very eager to take you to one to buy your bus ticket. As much as you want to help them out sometimes it just gets annoying.
Due to the Khmer Rouge and all the landmines around the border, you will often see someone missing a limb. I usually gave them some money. The poverty in Cambodia is phenomenal and you just want to help people. If you go to Cambodia do yourself a favor and don’t just visit the temples. There is so much more history and culture to this country just waiting for you to fall in love with.
On my last day, I just did my usual of visiting the Indian restaurant, gelato, and a massage. I had booked a bus for 8:30 in the morning to Phnom Penh and so my adventures came to an end where I survived my entire week there without having a drink. I will definitely be coming back here because there are too many stones I left unturned. For now, I have to head to Thailand to go meet up with some Navy friends I haven’t seen in years and am very excited to meet up with.
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