When the throngs of tourists leave Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is about the only place to go. It’s a small town turned bustling city by a steady flow of dollars from eager travelers putting checkmarks on their bucket lists. That influx of cash has made Siem Reap something of a boom town where luxury hotels rise from dusty streets and waves of scooters break around Range Rovers.
For tourists, most activity centers on Pub Street. Located a short walk from the river, Pub Street loosely defines a collection of restaurants and shops that spill into side streets and line pedestrian alleyways. French, Khmer, Vietnamese, Thai, and Indian restaurants compete for diners and proudly display their specials on chalk boards. “Free beer after 3:00.” “Buy one cocktail get one free.” “After they taste our food, they come back.”
I’m not sure that last one was a special, but it might have been. On the roads around Pub Street, tuk-tuk drivers prowl like sharks circling a school of fish. “Helloo sir, you want tuk-tuk. No? Maybe tomorrow? Very good price.” This ritual repeats every few feet, only punctuated by the occasional offers of having tiny fish eat the dead skin off your feet. In case the thought of putting your feet in a fish tank is unappealing, most have “no piranha,” written on the side. How comforting. Continue reading
The Angkor area is crowded. The road in is a little like an L.A. freeway if all the cars were replaced by motorcycles pulling carts and the trucks by aging Korean minibuses pumping out clouds of diesel exhaust. The temple area itself is a lot like Disneyland; overpriced food, lack of shade, a souvenir shop always within sight.
Even the people look the same. A group of retired Japanese or Korean tourists wearing matching hats and khaki vests follow a bouncing flag. An American with his gut spilling over nylon pants, wheezes up a nearly vertical staircase. At Disneyland you can plunge fifty feet into water from Splash Mountain, here you can plunge fifty feet onto sandstone from one of the unguarded ledges. Continue reading
The do-it-yourself, budget minded, live out of a backpack kind travel is sometimes like playing with a yo-yo. When it’s up, you find your self in amazing places, meeting interesting people, and having once in a lifetime experiences. But when that yo-yo drops, things can go from amazing to amazingly difficult quick — and when the place you’ve just left was close to paradise, it can seem like a long way to fall.
Our travels to Cambodia started rocky, literally. When we left Koh Kood the waves were bigger and the boat smaller than when we arrived. Our speedboat battled its way through the rollers for two and a half hours. Two taxis and a bus ride later we reached the city of Chanthaburi, famous for fruit and gems, or so Lonely Planet says.
When we flopped our backpacks down in the River Guesthouse lobby we were dead tired. Desperate to get off the road and failing to learn from our experiences in Trat, we gave one room a quick glance before plopping down $7 to stay the night.
When we walked back to the room, we saw what we were really in for. The pipes in the bathroom were broken and leaked badly. To keep the bathroom from flooding, I had to turn the water on and off at a small valve behind the toilet before we could use it, the sink, or the shower. When the water was on, it carried with it a festering septic smell. Dark mold rotted in the bathroom, eating the ceiling and door. Continue reading