We stayed in a fairly central location, 5-10 minutes walk from 3 different markets and the old quarter. The heat in Siem Reap was at times quite oppressive, particularly in the still of the evening. Riding the tuk-tuk’s was always cool, particularly out of the city itself but overall we think that the peak of the dry season may not be the best time to visit Siem Reap and we could imagine how the rains would reduce the dust, increase the greenery and fill the various pools, fields and rivers in the area, both those associated with Angkor Wat and those around town.
In the afternoons we played a lot of UNO and Pass the Pigs in between snacking and drinking. We met some interesting people who had all sorts of reasons for being in Siem Reap. Henry and Jeanne from Utah dined next to us for an evening and it was interesting to hear of the travels they had completed whilst teaching English in various parts of Asia and Africa. A more interesting diversion for “empty-nesters” than many take.
We noted that at Siem Reap you can basically use Thai Baht, US dollars and Cambodian Riel as you please. The actual currency for the country is a mix of US dollars and Riel and for some reason the Baht is very popular, particularly closer to the border, so paying for things and receiving change can be more than a little confusing.
To visit Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples was quite an easy and close trip from Siem Reap. We had already identified a likeable tuk-tuk driver so we arranged a time and planned an afternoon at the temples. Julia negotiated the route with Songh and he was very honest and open with his bartering. Siem Reap has a fairly fixed pricing system for tuk-tuks and taxi journeys, kind of a balance between allowing Cambodians to benefit from Western tourists and ensuring that Western tourists aren’t robbed blind by greedy middle men. It works and everyone seems to get a good deal. Initially we were bartering hard but it is difficult to justify saving yourself .50 cents when you know that every other tuk-tuk driver is getting a fairly fixed higher price. Regardless of your thoughts on bartering and pricing for tourists versus locals, in Siem Reap we never felt that we were being conned or robbed blind for transport.
There were several occasions when the dining bill had discrepancies and no doubt this is a small method of including staff tips without actually needing the customer to tip!! We queried our bills on 3 occasions and saw people next to us do it on 3 occasions also so I don’t think it was coincidental or poor arithmetic. It was always small amounts but for anyone visiting, take more than a cursory interest in the bill at the end of the night.
Back to Angkor, eh? First stop was the ticket office, where we found that Molly would have been free – if some one would believe that she was 10. We haven’t carried passports anywhere as all rooms have had safes so we didn’t have proof and it cost us US$20 but we had always expected to pay for Molly so on we went.
For me Angkor was surprisingly large and incredibly impressive. Whilst not as old as the great pyramids at Giza, the work that has gone into the Angkor complex of temples makes it at least as impressive and the size is amazing.
The running of the area is well done with local sellers restricted from within the temples grounds so it is quiet and relaxing – and when you want an icy cold bottle of water you can easily get one!
As it turned out our tuk-tuk driver was a trained guide and had an impressive knowledge of the main Angkor and Bayon temples. His English was good and he was clearly a proud and passionate Cambodian and at Angkor there is plenty for Cambodia to be proud of. We can’t pretend to be Temple nuts who love detailed, historical accounts of how each and every stone was laid, but at Angkor there is a great mix of history, stories, architecture and engineering to impress anyone. Whilst I feel I could have spent two days wandering around under my own steam, the truth is we enjoyed about 5 hours and that was plenty for us to see a good mix of structures in various states of repair (and reclamation by the jungle). Some people get a 7 day pass and I can understand that, equally I would suggest that if you got a 3 day pass you would get value. We would love to see the complex in the wet, particularly to see the pools filled with water, the lichens green and less dust! The main moats remain full in the dry so you still get a sense of the engineering that went into the aqua systems, but between dust, heat and smoke haze, we didn’t feel like staying for sunset.
As with so many things, pictures tell the story better than words………………