I knew from the sky flying in I would love Cambodia. All I could see was green fields and lots of space in between. Getting off the plane was like walking into 1985. No billboards, condos, smog, subway systems or crowded streets. A motorbike with a cart attached to the seat picked us up to take us to the hotel. This type of transportation is called a tuk tuk and is very common all over the city for getting around. It’s looks like a horse and carriage with a motorbike instead of a horse. Riding in the back going about 10 mph, we were being passed by four and sometimes even five people on one motorbike! Full families were riding on one motorbike! Looking around I noticed how peaceful everything seemed to be. Even the cows in the fields were napping and relaxing.
The food is a welcomed wonderful change from Thailand. Cambodian food has French influences in some of the dishes. France was a part of Cambodia until 1950. French restaurants can be found here at affordable prices. A gourmet French dinner here is less than $30.00 (USD) for two. In Las Vegas the same meal would be $200.00 (USD).A popular Cambodian dish is called Fish Amok. It is fish, savory coconut broth and vegetables steamed to a soufflè in a banana leaf. Most places serve this traditional dish. The Sugar Palm Restaurant has this dish down to a science.
I’m a big fan of foie gras but my wallet can’t afford it. In Siem Reap I ate it three nights out of the six. The price was a stunning $14.50 for a piece the size of a small steak at a Olive cuisine de Saison restaurant. It was like my birthday, Christmas and Valentine’s Day all wrapped up in one week. In America this piece would have been over $30.00!
Speaking of money. . . The United States dollar is used all over Cambodia. It’s kind of strange to get US dollars back from the ATM or see the prices in US dollars. I was told that Cambodia didn’t have any kind of currency in the late 1970s when the Communist Khmer Rouge banned money, and blew up the national bank. Then the riel collapsed again in the 1990s. The strange thing is, they won’t accept any torn or ripped American money. Not even a little corner ripped. We’ve had money returned to us because of a small tear. In America I’ve taped dollars back together and spent them just fine. They aren’t having that here.
Tuk tuks are the best way to get around town. You don’t see tourist renting motorbikes nor is it recommended. There are no traffic lights or painted lines dividing the lanes. Everyone is courteous and the traffic flows. It’s a mix of tuk tuks, motorbikes, cars and trucks. I didn’t see any accidents during my stay but I understand why tourist should stay off the motorbikes. There is a system and I can promise that foreigners will get hurt trying to figure it out while driving.
Like all places there are things to look out for. The things here to look out for is children. Due to Cambodia’s history and rapid development, children are facing more risks than ever. They are forced to work on the streets. Begging and sexual abuse are a couple of the high risk and common situations they find themselves in. I’ve seen firsthand children being exploited by their own parents (or relatives) at the temples. They sit along the sidewalks and beg or have the children sell postcards to tourist. I saw a child holding a baby crying while begging. I noticed the child had something small in her hand wrapped in tissue while holding the baby. I’m guessing it was something she was poking the baby with the keep it crying. I also saw a lady sitting on the ground with her own child sitting next to her crying. She didn’t try to comfort him or hold him, she just sat there and let him cry. Even though it’s heartbreaking to watch, I felt disgusted by this. The hotel provided a little pamphlet in our room on what to look out for and who to call.
Dogs are another problem area here. Dog meat is big business in Cambodia. I haven’t come across anywhere that sells dog meat but it is available. Due to tourist wanting to try dog meat, this looks like it’s going to be an ongoing problem for the dogs here. Dogs roam the streets and aren’t owned by anyone per se but do stick around as a guard dog to some. Most of the dogs I observed are very thin. Walking a pet dog on a leash is considered strange here. I’ve tried to approach a couple of dogs and they wouldn’t come to me. This was also the case in Indonesia. In both Indonesia and Cambodia humans have been very harmful and cruel to dogs. It’s no wonder they aren’t very trusting to people.
We stayed at the Rambutan Resort, this is part of the Golden Banana Resort. The resort is a small boutique hotel off the main drag of town. The property is built around a saltwater pool with villa type rooms. This is a gay friendly resort with a lot of style. Many of the employees are young, twenty something, good looking Cambodian men with five star training. They were very easy on the eyes . A free foot massage was one of the perks for checking in. The Red Lantern restaurant is highly rated here. Being a guest here meant getting a free breakfast there every morning. French press coffee and a whole menu of choices were so nice to see first thing in the morning. Great music played on the property throughout the day.
One night while coming back from dinner, I was behind the guy staying in the room across from us. We both were staying on the second level. It was a steep and narrow staircase. It was so obvious he was with an escort. He was showing a very handsome young Cambodian man into his room. This Cambodian guy looked like he stepped right out of a magazine. The guy across from us looked like someone’s over weight grandfather. As I was using my key I heard him say “here we are,” instructing his “friend” to enter the room first. Needless to say, the hotel guest (grandpa) was eating breakfast alone the next morning. This will be the second time during my travels I’ve spied on a man and his male escort. I know this sounds strange but it’s intriguing to me.
The nightlife in Siem Reap comes alive as soon as the sun goes down. Pub Street is the main drag for dinner restaurants, bars, street vendors. Some of the restaurants put the tables out on the sidewalks to give diners full view for people watching. There are huge lit up signs for Pub Street and the Night Market. The night market was the same market I saw in the day minus the lit neon sign. Most of the vendors are all selling the same things. T-shirts, silver, gem stones, silk scarves, jeanie pants, wooden trinkets and souvenirs. I do admit it these trinkets look better at night but the quality isn’t there.
We tried rolled fried ice cream from a street vendor. I’ve never seen anything like this before. The line was long and each order is individually made. It was fun to watch and the ice cream was pretty good. I still don’t understand where the fried part comes in but it was really unique.
We explored Psar Chas, (The Old Market) to see what a Cambodian market was like. As we were walking in we noticed this incredible foul smell. Seeing lots of sausages and dried fish hanging I knew we were getting close.
As we walked in further the smell got worse and worse. Now I’m seeing raw meat and seafood laid out unrefrigerated. But the smell was worse than that. I don’t know what a dead body smells like but this had to be it. It was worse than fish, body odor and sulfur. And it was powerful, meaning I couldn’t get used to it after a few minutes. The strange thing was there were food stalls selling cooked food with tables set up to eat at. People were eating food in this environment. There were also adults sitting on the ground begging for money. We had to be careful not to step or trip on them. We finally couldn’t take it and left without finishing the walk through. We talked about that smell all day and the next day. Three days later we wanted to try it again to see if we could take it just for fun. Low and behold the smell was gone! We walked through, saw the market and left. Smell free. Makes me wonder what exactly that was. I’ll never forget that smell as long as I live.
Siem Reap is a great town. I’m glad we spent 6 nights here. There was always something to do. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this beautiful country. The culture is really laid back and the people are very welcoming to tourist.