catching “the pulse,” but not Dengue fever
Our initial impressions of Siem Reap were kept mostly secret our first night in town as it was fairly dark out when we traveled via taxi to our hotel. (Aside from the main intersections, there are few street lights in Siem Reap.) We were offered a better perspective on things when we headed out into the bright light of day the following morning. It was then that we realized that Siem Reap is a total trip - the ultimate paradox.
While there are literally thousands of tourists pouring into Siem Reap each day to enjoy the trendy restaurants and grand hotels that showcase surprisingly high design, many of the town’s roads remain unpaved! Even worse, some establishments still do not have complete plumbing or waste removal facilities! The odd thing is, as a tourist, you may not even notice the deficiencies as a lot of the rough ’n tumble rawness of Siem Reap is cleverly kept just out of eyesight!
We further investigated the somewhat dusty town one day after a dip in our hotel’s ultra-swanky landscaped pool. Heading down to Pub Street for some lunch (see “eats” and “sips”), we noticed a number of basic infrastructure upgrades occurring just beyond the main unpaved boulevards, and their gutterless curbs. The pulse is definitely hopeful, if not a bit quixotic. Set of Drifters tip: Keep you camera at the ready as you travel to or from Angkor Wat. You just never know what you are going to pass while subjugated to Siem Reap’s moto-infested rush hour.
At one point, a sculpted bootleg depiction of Mickey Mouse invites you to consume gasoline and "total lubricants." A sign further down the road crosses the width of the boulevard and reads “Better social protection for women, Better social protection for everybody." (The message is both intriguing and ominous at the same time.) Then off to the left, a strange youth center from the 1960’s passes by in a glimpse. Its cheery architecture would appeal to adolescents if the building weren’t so darn scary and dilapidated!
You will also want to be on the lookout for an amazing nouveau depiction of the "Churning of the Ocean Milk” (a story well documented in Angkor’s many temple bas-reliefs). We were able to snap a few photos of the somewhat gaudy structure while waiting at a crosswalk for multiple children to pass by in, well, gurneys! The kids suffered from Dengue fever and were being transported from one side of the children’s hospital to the other, a harrowing image we won’t soon forget!
getting there from where? / Driving in town
Thanks to our travel package with TripMasters, there was absolutely no gap between leaving the airport in Phuket, Thailand and arriving back in Bangkok to change planes for our “puddle jumper” flight to Siem Reap on Bangkok Airways. (The plane was so small that our heads barely cleared the ceiling inside!) As we headed east towards Cambodia, the sunset in Bangkok burned like hot lava! The clouds in the sky hovered just below our plane and were absolutely brilliant in their color and texture. Later, we read that the magnificent fluffy clouds seen throughout Southeast Asia were created by the intense heat in the air.
Eventually by nightfall we landed in Siem Reap. A sign at the airport welcomes visitors in Khmer, a script that is even more twisty and curly than Thai (if that is possible)! We were impressed by the modernity and high style of the Siem Reap airport, as well as the ease in which we sauntered through passport control.
After changing over some money, we jumped into a taxi cab to reach out hotel, the fare of which was only $7 USD - tip included! You see, in Cambodia the almighty American dollar is as good as gold. We ended up using US dollars 70% of the time in Cambodia, and the local currency (the "riel") for the remainder. Being able to switch back and forth between the two currencies really helped to put the cheap costs of traveling to Cambodia in perspective.
Once in the town center, visitors are welcome to get around by walking, cycling, or via motorbike. The motorcycles in Siem Reap are referred to as "motos” and you will need their assistance if you plan on traveling to Angkor Wat without a bicycle. With the two of us in tow, we opted for a “remorque-moto” instead for a more comfortable ride. (The remorque-moto is similar to the Thai "tuk-tuk" with a sheltered carriage on the back.)
Upon recommendation from our hotel, we found a remorque- moto driver on the street early in the morning of our second day. For a seemingly paltry sum of $12 USD, “Mon,” our remorque-moto driver, took us from the heart of town to the Angkor Archaeological Park 4 kilometers away, then shuttled us from temple to temple all day long - based on our requests - and all in the blazing heat of a Cambodian summer! Mon would even wait for us outside while we traipsed through the many passageways and steep staircases strewn with rubble. We ended up giving Mon a total of $20 USD each day (to include a tip). As an added bonus, he ended up taking us to the airport on our final night! What a guy!
Of course, with all of these motos clogging the streets, "rush hour" in Siem Reap can be pretty maddening. Many families live in and around Siem Reap, yet travel to Angkor each day to sell trinkets to tourists. You will see the charming kids of these families leaving Angkor in the early evenings, riding in the backs of trucks, hanging outside of car windows, or sitting unwillingly in the front basket of a bicycle! This led us to wonder if anyone uses a seat belt in this town! Set of Drifters tip: You should!