Siem Reap: The Great Gate to Angkor

Due to a quickly approaching half marathon and the remnants of “Delhi Belly” Erik and I decided to take it easy our first few days in Siem Reap. As mentioned, we had an incredible deal at a hotel where we thoroughly enjoyed a lazy included breakfast on the breezy terrace each morning.

Although it was a healthy walk into the main part of town, we were in a very quiet area and much closer to the temples than other hotels. You can even see one from the terrace on the top of our building!

The owners of our hostel had commented, “We love it when people come from India, then they don’t complain”. Where we found India colorful, interesting and exciting, Siem Reap was relaxing, small and oh yea, really, really hot. I think some of our sluggishness the first days was just a result of adjusting to a normal high of 95 F!

We spent the first days strolling through our self-made walking tours which took us through large garden areas, temples and on a very nice walk along the river that runs through the city.

We also made sure to lose ourselves in the labyrinth of the busy main market, which sold everything from sandals and women’s bags to fruit and lots of skinned meat of who-knows-whats.

The city is ruled by bicycles, mopeds and Lexus SUVs and in comparison to other cities in India and Nepal it seems to be doing quite well for itself. The main source of income of course is the tourism generated by the temples but the city has taken quite well to its fate. Although much of the downtown is overrun with massive, cheesy hotels adorned in faux-temples, lanterns and waterfalls, locals work alongside them cheerily whether they are in the tourism business or servicing the local needs.

And although the downtown in centered around a strip called Pub Street and lined with never ending restaurants and bars serving western and local cuisine, the local center market buzzes right next door.

If anything there is an overabundance of services available to tourists. You only need to walk down the street to be asked a hundred times by each tuk-tuk driver if you need a ride today, or a tour of the temples tomorrow. Unlike the aggressive drivers in India, they only ask once, it’s with a smile, and a shake of the head will suffice to have them move on. Our tuk-tuk driver mentioned that he only finds work about six days each month, but even with this small amount of driving people around town and giving tours of the temples he can make more than many Cambodians make in a month.

When not visiting the temples of Angkor we also visited the Vegas-like night market to browse the clothing stalls and stare at the people getting foot massages from people or small fish with fruity drinks in their hands. We decided to opt out of the many massage opportunities, mostly due to the heat and the promise of Thai massages in the months to come.

We also made sure to sample as much of the local Khmer cuisine as our stomachs allowed. The main local dish, Amok, consists of a pile of normal or coconut rice accompanied by a bowl of mild meat curry and what we think is a stringy, spinach thing.

We also had a lot of fried noodles with veggies, and threw in some pizza and Mexican burritos just to balance out our bodies lingering slight aversion to Indian/Asian cuisine.

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