When I told my boss I am going to Siem Reap for 5 days and 4 nights, he just smiled and was puzzled what I am going to do there for such freaking long time? The place is so dusty – all they have there are merely temples and some ruins. He could never understand why people would find ancient buildings at the verge of dilapidation are worth anyone’s time. He gave an example of a place in Istanbul where he visited – “There are some rubbles and ruins, and some pillars still standing. The tourists went “Wah….” and took turns to take pictures. I don’t understand what is so interesting! It is just some collapsed structure.”
Well, I made a mental note of what my boss had said, he is a well traveled man to begin with, so I guess everyone is entitled to their own sets of opinions. I told him I am going there to take some pictures. He encouraged me to travel to Nepal or India, as these places are still developing, and there would be a nice photography subject. As for Europe, the places are already well developed and the buildings will still be the same in a number of years to come. I thanked him for his suggestions. I had wanted to visit India very much. I guess India would be the next targeted destination.
To sum up Siem Reap – it is freaking hot and the three of us (WY, Viv and myself) almost wilted under the sun. Most of my friends advised that it is not a good idea to go to Siem Reap in July as it is the rainy season. We were lucky that throughout our 5 days stay, it didn’t rain much, apart from sudden drizzles and the rain went off as soon as it came.
Traveling to Siem Reap is relatively easy. You don’t really need much guidance as there is abundance of travel guides and maps for tourists made available for free at all guest houses and hotels as soon as you arrived there. The locals speak fairly good English, and getting around Siem Reap is also easy – like Phnom Penh, there are plenty of tuk tuks around for you to make a choice.
Friday, 14 July 2006
It was slightly cloudy the moment we reached Siem Reap. The taxi driver who picked us up said, today is a good day to go to the floating village, as it might be raining in the afternoons tomorrow or the day after.
We had drawn up an itinerary to follow, but we guessed it would be better to follow advice and change our itinerary accordingly to the weather.
As soon as we settled down at Red Piano, our designated tuk tuk driver, Chan Boramey, was already waiting outside for us. I got the tuk tuk driver’s reference from a fellow colleague. Chan is a skinny fella with very thick eye brows. He speaks very limited English, but he is quite an honest fella.
However, I couldn’t stop myself from comparing Wan Nak; the tuk tuk driver that I had in Phnom Penh with Chan. Wan Nak by far is a better tuk tuk driver as he is able to advise you on the routes to take, familiar with the closing times of markets and places to visit, and best times to visit the places of interests. Chan is more like a yes-man, you asked him anything – he would leave everything to you. I guess it is good for someone who planned his/her trip well. He, nevertheless, is quite an entertaining fella.
First stop, we had to ease our hunger pangs first by going to this Khmer Kitchen situated at Pub Street. The dumplings and spring rolls are great. The Amok Fish is a bit too watery for my liking. I like the fried pumpkin though. The Khmers tend to like pumpkin very much.
If you must visit the Tonle Sap, the biggest lake in South East Asia, then it is advisable for you to make a trip to the Floating Village. We had to pay USD10 at the entrance to the floating village as the money would be given to the boatman for transporting us for an hour cruise along the river towards Tonle Sap. It is not particularly a pretty river. It was more like the biggest teh tarik lake in the world.
I asked the boatman, why the water is so yellowish and murky. It was the monsoon season, he said. If we come during non-monsoon season, that is from November to February, the river would be clear that you could see fishes swimming inside.
I looked at both left and right of the river towards the Great Lake – there were people spilling motor oils in the water, people washing their plates, people used the water to cook, children taking a dip to cool off the afternoon heat, they even have a pig sty floating on the river, schools, basketball court, hospital, church, shops etc. Well, I don’t think we can see fishes swimming inside the lake with all the daily activities of the inhabitants of the floating village. It was quite an interesting journey. Viv and WY however, looked rather sleepy and bored. Probably effect from the very hot sun.
It was a mixture of emotions of amusement and sadness to see children floating themselves on the river using the wash basin and pails; totally ignorant of danger and tried to get some money from tourists traveling on the boat. Instead of giving them money, we gave them some biscuits we bought from home.
After the long boat ride, we tipped the boatman USD5 after he told us of some sad stories of his family, etc. I guess, this is the way how people do things here – they always try to get money out of sympathy. It was indeed quite a sad place. The road towards the floating market is littered with small little huts made of leaves and bamboo; acting as homes and shelters for Cambodian countryside families. We were amazed to spot little black and white tvs in almost every home that we passed by.
After the long journey, we asked Chan to stop us at the Old Market to do some shopping. We didn’t buy much apart from lurking every corner to check out some of the goods. We ended up buying our dinner at this baguette stall at Riel 3,000 each. Being tourists, we were conned. The locals bought theirs at only Riel 1,000 but of smaller portion. (Check out their portable toaster!!).We bought some other stuffs to eat as well, a pao and some Khmer dumplings and made ourselves comfortable at the nearest coffee shop we can find to get our caffeine fix.
We went back to the guest house and get ready for the night out. Pub Street, just a few minutes walk away from Red Piano is quite a happening place. Beer comes as cheap as 20 cents at Temple Club. To secure the foreigners, both entrance and exit of the road were sealed off from vehicles – it is sure difficult to cross the road with the tuk tuks zig zag in between when you are sober. What more, when you are pissed drunk.
We settled early for the night as we would be having a long, long day tomorrow. What a long, long day indeed.