Sunday, January 18, 2009

Siem Reap

After Bangkok it was off to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap is a sleepy little town that now pretty much exists due to its proximity to Angkok Wat, the mother of all temples. If you're looking for a place where cows still seem to do the majority of hard farm labor and are herded around the town by farms on the road while a few Lexus SUVs, German luxury cars and tourists on tuk tuks drive by amongst a sea of bikes and scooters then Siem Reap is for you.

Roads in Siem Reap.

A Lexus SUV.

Tons of scooters.

Another Lexus SUV.

Transporting people and supplies.
Cows by the road.

Oh and by the way, pretty much everyone speaks English. The children speak basically perfect English due to all the UN Aid teachers. Many adults speak English too, if they can't their children will help them out.

There's a market place at the town square that sells counterfeit software, clothing, backpacks, etc. There are also peddlers riding around town selling travel books from lonely planet, national geographic, and rough guide. It's actually cheaper to buy it from them than in bookstores and basically all neighboring countries. Another thing, it was really easy for me to gauge how much things were since US Dollars are used in Cambodia! It was really weird to me, but due to the extremely low value of Cambodian Currency US Dollars have been adopted. You get US Dollars from ATM machines! The Cambodia Currency is used in place of cents.

Market Area

Inside Market

Clothes being sold at market, lots of counterfeits

Jewelry being sold at the market... they accept Visa and Mastercard (bottom right corner)

Software for sale ... $2-$4 USD, DVDs - entire seasons of TV shows for $10. DVD Movies like Kung Fu Panda and Ironman for $4 (not out on DVD in the states at this time). You can bargain too.

Pirate Windows 3.1, Windows 9x, Windows NT, Window 2K, Windows XP, and Vista for $4 on 1 CD!

Van Damm UFC??? Huh?

Many of the people peddling wares around on bikes or motor cycles are land mine victims. They ride around the town with a sign informing you that they are land mine victims (but you can usually tell my looking at them, you know, missing limbs give it away) and that they are not begging but doing their best to work. None of these people bothered me or any other tourists as far as I saw. They were indeed trying to work. The conditions in Siem Reap are hard, there is little in the way of opportunity and it would be easy to beg, especially if you're crippled; but these people did not (at least none in town -- Angkor Wat is a different story). I have to say I admire their pride.

There is a small row of restaurants that obviously cater to westerners. The food there isn't the cheapest in town but it's still quite cheap compared to back home. It's good too!

Restaurants. If you click to enlarge you'll see a Mexican food restaurant of all things in Cambodia.

Kamasutra? Fine Indian? I bet. I didn't try their food so I'll just have to assume it is.

Cheaper street vendor restaurants.

You can also get a traditional foot massage for $6. Please note that like thai massages, the traditional Cambodian massage hurts. It's hard and they dig deep into your tissues. I like this though because I feel it's very effective and after many weeks of walking it really recharges your feet right afterwards. I felt ready to walk everywhere again right away. I don't think tips are expected but I gave my masseuse $3 and I think she seemed pretty happy with it... it may not seem like much that was 50% of the massage. I don't think that $1 USD is like 20 to them (as many backpackers seem to think), but a few dollars seem to go a long way for them.

I only stayed in Siem Reap for 3 days since my gf came along with me for this part of my trip and she was on a tight schedule (never mix a scheduled and a no schedule trip). I really loved my time here and wish I could have stayed longer, but it's not all wonderful. The government in Cambodia is one of the most corrupt in the world, there's money coming in but it doesn't reach the masses. There are also still live land mines in the country so you cannot stray off any trails. I booked with a wonderful hostel that took care of my transportation and tuk tuk to Angkor Wat (the reason why people come to Siem Reap). Because of this I never had to deal with negotiations. One backpacker I met in Singapore told me he had the worst time in Cambodia and never wanted to go back. He traveled overland from Thailand to Siem Reap and told me the Cambodians knew he would be stranded if he didn't buy transportation from him so they jacked the price up on him and pretty much ripped him off at every turn to his face without even trying to hide it.

I'll be making a few more short posts on Siem Reap, you know, food, the 2008 Elections (I was in Siem Reap during the elections), and my hostel. Then I'll get to the good stuff, Angkor Wat, the mother of all Temples and the pride of Cambodia. Angkor was one of the top highlights of my entire trip. If you ever get the chance to go I would recommend it without hesitation, the temples are amazing.

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