Two Savages in Southeast Asia

Siem Reaping What We Sow

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Another busbound day from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, a burgeoning tourist destination that has served as the gateway to Angkor since conservation efforts and the end of civil war made it again feasible to visit the heartland of the ancient Khmer civilization. The journey is 314km and six hours long – as in Vietnam, road conditions are dodgy and speed limits accordingly kept low – with only the larger centers of Kampong Thom and some midsize villages to punctuate the vast stretches of farmland. Despite rapid modernization in the cities, subsistence (and, increasingly, export) agriculture remains the dominant way of life in many rural areas.

One peculiarity of bus travel to Siem Reap is that many bus lines drop you about 5km out of town, where you’re immediately set upon by gangs of fairly persistent tuk-tuk drivers. We’ve found it’s better to fight your way through the gauntlet, walk a bit away from the bus dropoff, and negotiate elsewhere – once they see you’re willing to walk if need be, the prices you’re quoted become a lot more reasonable! A short distance out of the station, we hail a tuk-tuk for 1 USD that takes us into town. Another word of caution, though: many of the tuk-tuk drivers have arrangements with guesthouses and restaurants in town, and will try their best to drop you off there. If you have a smartphone with GPS, you can effectively head off this attempt with a bit of backseat navigation. If not, well, good luck!

Anyways, these caveats notwithstanding our tuk-tuk driver is congenial enough, and we get into town just as dusk falls. A short walk later, we’re at one of the many mid-range hotels in town, the Boutique Cambo, nestled down an unsealed road less than 1km out of the city center. They offer free tuk-tuk rides into the city, so we hop one for the Night Markets. These are interesting enough, if a bit touristy. Their presence proclaimed in bright tall neon signs across the roadway, the Night Markets host all manner of vendors: clothing, fine fabrics, artisan craft products, and even fish massages. (You dunk your feet in a tank of fish, which I take it are not the viciously biting kind.)

Tomorrow we start our Angkor adventure. True to form, we’re hoping to get in some bicycling around the temples; there’s a loop of roughly 30-40km that looks manageable even in the muggy heat.