Oops! We loved Siem Reap and so we stayed a week! And it took us five days before we could compose ourselves and get to Angkor Wat. I can’t say enough great things about Siem Reap. Perhaps it was a relative return to civilization (after Laos) but the social atmosphere, availability of commodities, amazing markets, handicrafts, charm, cafes, sense of social sustainability, friendly locals and curb appeal really wowed. Half pipes on roof top bars, buzzing Pub Street, food alleys, $1 tuk-tuk rides, corn on the cob stands, French bakeries, $9.00 bottles of Smirnoff Vodka and of course, Angkor What?! (and Angkor Wat). Riddle me this, what isn’t there to love about Siem Reap? That’s rhetorical.
We had arrived in Siem Reap just before midnight after a 14 or so hour bus ride and we eager to catch some zzz’s. We relocated the next day to an unremarkable hotel, located to the immediate left of the roof top bar entrance. After a few days of waking up to incredibly loud construction within the building we relocated again to Siem Reap Temple Villa. Ultimately, I’m trying to say that we didn’t score amazing accommodation and I can’t really provide much of a recommendation. Temple Villa was at least a 10 minute walk or $1 tuk-tuk ride to town but it did have a pool and the rooms were large, though you will discover a host of complaints on Tripadvisor.com.
Let’s spend a moment discussing tuk-tuks in Siem Reap, as they are a different breed. Because of the city’s close proximity to Angkor Wat, there’s fierce competition among drivers to secure business. The general consensus among our group was that they were the worst in terms of persistence, in all of Southeast Asia. A person utilizing the services of a tuk-tuk will soon encounter a typical dialogue: “How long are you in Siem Reap for? Oh, have you seen the temple yet? You go to temple tomorrow?” It takes all of two seconds to realize their motive. This $2 tuk-tuk ride is a sales pitch for a $12 tuk-tuk ride to Angkor tomorrow. I understand that a tuk-tuk ride to Angkor is a more lucrative job but you can imagine how incredibly annoying it is when a) you simply want a ride home; b) you have already been to the temples. Also annoying is that hotels employ their own tuk-tuk drivers. Why is this annoying? Because the moment you leave (or perhaps you are still in the lobby), the receptionist is bombarding you with questions. “Where are you going? Are you going to the temples? Do you need a tuk-tuk?” Hi, no. I am walking and it doesn’t matter where I am going because I am fully capable of using my god-given legs. And then you walk so far as the corner and you encounter the drivers who haunt the street. “Ah, where are you going? You need tuk-tuk Miss? Miss?!” This tuk-tuk driver may even know your name because yesterday when you saw him you tried to appease him by saying, “Maybe I’ll go tomorrow.” Well that was an accident because it’s tomorrow and you still don’t want his services and he lives on your street. The last thing I’ll touch on in this tangent is that GTO had befriended some Khmer (Cambodian word for Cambodian) tuk-tuk drivers who were about or age. We went out with them one night (which I will expand on) and then agreed to use their services the following day to go to the Floating Village. Well, come morning and surprise surprise, we were hungover and didn’t feel like driving out of town to tour the village. We had them drive us to town to a greasy spoon and they pressured us to commit to the following day. “Maybe. Okay noon tomorrow.” Rewind, the same thing happens. We are sleeping and they come to the room. “We don’t feel like going, we went out last night.” And they were upset with us. It was all so stupid. We didn’t ever want to commit to a plan in the first place. Now we felt guilty (psh Canadians) and nobody was happy about the situation. From this point on we did what we should have done in the first place. Put our foot down and insisted that if we needed their services, we would let them know.
While we were staying at the hotel down town, GTO was already staying at the Temple Villa as he had arrived in SR on a different bus. We met up and he suggested that we go out with some of the Villa’s tuk-tuk drivers he had befriended. They would drive us anywhere we’d like to go and we’d make a night of it. What wasn’t immediately apparent is that they would be partying with us and that we would be covering all of the expenses. If one construes this perception it’s kind of like we were celebrities and this was our entourage, whereby the entourage parties freely at no expense to themselves. That’s about as glamorous as I can twist it, which is comical because I am a budget traveller who has a propensity to wash clothing in a hotel sink. Yeah, make it rain white tourists. The handful of Khmer guys were really nice and spoke impeccable English (as many Cambodians do). We first visited a large beer garden type restaurant where we were certainly the minority. My meal was particularly memorable because it I was introduced to Beef Lok Lak which is amazing. It’s cubed beef with a rich, dark pepper sauce. It’s often served with rice and a fried egg. A great find for a person who loves food such as myself. After this it was determined that karaoke was in order. Angela and I exited the restaurant, linked arm in arm and crossed the street. Our tuk-tuk driver ran up to us and scolded me for being careless when I crossed the road. “Cambodian driver no drive with light on at night. You must be careful! You are my tourist, I am responsible!” which was actually pretty endearing. We announced that in that case, we would be riding in his tuk-tuk. He introduced himself as Prim, shook our hands vigorously and exclaimed, “VERY NICE TO MEET YOU!” He asked us how old we were. “Twenty-five? Me too! VERY NICE TO MEET YOU!” shaking our hands vigorously again. “You are Canadian? Me too! VERY NICE TO MEET YOU!” We concluded that Prim was pretty awesome and that he had a wicked sense of humour for a person whose native tongue was not English. We arrived at the karaoke joint and for some reason the manager was fetched before we could enter. I’m not going to lie, it was a bit weird. We waited around outside for a good ten minutes before being let into a private karaoke room. Large couches, two private servers and an en suite. With a group that had equal numbers of Cambodians and Canadians, the selected karaoke scores were a diverse one. We discovered something very quickly, Cambodian pop music is sad, sad music. Music videos are comprised of two essential elements: unrequited love in which a boy is rejected by a girl who opts to date the dude with a Range Rover, and crying. I. am. not. kidding. you. During the instrumental break the singer will stare deep into the camera and look supremely distraught, perhaps even ejecting a tear. So after singing some songs, buying the locals more beer and snacks we decided to call it a night. Plus, this was compounded by the fact that *someone* doing *something* with *another someone* when they accidently broke a pipe in the bathroom which started to flood it. Time to go. Being as ‘culturally sensitive’ as I am (the Cambodians are painfully modest people) I thought it would be funny to pull up Angela’s skirt, such that she would moon some tuk-tuk drivers who were loitering about the lot. I mean, when was the last time they saw the moon of a super tall blonde, white girl? Like I said, it was time to go home. On a side note, I discovered that I enjoy karaoke (in private).