Arriving in Cambodia Siem Reap
Cambodia made the itinerary because we wanted to visit somewhere a little less western and developed. It would be all too easy to let glampacking take hold and city-hop around rich countries without ever feeling like we’d left Europe, give or take some dim sum. We didn’t expect to find that Cambodia works entirely in US dollars, but we can let that one fly.
We landed in Siem Reap International Airport on the cheapest flight I’ve ever taken (thanks AirAsia) and the change from KL/Singapore was quickly apparent. The airport is tiny compared to what we’ve seen so far, and looks like a pagoda with a runway. We were taken from the airport by tuk-tuk, a motorbike attached to a wooden chariot complete with silk seat coverings! It can be a bumpy ride but nothing moves too quickly, so we survived. The long straight road to town is a wide tree-lined boulevard affair, though having recently finished reading First They Killed My Father I confess that the image in my mind was of Khmer Rouge troop carriers rolling in.
We spent the first day wandering around the absolutely charming town centre. There are little fairy lights and lanterns along the river bank, which is likely what made Jo fall in love with it so quickly! The Old Market is busy with stalls selling dried fruit, gap year elephant trousers, jewellery and locally-produced crafty stuff. Jo’s already been wearing some pretty hippy outfits (see photos), but I’m promised that the elephant trousers are on the shopping list too. As in KL it seems that most stalls are variations on only five or six different stock ranges. Pub Street, the famous touristy drinking quarter, manages not to be as garish as Clarke Quay, its Singaporean cousin. Nearby lies a warren of restaurants, massage and tattoo parlours.
There are tuk-tuks everywhere, and every time you step off one another offers you a lift, so we’ve been saying no a lot! None of it is aggressive, and they tend to be happy with a “no, thank you”. Big contrast to the selfie-stick hawkers in KL, who would tend to linger for longer if you engaged at all than if you just ignored them! Cambodia is a very polite society: people smile at you in the street, which feels dreadfully unusual to a Londoner; thank you/goodbye is done with a hands-together-and-bow gesture, like a prayer. Maybe the tuk-tuk chats are just that, polite.
I thought that Malaysians had a loose relationship with lane discipline, but that’s nothing on the tuk-tuks, motorbikes and cycles of Siem Reap. The country ostensibly drives on the right, but even that isn’t immediately obvious from the calm chaos on the roads! Nothing moves too quickly, so drivers seem to get away with meandering across the entire road. Motorbikes going the wrong way at the edge of the road seem commonplace!
The guide book and the little hotel manual warn that Cambodia is a tropical country – don’t drink the water and keep your door closed to keep the buggles out. Despite precautions, from the second night of four in Siem Reap we’ve had a guest in our room, a gecko we’ve named Grosvenor. He turned up in the bathroom that evening, stayed on the wall for a bit and then settled on the back of the cistern of the loo! Outside, Martin M’s suggestion of badass DEET spray seems to have worked so far – only two bites that we’re aware of (Jo has tasty blood) and no malarial symptoms yet. In fact it’s so strong that it seems to cause mild itching on the skin that feels like insects itself!
Cambodia is a lovely place, and we’ll recommended it highly to anyone coming to this part of the world. It’s not that well developed, at least not in Siem Reap, but it has bags of character. Siem Reap is really all about the nearby temples, about which more later, but does have a life of its own. The food is tasty, even if it all seems to be slight variations on a theme of rice and creamy green sauce.
We move to Phnom Penh on Monday, by which time we will have visited lots of 1000-year-old temples. We will also have to have learned how to pronounce Phnom Penh and worked out how to get the ferry – fingers crossed.