Winter Break: … Hello Cambodia

Previous: Goodbye Vietnam
Next: Angkor Wat

The flight from Hanoi to Siem Reap was up and down, literally and figuratively. We were happy with how speedy it was, getting us there in just over an hour. However, we were far from happy about the worst airline meal of the trip. Vietnam Airlines gave us a few pieces of salami, some bad white sausage thing that was sliced two different ways as if to suggest it was multiple dining options on the plate, as well as some bad fruits and vegetables and a poor attempt at a chocalately cake like desert. Right about then I gave us props for the hot dog on a baguette we tossed down in the airport, as well as the few mini loaves of our favorite banana bread that we were packing. That little bakery tucked away in Hanoi got a lot of our business.

As the plane landed we scoured the landscape for a peak at Angkor Wat and the other world famous temple ruins. We could see the hot air balloon that takes tourists up for a birds eye view of this incredibly historical plot of land, so we were close, but didn’t actually succeed from aboard the plane. A sigh of relief came over us as we stepped off at 5pm. Finally, it felt nice and warm outside. My girl was a happy camper. The sun was just starting to descend and the pre-sunset sky was a nice welcome to Cambodia.

Getting through the international airport in Siem Reap is not a pleasant travel experience. The medical quarantine gets you first. You can pass only after waiting in line to fill out a form convincing them that you are not carrying the dreaded H1N1. Next, because you are not able to purchase a tourist visa for Cambodia in advance like you can for Vietnam, we were herded in to yet another snail’s pace of a line to officially gain entry into the country. And just as in Vietnam, it was here that we started to figure out that the preferred currency of Cambodia is in fact the American dollar as opposed to their own Cambodian riel. We didn’t have either currency available, only carrying joke inspiring Vietnamese dong. So feeling a bit overcharged, and penalized for of our lack of preparedness, we finally received our hard earned Cambodian tourist visas and progressed to yet another line.

This could have been the slowest customs experience I’ve ever had. We jumped in the shortest queue located at on the far end of the room. Poor choice, because the tortoise of all the customs officials turned out to be checking passports at the head. The damn hare was directly to our left. Our Cambodian government representative was so slow that the head man in charge that was walking around, upholding the order, asked him twice to speed it up. Thankfully, after all of this, escaping the airport once clearing customs is as easy as quickly snagging your bag and walking about 100 ft out the front door.

This is where we met Mr. Von Viet, one of the awesome tuk tuk drivers from the Siem Reap Hostel, who was standing out front holding a sign with my name on it. Similar to our tour guide Yang during the Halong Bay adventure, we got to know Mr. Viet a little during our stay in Siem Reap. He proved to be a great person, who did everything he could to ensure we got around safely and learned as much about Siem Reap and all of it’s world renowned attractions as possible.

During our tuk tuk ride from the airport to our hostel I started to realize that Cambodia was my kind of place. The people seemed friendlier. Siem Reap still had a lot of motorbikes clogging up the streets, but nothing close to Hanoi, as it’s a much smaller city. And half way through the journey Mr. Viet pulled over to offer us a complimentary beer or water.

As he dropped us at the hostel he strongly suggested we utilize his service to get to Angkor Wat by sunrise the next morning. Starting the long day with an Angkor Wat sunrise, followed by tackling the surrounding temple ruins throughout the morning and early afternoon, was also suggested in our travel books as a way to beat some of the crowds. Without any hesitation we quickly accepted his offer and agreed to meet again at 5am directly in front of the hostel.

The Siem Reap Hostel is a great choice for lodging. It’s a nice, clean place and the staff is friendly and helpful. If you’re staying for an extended period of time, which we were not, they offer a ton of sight seeing tours. There is a full bar featuring a continental breakfast as well as a full menu of reasonably priced food that we did not have the chance to sample. The indoor pool in the main gathering area on the first floor offers a very Melrose Place vibe, and is surrounded by lot of places to sit and relax. There is also an internet room with 4 computers available for guests to use free of charge.

Just like our Hanoi hostel, the room we got was great. It had one large bed to sleep on, another smaller bed where we placed all of our belongings, plenty of shelf and drawer space, a toilet room separate from the shower and sink room, a hanging TV and a little tiny balcony space through sliding glass doors. And the air conditioning blasted us until we were too cold. We unpacked, showered up and set off for Siem Reap Centre to check out the night life and grab a bite to eat.

This area of town is dominated by two streets: Bar Street and The Alley. It contains a huge variety of Western and Cambodian cuisine as well as a ton of bars. We wandered around for a while, walking in and out of indoor markets and looking at menus, trying to decide where to eat dinner.

A few immediate observations of Siem Reap are worth noting, things that became common themes in our entire Cambodian experience. Tuk tuk drivers are respectful in their solicitation, but it did not take long to get a little annoyed with, “You need tuk tuk sir?” If I really wanted a tuk tuk, I’d take the 2.2 seconds it would take to locate one. Also, we also got jumped by hordes of young children trying to sell bracelets, post cards… all kinds of stuff. These micro entrepreneurs are hustlers. They do a wonderful job at trying to connect with you by asking where you are from, quickly followed by reciting state capitals, national capitals, presidents and other heads of state in order to show you how much they know about your home land. Just like the tuk tuk solicitations, it’s cute at first but grows tiresome real quick.

We settled on a restaurant called Angkor Palm and sat outdoors at a table right next to the busy walkway. A recommendation from the Lonely Planet books was proudly displayed on a banner hanging above the entrance. My girl ordered ginger chicken and a salad of heavily gingered and garlicked veggies. I went with the recommended combination platter which contained 7 dishes neatly presented in banana leaf bowls. A complimentary desert of banana cooked in coconut milk was also provided. Just as most everything we ate in Cambodia, the meal was flavorful and delicious in a simple yet not over powering way.

After dinner we continued to wander around, ending up in the night market. This maze like market offers a variety of souvenirs and craft items in a lively atmosphere including a few bars, one of them annoyingly blasting karaoke singing.

Extremely fatigued from an exhausting day that seemed to start forever ago in Hanoi, we grew tired of haggling over cheap items in the market and started our walk back to the hostel to retire for the evening. During this walk we noticed what looked like homeless people, asking for money on the side of the road. They were horribly disfigured, missing limbs and body parts. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a product of the well publicized land mine problem in Cambodia. One website I looked at estimates anywhere from 4 to 6 million unexploded land mine ordinances are still kicking it below ground in Cambodia as a result of decades of conflict. Most notable, the Kmer Rhouge regime did a good job at causing all kinds of turmoil and havoc in this country, and the effects are noticeable in today’s society.

Thankfully the hostel is in a great location, just a quick walk over the bridge. Back in our room we prepared for the next day, which would turn out to be the most moving of our vacation. We would only get a few hours of sleep before conquering Angkor Wat and most of the surrounding temple ruins, but it would all be well worth it when said and done.

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on January 30, 2010.

7 Responses to “Winter Break: … Hello Cambodia”

  1. I can’t wait to go back to Cambodia with you.

  2. […] rest of the Angkor Temples Angkor Wat Hello Cambodia Goodbye Vietnam Back to Hanoi Castaway Island Day and night on Halong Bay First full day in Hanoi […]

  3. […] First full day in Hanoi Day and night on Halong Bay Castaway Island Back to Hanoi Goodbye Vietnam Hello Cambodia Angkor Wat The rest of the Angkor Temples New Year’s in Cambodia and heading […]

  4. […] Winter Break: Goodbye Vietnam… Previous: Back to Hanoi Next: Hello Cambodia […]

  5. […] Break: Angkor Wat Previous: Hello Cambodia Next: The rest of the Angkor […]

  6. Is it alright to insert a portion of this on my personal site if I post a reference to this webpage?

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