Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Siem Reap on a shoe string

Things to note: Coming to Siem Reap, you basically don’t need an itinerary. The town is small and what you can do here is limited besides visiting the Angkor Archaeological site. Siem Reap is pretty safe overall; even at night. Overall, I managed to complete this 3D2N trip under S$500 including flight and accomodation.

Hello Siem Reap
Arrived in Siem Reap via JetStar around 715am and the weather was unexpectedly cold. Customs take their own sweet time to look through your passport and visitors from countries like Japan are required to apply for entry visas at the airport (US$20). Yes, it’s obviously just to earn a quick buck. 4 stamps are needed on your passport during the immigration process; a date, their logo, their own reference no. etc and all this while when you’re standing there and willing in your head for him to move a bit faster, the customs dude will languidly space out and stare at the people in the queue.

JetStar flight and the 1-storey airport in Siem Reap

Siem Reap is basically tarred roads with alot of sand on it. Some roads are not even proper roads but sand traps. Those who are not accustomed to that much sand flying into your face can seriously contemplate bringing a surgical mask. The B&B is approx 15mins by tuk tuk from the International Airport and if there are rooms available, they will allow for early check-in. From the B&B, it’s a 5min walk to Central Market (tourist trap) where shops open around 10am and sells krama (Cambodian traditional scarf) and other silverware.

Thatched roofs along the way and ladies carrying coconuts

Muesli with yogurt and honey pancakes + thick coffee for breakfast

Coffee - US$1
Pancakes with honey - US$3
Omelette with honey – US$3

Convenience store and the Naga Guesthouse en route to Central Market

Sightseeing in Siem Reap
Entry to the Angkor National Musuem is US$12 and you are not allowed to bring your camera in. Notables about the museum is that it gives a good introduction about Khmer history, has an exclusive gallery of 1000 Budda Images and houses many well preserved sandstone sculptures from the Wats. Total time taken to view the entire museum: 2hrs (all stone sculptures start to look the same after awhile)

Angkor National Museum

Headed to the McDermott gallery next. John D. McDermott must’ve been one of the pioneering caucasians who started taking photos of Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom etc and selling them to other culture vultures. The black and white photos are needless to say very well taken but this being a tourist trap, photo cards are going at US$2 and a pack of 9 postcards cost US$12. Entry to the McDermott gallery is free though but budget travellers can forget about buying anything here besides the postcards. The huge black and white photos are going for at least 3 to 4 digits US$.

Next to the McDermott Gallery is the FCC Angkor (mainly for caucasians to eat and rest) and the Red Gallery which houses local artists’ works.

Sculpture made of AK47s and the FCC Angkor

If there’s only time for 1 activity
1 of the highlights of the day has definitely got to be the Quad Bike Adventure we signed up for. The sunset tour takes you through the paddy fields on these ATVs and you get to enjoy the countryside and sunset. The guide and his lackeys picked us up from the B&B on motorbikes and a quick zip later, you get to the Quad Bike HQ. A short introduction was given on how to maneuver the ATVs and those who have no driving license or experience riding on ATVs are not allowed to ride; else they have to pillion or ride with a staff behind. Shoes are integral as the ride is very sandy and dust is in your face all the time. Sometimes, you can’t really see what is in front of you as the ATV ahead will kick up a huge sandstorm. Don’t even bother wearing sunglasses as you won’t be able to see. Single bike – US$20, double ie. pillion is US$30.

Sunset along the paddy fields and the kids

The route takes you through the villages and fields where these poor (and I mean literally) kids will run out of their homes to wave at you and say hi. Cows and cow dung are all over the place so drive carefully. My most poignant memory of Cambodia has got to be during this Quad bike ride where I thought I’d expertly out-maneuvered this pile of cow dung on the ground, only to miss out on another pile. The right front wheel just spun onto a huge, maybe freshly laid pile of dung and it backspun onto my bike and onto me. HORRORS. >.<~ Needless to say my right leg was a mess and the right side of my bike smelt wonderful. The force of the backspin also threw some dung onto the bike behind me. A thousand apologies to the fellas. ATV-riding is very enjoyable if you can put up with the amount of dust and sand cos you’d only go back with red sand on your face and clothes which you can’t merely shake off.
Damage done to the bike and the evil fiends

Eating cheap
Enough of being a culture vulture, we headed to Hotel de la Paix for drinks. This is a 4-5* hotel diagonally across from the Central Market and has a beautiful courtyard and daybeds for relaxing in.

Angkor Beer 1 pint - US$3
Stella Artois 1 pint - US$3
Chicken Wing with sweet, sour sauce – US$4.50
Fish and Chips – US$5

Food choices in Siem Reap are pretty varied; you’ve got a good choice from Khmer Kitchen to expat restaurants like the Dead Fish Tower and the Blue Pumpkin. Some Khmer food to try include Fish Amok (a MUST try), curry chicken, Khmer style soup and of course, Ang Kor beer. The whole meal sets you back only US$11.50 for 3. I wanted to have a quick walk around the Old Market but alas, the place closes at 5pm so back to the B&B it was.

Fish Amok and the curry chicken; closeup of the fish amok

Food guide (Old market area):
Blue Pumpkin – English style bakery with ice creams and cakes
Dead Fish Tower – live band and English / Khmer food
Red Piano – Khmer food but ang mor joint
Khmer Kitchen – traditional Khmer food

*Good readers, if you see a recurring trend about Angkor Beer, it's only because the beer was so cheap and I had it at practically every occasion possible.

Either walk or take tuk tuk. Agree on the tuk tuk price with the driver first. US$1 will suffice for short distances and US$8 will guarantee your driver for half a day and with 3 stops. Don’t give the driver the money first, only at the end of the trip as you don’t want them to MIA on you. Tuk tuks are everywhere so no worries about finding one, they’d find you. There are NO traffic rules in Siem Reap; you cross when you want to and drive where you want to. Bigger always wins.

Bed and breakfast: The Villa Siem Reap
B&B review: Clean rooms with basic amenities like shower gel and towels. No shampoo/conditioner so you’d need to bring your own. Beds are clean (they sink) and room does not have hairdryer nor hot water facilities for drinking. But what do you expect right? It’s a B&B. In room bottled water at US$1 for 2 and Angkor beer 2 cans at US$1.50.
Weather: 24c in the morning – 36c in the afternoon; dry and dusty
Posted by fongie on 3/18/2009 01:41:00 PM in , , , , , ,