Siem Reap

by Anna

Last week we made the infamous crossing over the Poipet Thai-Cambodia border. We had heard all sorts of horror stories of swindlers and scammers at the border, so we made arrangements with our guesthouse in Siem Reap to have a “greeter” and taxi waiting for us on the other side. As soon as we stepped foot onto Cambodian soil, the first thing we saw was a giant black and white poster of Johnny’s face! With his beard it looked like an America’s Most Wanted sign, but luckily it was our friendly greeter who walked us through the remaining border lines and finally to our taxi. Phew! We made it, hassle-free, into Cambodia.

Our first impression of Cambodia (other than hysterics at seeing the huge image of Johnny’s face at the border) was how genuinely warm and friendly the people were. We also couldn’t believe how lovely Siem Reap was as we pulled into town along a wide tree-lined boulevard, past the Royal Gardens (and several regal hotels), over the slow moving Siem Reap river and down a red dirt road to our guesthouse. You would have thought we had checked in at the Ritz Carlton with the level of hospitality that met us at this place. We couldn’t get over how polite and sweet the staff were. Every time we returned back to the guesthouse they were all there to greet us and hand us ice cold Tiger Balm towels. We had a huge breakfast every morning that was included with our stay, free wifi, free tea, coffee and water all day and a huge, charming and immaculately clean room, all for $20/night! You can’t beat that!

The Royal Gardens
Siem Reap River
Our guesthouse was decked out for the holidays!

When we weren’t cruising around in a tuk tuk marveling at the temples of Angkor, we were wandering the fun, lively streets of Siem Reap, enjoying the plethora of delicious food options and bargaining our hearts out at the markets. We could see how Siem Reap was a hot spot in the 50s and 60s when stars like Jackie Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin were lured by the temples and silk markets. Unfortunately the hey day in Siem Reap was abruptly halted due to the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror beginning in the 70s. Cut off from the world and put through traumatizing genocide, it wasn’t till the mid 90s that Cambodia and Siem Reap began to reemerge as a tourist destination. Slowly but surely the country has been  building steam ever since, and Siem Reap is once again the place to be.

Pub Street Lots of “Fish Massages” available on the streets
Some ladies brave enough to get the “Fish Massage” where tiny fish nibble the dead skin off your feet
Restaurants and shops along The Alley
Sampling the local brew Sampling Khmer cuisine

Although the city is brimming now with tourists, the devastation that the Khmer Rouge left in its wake and the poverty that affects the country are significant. Luckily many organizations in the city have set up “cause-dining” or shopping whereby you can eat at restaurants that train young, disadvantaged youth to become chefs, or shop at stores that support local craftsmen. There were many places with many worthy causes to support. Some of our favorite spots were Le Café, Butterflies Garden, Touich and the Singing Tree Café. Every place we went we continued to encounter sweet Cambodian people whose big beautiful smiles were truly heartwarming.

Last, but certainly not least, I couldn’t end this entry without talking about the markets! Johnny, who gets hives and breaks out in a cold sweat if I mention the word “shopping,” even got into the fun at the Old Market and Night Market. Our favorite market was  Psar Chaa (Old Market). You could buy everything from silk scarves to pigs’ heads to haircuts in the labyrinth of stalls and passageways. The vendors were all very good-natured and easy to barter with, which made negotiating (something I usually hate!) really fun. Johnny and I had to laugh because at the airport in Johannesburg leaving South Africa, we had 8 rand (approx. $1) left. We wanted to get rid of the rand before we left the country so we went on a mission through the airport to try and find something for $1… a pack of gum…a granola bar? Nope, nothing. We couldn’t find a single thing to buy with a dollar. In Siem Reap it was quite the opposite…the dollar was king. You could buy almost anything for $1 – a tuk tuk ride, 10 bracelets, 2 pineapples – we couldn’t help but load up on some souvenirs to send home and had a really fun time in the process.

Halls of scarves and jewelry in the Old Market Gearing up for some serious bartering
Around Psar Chaa/Old Market
The food sector of the Old Market
 All sorts of items on offer at the market from pigs’ heads… …to dragon fruit
Fruit stalls in the market
So many options causes serious indecision!
Outside the Night Market

We know we were in a bit of a bubble in Siem Reap, but we really loved the time we spent there, and maybe one day we will have the opportunity to return and see more of Cambodia. We hope that good things come to this country and its beautiful people as they continue to heal and rebuild.

Wheelie beasts in tow on our tuk tuk to the airport…next stop: Vietnam!

One Comment to “Siem Reap”

  1. I am lovin the fabric and scarves in the market – Len is enjoying the MANY scooter photos! WE love Vietnamese food – had quite a bit of it in France, but that’s been awhile – thanks for the memories!
    We’ll miss you this Christmas – it’ll just be Rob, Julie, Moonie and Uncle Jack here and, of course, lots of cookies!
    Enjoy the special holiday memories you are making!
    Auntie Critter

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