NB – the pictures being used as illustrations in this post are mostly just taken at varied times around Siem Reap and Angkor Wat during a 2 week period – we didn’t take the camera into town because of theft issues we had been warned about, and it didn’t come out in the rain either. Of which there was rather a lot! 😉 …so pictures are random, apart from Yok and the kitten.
After a long day and night of flights, airports and other travellers, (and about 3 weeks of not being able to organise it due to stupid travel companies) we finally got to Siem Reap – at this initial point I would like to extol and gush about A) what a smooth seamless landing the Qantas pilot made into Bangkok and how everybody on the ‘plane cheered because you didn’t even feel a slight bump! Never had that before…and probably never will again unless that same pilot is tracked down and kidnapped to do every single flight we ever take 😉
Also, B) how lovely the Thai staff are at the very-purple and posh Bangkok airport…in my ill and tired state I managed to accidentally throw away the little stub with our baggage barcode on it into an astonishing clean bin in one of the vast pristine labyrinthine corridors (or maybe they just seemed that way with my dizziness), and we had to wait for about 5 minutes at the transfer counter while they rang someone to find out about our hold luggage. (It seems like so much longer when you’re embarrassed about your own stupidity and with a husband slightly less impressed with you than 5 minutes earlier.) They couldn’t have been more lovely to the ‘stupid farang’ and quickly got us sorted out so that we could wander about and wait for our transfer flight to Siem Reap. (or in my case spend a bit of that time in the toilet)
Oh and if you do the 3-flight thing, you get to eat 3 meals…some better than others! Perhaps how I got queasy and sick?! Ugh.
Anyway, once in Siem Reap we made our way out of baggage claim to find out if our arranged lift to the hotel was there or not.
A lovely smiling face was looking expectantly over the top of a name board as we came out, and we waved at him in greeting. Yok, as we came to be told, was one of the tuk tuk drivers employed by the hotel, which I won’t name because it and the Western owners are crap.
We picked this hotel as a bit of a luxury for ourselves, because we didn’t have a honeymoon when we got married in December 2011 as our respective workplaces wouldn’t grant time off! (it was hard enough getting the day off to get married! – thanks to companies who care more about statistics than people) So we thought, what the hell, let’s splurge a little – we have been in a tent for the last 3 months, and pretty frazzled before that with quitting our jobs and getting rid of all our stuff in order to leave the UK once and for all! It looked good on the website, sounded lovely and we wanted a little bit of niceness after all the stress….uh oh…this is us we are talking about and we seem to have the uncanny knack of things going horribly wrong…
Yok informed us as he led us to the transport that the rainy season here had been particularly bad recently, was meant to be over now, but had caused major flooding all across Cambodia – he apologised in advance for the road conditions. It was indeed raining at that moment, and as we got on our way to the hotel, we could see what he meant! The roads were invisible…indeed everything around us blended into one huge lake. Anyone for a spot of sailing?? A waterproof poncho tied to a length of bamboo attached to the tuk tuk and away you go.
The main roads here are tarmac, but once you get off towards the outer edge of town, they are just dirt roads…and full of massive holes. Yok valiantly kept the tuk tuk upright (the tuk tuks here are derived of a scooter or motorbike with a cab attached to the back seat or grab rail, so they move independently.) despite the sliding of the scooter and the cab in different directions whilst trying to negotiate his way through the flooding and the huge holes. Several times we almost went off the side of the track in a mud slide but, fair play, he knows how to ride! (put my 1200cc Vmax in the same position and it would have been toast at the first slide 😉 )
The hotel itself is set up with a circular courtyard at the front, a main entrance building, the guest rooms in 2 walkways off the back of this separated by a fish pond with bridges over it, and the restaurant/bar area with the swimming pool is off to one side accessed by another walkway from the front of the main building.
Let’s just say the fish were in the walkways and the circular courtyard, and not in the pond! The main areas are all raised by several steps, and therefore the floods couldn’t infiltrate the rooms, but to get back and forth between most areas you had to wade almost knee-deep. So much for us picking a hotel off to one side of the main town, as it would be less touristy! lol
To be honest, we didn’t mind the flooding. It was the end of the rainy season, they had had it pretty bad, and you can’t do anything about it so you make the best of it. However, it would have been nice if the hotel was actually the 3-star standard it was meant to be. There were leaks in the bathroom ceiling which dripped on your neck when you cleaned your teeth, one of the lampshades next to the bed was held together by clear tape, and there were huge cockroaches running about the bedroom area and the bathroom! (We found the hole where they came from and plugged it up with cardboard after killing 3 of them and luckily didn’t see any more!)
In the first few days it was hard to really do much as the rain was torrential and everything kind of stopped while people took shelter, so we just had a wander around town to see what was there whilst dodging water.
The town itself has a main square area around the Old market, Night market, and Pub Street. Westerners frequent all of these areas in huge numbers, especially Pub Street (you can’t miss the signs strung across either end of the street and lit up at night), where you can eat (at inflated prices), drink, and pick up girls – whether those girls are ‘free’ easy Westerners looking for a holiday fling or ‘bought’ local Bar Girls is your choice – you can take your pick on Nationality here! It seems, from what we were told, that upstairs in the bars here (usually where the pool tables and the Karaoke are) the local girls will make a play for Westerners, spend all evening with them in the bar and go back to their hotels with them later on, only to land them with a hefty bill for the night when they wake next morning. Beware if you think your charm is working, it’s just your wallet that talks!
Pub Street is our idea of hell on earth, so we tried to skirt around it whenever we ventured into town. Oh and we also realised that most people don’t seem to know that a karaoke bar is a front for prostitution; watch out if you’re a bit of a karaoke fiend back in your own country during a night on the town with your mates and few beers. It’s not about the singing here folks, so nobody will care if you sound just like Elvis, it will be more about the hip action! 😉
Tuk tuk drivers are pushy – at every moment you will hear shouts of ‘tuk tuk sir?’ or ‘where you go?’, ‘I take you tomorrow to temple’, ‘why you walk?’…it gets boring, tiring, and we can understand why people wear the tuk tuk t-shirts (which say ‘no tuk tuk, today or tomorrow’) We don’t like to be rude and ignore people so we will answer many with ‘no thank you’ but equally when you have 10 people shouting at you with the same thing, one loud ‘no thanks’ and a shake of your head goes for all of them, as you hurriedly walk past. Don’t expect a simple ‘no’ to work either – you can expect all of the above phrases to be thrown at you by one person who is still touting for your business after you said no – and then expect it from the next…and the next…
Oh…walking…Cambodians don’t walk. Which is why they find it strange that (some) Westerners do, and will frequently ask ‘why you walk?’. They find it hard to believe that you would choose to walk from one end of the main street to the other, or from the other side of the river to the markets. They have scooters, pick-ups, or bicycles. Or tuk tuks – millions of them.
The markets – Old and Night – are very commercial, you will find the same badly-made tourist tat on every stall for varying different prices (usually with tiny labels stating ‘made in Vietnam/Thailand’ and most with no prices displayed so they can ask what they like) and they expect you to haggle for a bargain which gets very tiring – so does the fact that every vendor shouts at you for trade and you can’t just look without being hassled. However, the colours are eye-catching, so you could be mesmerised by all the different hues as you wander about and be forgiven for being in a daze when people shout for trade.
The best stall market we found was across the river at the Art Center. It has better prices, better quality, less pushy vendors, and a more relaxed feel to it. If you want to know roughly what things are worth, go to the big shopping malls or the supermarkets – if you can get a t-shirt there for $3 then you should be paying less at the market! The art center market has offers of 3 t-shirts for $5 and they still expect you to haggle with them, so you do get a much better deal here than the other markets and it will be a better quality cotton/dye too.
If you do visit the markets when it rains though, make sure you are prepared to walk about under lots of tarpaulins badly strung between stalls and letting lots of water come in torrents towards your head 😉 (which is fine if you have a good poncho!) The tarp rooves are about as well-made as the local bamboo scaffolding…
As for food, some of the little cafes around the edge of the Old Market are pretty good – they don’t look wonderfully clean, but the locals eat there, the food is fresh and good, mostly cheaper price, and we didn’t get ill from these at all. We also found a good little bar/restaurant just off to one side of this market area, on one of the main roads, that had lovely staff and cheap tasty food. It also has a reputable massage place next door so you can have a lovely foot massage and then go eat! 😉
Don’t ask us the name, as we can’t remember – there is a hand written white board outside the restaurant which looks cheap and nasty listing a lot of their dishes/drinks, but the place itself is really not – it’s worth settling into the wicker chairs at the front to people watch and have very tasty eats. (The chilli beef is wonderful, as is the Cambodian curry, and the Lok Lak) If you can locate a restaurant on the end of one of the market roads which has lots of birdcages hung around the outside eating area, it’s on the other side of the main road to that – but Shhh, don’t tell everyone you found it!
Oh and The Blue Pumpkin has the best ice cream…the 4-spice is amazing, as are the other offerings here. You will find 3 or 4 of these Blue Pumpkin shops around the area, but if you want an experience, the largest of them has a seating area upstairs where you recline with your shoes off and your legs up, and have a table next to you on the sofa lounger-type seating. Very decadent, but you will pay Western prices in these shops, so don’t expect a bargain. We went here a couple of times as a treat because it just didn’t fit into our budget.
In fact what we found was that considering there is no real infrastructure in this country, the prices are extortionate to what they should be. Yes, it’s cheaper than some other places, but it’s actually more expensive than you think. We were surprised by how much things actually were costing considering what we had researched and been told. We thought we would easily survive on our monthly budget, but it proved impossible unless you only buy from street vendors for food, and to be honest we don’t want to eat bugs, rat, or spider for every meal, or have to survive on banana and chocolate pancakes, nice as they are.
One of the locals had a lovely conversation with us one day about the country, politics, his family, work etc. He explained that their average wage here is $75 per month. He worked in our hotel full time and also studied, which he paid $20 per month for, and he lived in the free hotel accommodation because he couldn’t afford to rent anything on that wage. After running costs on a scooter to get around (including fuel) and his study fees, he lived on $1.25 per day. This was for all his food if he didn’t eat at the hotel, and any other costs like clothing. When we asked him what most people do for somewhere to live, he explained that most people live on one plot with several generations sharing one house, or if they have better jobs, they may build an extension or another small house on the plot, but this is the only way they afford it unless they have excellent English skills and work for Western companies who pay Western wages.
This would really highlight the disparity between what the locals pay for things and what they get foreigners to pay…most Westerners say that they cannot survive in Cambodia on less than $1000-1500 per month. Go figure…our $650 per month should have paid for a lot in local terms but in Western terms, its half of what you need.
We can just imagine what would happen if the Western world suddenly brought in foreigner and local prices!
So…during those initial days of rain and more rain, when not out in the flooded town, we stayed at the hotel – there isn’t much to do there but we had our travel games, the pool table and our laptop. We also ended up with a beautiful rescue kitten…much like we did in Kefalonia with Pretty, only she was much older than this little one!
It was found by the staff snuggled behind a water cooler after some really heavy rain, and they put it on a towel in a deep-sided basket with a saucer of cold milk on the floor outside the basket. This was the Western owners doing…and as a Westerner we would have assumed he may have more common sense when it comes to animal care/welfare than Cambodians do. They generally throw occasional scraps to their animals and leave them with open sores, fleas, mange etc until they either starve or die of other causes, including road accidents. As a Westerner we assumed he would know more about caring for what essentially was a tiny baby who wasn’t old enough to have left its mother. The kitten was so thin you could see and feel every rib and its eyes were infected, with a slightly bloody nose. We guessed that however it got to the hotel during the rains may have caused the nose bleed.
I have rescued kittens before so I knew the drill – body-warmth, clean him up, and lactose-free warm milk every couple of hours via a syringe – if we could get him to survive the night. The owner was ‘surprised’ (actual statement from him was “Oh, really?!”) when I told him that the kitten couldn’t be left in the basket alone all night, with cold milk outside where he couldn’t even get to it, let alone be old enough to lap it up. (his eyes were only just beyond opening) We duly took the kitten off to our room, armed with a cup of normal milk, a bowl, a straw and a kettle, which is all we could get our hands on late at night. We are pleased to report that he survived the night, being fed about every hour at that point, and by the end of the 2nd day he was treating both of us like ‘Mum’ and we had him in his place as ‘our little witten’.
Rich had gone out the next morning and got a syringe and lactose-free milk, so over the next 4 days we fed him up, looked after him and generally got him fatter and fitter. This meant we didn’t get out much, but it didn’t matter to us anyway because some things are more important than sightseeing. At the end of these few days, the 20-something female assistant manager came back from some travels, and duly said how cute he was and that she was grateful to us for looking after him for them (as if they would have done anything other than leave him in a basket overnight)…they wanted to keep the kitten at the hotel and she would be happy to take over looking after him so we could enjoy our holiday instead…
Let me just say, against our better judgement (having seen her self-important manner) we gave her full written instructions on how to care for him given his small status and the fact that he shouldn’t have been without mum at this point, and handed him over with the stuff we had bought out of our own pocket. (We had also introduced him to a female cat at the hotel who had a young female kitten of her own so was already in milk, but she wasn’t being looked after properly or fed/watered enough so she was too weak to feed both all the time – we gave her proper food and put water down for her, and she was able to feed him during the days whilst we fed him at night.)
Our reasoning for handing him over was that if arrogant manager-girl paid attention to our instructions, he could flourish and be fine, with a home at the hotel, whereas we couldn’t keep him – much as we wanted to. To put it mildly, she ignored everything we wrote down for her and I could have cheerfully slapped her petulant face as she smugly walked in each morning holding a syringe full of cold milk and the kitten, putting him down when he lost interest in trying to lap milk from the end of it because she was too stupid to know that she actually had to push the plunger down while he fed and he couldn’t get enough out. (muttering ‘Oh…really?!!’ when she was shown again at this point how to feed him with a syringe and told it had to be ‘warm’ milk) She checked and updated Facebook with cute pictures of ‘her rescue kitten’. Selfish, arrogant and stupid (and as we found out, leaving to go back to Canada in 4 months time! What about ‘your’ kitten??)…Rocky, as he was christened by us because he was a fighter and he did a cute little flappy thing with his front paws, quickly lost condition – she abandoned the syringe and just left him to try and lap cold milk in a saucer, tried giving him solid food when he wasn’t yet weaned, didn’t wash his infected eyes with solution, or treat him like a cat would (which is how he learns) – and he was being left on high objects where he would frequently fall off and bang his head or jar his fragile limbs.
When we told her to treat him like a human baby in respect of feeding warm milk often with the syringe and not leaving him unattended on high objects in case he fell, we didn’t envision him being treated like a battered, neglected baby who was only good for ‘cuteness’ value and to make her seem like a good person on Facebook to all her false friends for ‘rescuing’ him.
We had to try and detach ourselves from her and her attitude or we would have battered her with a very large machete, but we did carry on looking after him when she left him in the restaurant all day/evening alone. We always made sure he and the females were fed and ok before we went out, and we made sure they were fed when we came back, throughout the evening. Sadly at night, manager-girl always whisked him off to her bedroom like he mattered to her, but really it was just her selfish ego telling her that she didn’t want us to have him in our room instead. Better to admit you can’t do it, and let someone else do it who can, but alas she was too arrogant for that.
Her attitude and stupid lack of common sense is all too common in what we saw of other Westerners in Siem Reap. It seemed that arrogance and ego was very prevalent, common sense non-existent, and morals extremely questionable.
The Cambodians, in the main, were greedy for money, money, money. Some were lovely and would happily talk to you, but most just were not interested unless you were spending. And they want your cash in the markets so badly that if you ask a price, barter, and walk away because you know you are being hugely ripped off, they will actually grab hold of you and try and stop you leaving.
Now, we understand that they have to make a living BUT foreigners that just give them whatever price they ask for just because it’s much cheaper than ‘back home’ are just perpetuating the problem. The same as people who try and get the items for peanuts…they perpetuate it in the opposite way, but both get the same result – incredibly hiked up prices for foreigners because they either think you’re extremely rich, incredibly arrogant, (or both) and they want to sting you for as much as possible.
Corruption is rife here anyway, and the fee for Angkor Wat is a prime example of that…to be covered in my next post…along with one of the nice places we found in the town, a lovely Wat.
To sum up Siem Reap, we wished we hadn’t bothered coming here because it is full of drunk Westerners we can’t get on with…
…and corrupt Cambodians who just want your cash and hassle you on every turn. It’s ok for a couple of days, no longer. Our trip here turned into a kitten rescue and flood navigation…but the kitten was worth it!