Link to pictures!
In any touristy area in Southeast Asia, be prepared to be bombarded by requests for tuk-tuks, massages, marijuana, taxis, and motorbikes. In Indonesia it was: “Taxi?” “No, thanks.” “Tomorrow?” “NO THANKS.” Zac just wanted to respond, “Yeah, 6am, tomorrow, same place, $2. See ya.” Here in Siem Reap,there are about 50 tuk-tuks on every block, but everything is in walking distance (or bicycling distance), so I’m not sure why it is more intense here than elsewhere.
After another epic journey (we booked an 8pm, 12-hour overnight bus, which actually left at 12:30pm and took 18 hours), we finally made it to Siem Reap. On the first full day we rented bikes for $2 each and biked to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. It was really great! Angkor Wat was first a Hindu Temple, but became a Buddhist Temple as the country’s religious beliefs evolved. The temple is surrounded by a huge moat, and is kept in fairly good condition.
We spent a few hours at Angkor Wat, and then biked around to some of the other major ones. My favorite was definitely Ta Prohm, which has trees growing out and over the ruins. It’s one of the only temples to be left alone, with only minor conservation work, hence the capricious trees.
After about 15 or so miles on the bikes, we were pretty tired, so we didn’t have any desire to explore the bazillion temples. We just rode around a lot of them and explored 3 or 4.
On the next day, we found ourselves in another semi-stranded situation. No buses from Siem Reap to Danang, which was our next destination. Our options were limited, and a lot of local airlines don’t have online booking options, so we had to go to the airport to book a flight. Last time we tried this it didn’t go so well, so we didn’t have high hopes. We rented bikes again and biked to the airport! It was a pretty surreal experience, but we didn’t have to pay for parking. AND, we got a flight!
We ended up stuck for 4 days instead of two, so we did as much exploring as we could. Siem Reap is really cool, and the town itself is pretty small. Sivutha is the main road, and there’s a Khaosan Road-esque area called Pub Street, which offers draft beers for 50 cents, and plenty of overpriced western food. It’s also loaded with souvenir shops, and fish massages. We saw a sign, hung upside down, saying, “Did know fish do massage?” Basically, you stick your legs in an aquarium, and a bunch of little fish eat the dead skin. Gross.
On our extra day with the bikes, we were able to get out of the urban area and head into the outskirts. It was dusty, dirty, and pretty poor. No more restaurants and hotels out here, it’s all abandoned buildings and smiling locals. While I know they’re really, really poor here, I get the vibe that the tourism of the area keeps Siem Reap alive. I’ve heard that Phnom Penh is worse. There are a whole lot of stray cats and dogs in this part of the world, and one of them jumped up on Zac’s lap at a restaurant! He wasn’t complaining.
We did have a 9-year-old kid with a toddler in his right arm, pull on me with his left. He kept claiming, “don’t need money, just want food.” Another kid asked Zac to go to the market with him and buy him a t-shirt. The people here are incredibly nice; nicer than those we’ve encountered in most other areas of the trip. They appear genuinely happy, and they’re quick to laugh or smile.
In an effort to save money and try some new things, we almost always eat at local eateries and restaurants. Not only are the meals incredibly cheap – $1.25 for steamed rice and grilled pork – but you get a better vibe of the town and the locals that way. I can eat a delicious western meal any day of the week in the states, so why would I pay for a crappier version in a foreign country?
They’ve got delicious ‘banana pancakes,’ which are similar to those in Indonesia and Thailand. The crispy crepes here are filled with your choice – bananas and Nutella in our case – and rolled like a burrito. Greasy, but delicious.
Fruit shakes are everywhere here! And for only 50 cents each! I noticed that they use a lot of ‘sweet milk’ in this part of the world, which I think is condensed milk, and I think they sneak that into some of their shakes as well. We’ve eaten a lot of fresh mangos, fried rice, and baguettes here. (The biggest influence of the French on Vietnam & Cambodia: bread.)
All in all, it was a really nice place. We did a lot of walking around, and I even got in a 6am run, before the heat and the traffic got in the way. Now it’s back to Vietnam!