We took the train from Beijing, China all the way down to Saigon. We trained from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and back. But to get through Cambodia, you have to take a bus. On day 104, we raced out of bed in Ho Chi Minh City (because the alarm did not go off – the phone had reverted to another time-zone), and bolted for the bus. For the next 14 hours we rode, napped, and crossed borders. The view out of the window was mostly of rice paddies and palm trees, with small shacks and stilt-homes. As night fell we rolled into Siem Reap, our destination for the next 5 days. We awoke to a vibrant city built around tourists visiting Angkor Wat, where everyone speaks English. Not quite as big as some of the other cities we have seen this trip, but it has a character of its own. We spent all of our Cambodian time in Siem Reap. Here are some thoughts and costs:
Tuk-Tuks, not taxis – Motorcycle-powered tuk-tuk’s are the way around town. For the first time, there really were no other choices. Negotiable on costs and much better than walking in the heat, we used them daily. The drivers desperately wanted your business – enough to bargain, patiently wait while you shopped/ate, and offer for pickup the next day.
Lots of temples… – Amazing Angkor was not the only temple worth seeing here. There are about a dozen, some more recognizable than others (Laura Croft, Tomb Raider was filmed at one of them). Angkor is the big draw, so we took the advice of our host and went to some of the others early in the day. They are in varying states of repair, and of it was a highlight of our time in Cambodia to have a few of these beautiful places entirely to ourselves.
…with bats – There are lots of bats in these old ruins, especially in the less touristy ones. If they (or their guano) bother you, you might stick to the main attractions.
Capitalism again – We continue to be amazed at how busy the Asian countries are at separating tourists from their money. Standout observations from Cambodian commerce are
1) Everyone is selling, sadly including children quite a bit here. We have heard about how exploitative this is behind the scenes, so we did not buy from them.
2) There is a common pitch used here that we did not hear anywhere else…
- Where are you from?
- USA… Capitol Washington, D.C. Barack Obama. 315 million people. Buy something?
I suppose they have this type of trivia memorized for each tourist’s country. When you hear it, it’s a bit weird, and random, and flattering, and impressive, all at the same time.
3) They use the US dollar, but there’s a catch. They do not use US coins, and they do not have clearinghouses for changing out old bills. This results in two odd things. First, every bill here is crisp, like new. Don’t try to pass a wrinkled old dollar. They won’t take it. And second, with no US coins, they make small change in Cambodian Riel. For example, let’s say I want something that costs $3.25. I pull out a starched $5 bill, and get $1 and 3000 riel as change.
4) Everything is for sale. We were looking for a keychain and couldn’t quite communicate it right. Eventually a random Cambodian lady understood and pulled hers out (in the form of a little rubber soccer jersey) to show a nearby vendor what we wanted. The vendor said no, they did not have any. Immediately the lady looked at us and said, “Want to buy mine?” Should have. 🙂
Monkeys in the road – Yep. Wild monkeys. On to costs…
The surprisingly touristy town was also surprisingly expensive. We got 3-day passes for Angkor and all of the surrounding temples, which ran us $40 each. The circus (human performers only) was terrific, but a relatively high $18. I think our lodging choice was excellent, as the facilities, owner and staff at Baphuon Villa were great. We also splurged on our guilty pleasure and bought all 10 seasons of Smallville for $19. Visas were $35 each on arrival (not included in the costs). Some of our positive balance was absorbed that we carried over from Vietnam, so we overspent the Cambodia budget, but are still good (barely) overall. -ALaff