Hello again Internets! I know how much all of you want more frequent posts so I’m hoping to post a lot in the next week or two. I just have so much I want to write about and tell you all! At the moment, I have four drafts on the go so I hope I can continue to be this productive to bring you stories from the other side of the globe.
Last week, my travelling bro, K, (who has a great travel blog) and I decided to head to Siem Reap for a couple days since all the other volunteers seemed to be really into it. It ended up being a weekend of yolos, although, surprisingly relaxing ones.
First, I should mention that K is from Vancouver and, in my heart of hearts, I’m pretty West Coast. It’s no surprise that, when I heard about ARTillery, a restaurant in Phnom Penh that uses organic and fair trade ingredients as often as possible with not only vegetarian options (rare in Cambodia) but vegan and raw options, I HAD to tell K. Because she’s awesome, she was just as excited as I was about it and wanted to go as soon as possible.
We decided to pick it up for dinner on the way to catch our bus to Siem Reap since our bus left at 6:30PM. Well, we both got home around 5:15PM and we were told to be at the bus station for 6:00PM at the latest. Since we needed to leave right away, we didn’t bother calling our usual tuk tuk driver and decided to just walk down the street and hail one ourselves (there are always some hanging around our area).
We didn’t know it but we were doomed as soon as we walked down the drive way. We had trouble finding a tuk tuk (trust me, this is a rarity here). The tuk tuk that we managed to get must have been broken because it wouldn’t go any faster than around 15 km/hr. Rush hour was still in full swing so traffic was moving very slowly. (I should note the rush hour in Phnom Penh happens in all directions, not like in Canada when heading downtown is crazy in the morning and heading to the ‘burbs is madness in the evening.) We weren’t entirely sure where the restaurant was. All we knew was that it was somewhere down an alley off of street 240. On of top everything counting against us–time, traffic, tuk tuk malfunctions, lack of direction–we managed to get the one POLITE tuk tuk driver in the city. I kid you not, we had to tell him to cut people off so we would be able to get through intersections.
By some miracle, K saw a small, unassuming sandwich board that had ARTillery written on it from the tuk tuk. We ran down this alley, picked the first things we saw on the menu and asked the very courteous staff to please hurry because we needed to catch a bus. This was at 6:00PM.
Lucky for us, the staff at ARTillery is flipping AWESOME and they prepared our food in record time for a Cambodian restaurant (people are just very relaxed and unconcerned with time here–more on this soon). We ran back to the tuk tuk and told our driver we needed to get to the bus station FAST. I don’t know why we bothered to stress the “fast” part. We crawled all the way there in The Slowest Tuk Tuk in the World.
I really don’t know how it happened. We made our bus. Against many, many odds, we boarded our bus bound for Siem Reap. We ate our delicious dinner and K proceeded to sleep the whole ride (the embodiment of yolo). I couldn’t sleep at all, mainly because the potholes in the road were so bad that it caused the bus to rock so violently that I feared that I would be thrown from my sleeper seat (super yolo).
We arrived around 1:30AM and, amongst the usual crowd of tuk tuk and moto drivers falling over each other to try to convince passengers to hire them, there was one guy who was calm and offered to take us to our hostel. We get settled in as much as we could in our groggy states and slept.
We slept in and eventually made our way to Peace Cafe for lunch, as recommended by some guy at our hostel. Wouldn’t you know it, it turned out to be a West Coast-er’s paradise! A lovely little outdoor cafe with fresh juices, vegetarian food, yoga classes, meditation groups and a fair trade shop were all part of this place. Hello heaven!
As we lounged in our chairs, we planned out our weekend. The major highlights of Siem Reap were going to be the Floating Villages and, obviously, Angkor Wat. Through some investigating, we discovered that the Floating Villages were basically a cash-grab and a scam so we decided to have a relaxing day of wandering the streets and markets. The next day, K planned to be all sadistic and drag me to Angkor Wat at sunrise (“We HAVE to! It’s beautiful! Yolo!”)
Siem Reap has its pros and cons. On the pro side, there is less traffic than Phnom Penh, which makes it les likely that you’ll get clipped by motos whose only concern is getting wherever they were going (not that that has ever happened to me…). There are also more trees and fewer people, at least where we were. As a result, it feels much calmer than Phnom Penh. Another pro is that they give decent spa treatments for rock bottom prices–I got a very nice pedicure for $2 while K got a foot massage and manicure for $6. Siem Reap is also home to Viva, the best Mexican food in Asia! (On a side note, we obviously had to try Cambodian Mexican food. Why not go to a traditional place? Because yolo is the motto!)
On the con side of things, Siem Reap definitely exists for tourists. In the core of the city, where all the shops and things are located, someone tries to sell you something every few steps. This was especially bad in the markets where, literally every few seconds, someone would yell “Hey, laday! You buy something, maybe? I give you special discount!” and start following us, picking up random objects from their stalls to sell to us. I know it’s their livelihood and that’s how they draw a lot of people in but it got tiring. Exhausting, really. At one point, K got so fed up that she started talking back, very sarcastically–“Yeah, yeah. Everyone gives me a special discount!”
Another thing about downtown is that there are a lot of tuk tuk and moto drivers, which is similar to Phnom Penh because they flock to where the tourists are. What is different about these ones is that, when they yell “Tuk tuk!” at you and you try to be polite and say “Oteh, ahw kun” (“No, thank you” in Khmer), they flat out mock you. They repeat whatever you say in a weird voice and laugh about it to their driver buddies.
Fortunately, our day exploring the town wasn’t ruined by these annoyances. We finished the day with dessert at a Khmer restaurant (who knew tapioca balls, coconut milk and lotus seeds could come together to make something so delicious?), listening to a DREADFUL cover band playing at a nearby roof-top bar. It was especially hilarious because the singer had clearly memorized the lyrics to popular American songs but didn’t actually know what they meant, which resulted in “A little bit of this, a little bit of that” being sung as “A little bit of this, a little bit of tat”. And, yes, she was a terrible singer.
The next day, K, ever the sadist, made me wake up at 4:15AM to catch our tuk tuk to the Angkor Archaeological Park to see Angkor Wat at sunrise. I didn’t really think it would be worth it but I couldn’t argue with her logic–yolo.
We paid for our park passes along with about 50 other people who were already in line. Our tuk tuk took us to a particular check point and we tried to navigate the uneven paths that led to the temples in the dark.
While we were walking, we noticed that there were all these people wearing running gear and then we saw the signs that there was a half-marathon, 10k and 5k races going on in the park that day. Words cannot describe how jealous I was! I’ve been wanting to run so badly but Phnom Penh is not by ANY means a pedestrian friendly city; either the streets are filled with vehicles of various types or it’s dark. On top of missing running dearly, I set a goal for myself that I would run a half marathon (either in an official race or just running by myself) by the end of 2013, which is now looking less than likely.
Anyway, we made it to Angkor Wat and waited a good half hour before the sun decided to show itself. We waited, crouched in front of a crowd four people deep, too afraid to stand up and stretch our legs since people were very antsy about getting their bloody pictures. Gaga knows they might miss it if two girls, both under 5′ 5″, stand up for five seconds.
Despite cranky tourists, burning knees and children trying to sell us coffee and breakfast (which was a little spooky because it was dark and they were short so they were like little, but hospitable, ghosts), we got our pictures.
Honestly, I didn’t see what all the hype about Angkor Wat was about, especially since we couldn’t even see the inside! What I ended up liking most about it was the hilarious sights that weren’t part of the temple. For instance, there were these little make-shift dwelling areas where people were transporting things that looked like car batteries. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures because I didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures of them since people were occupying them.
Some girl doing her make up. Everyone flouted the dress code (cover your shoulders and your knees) but, being seen at Angkor Wat–an important religious site in the past–without make up, that’s just disrespectful!
On the path to Ta Prohm, we saw a bunch of these tiny frogs. It looks like a regular frog but they’re about the size of my thumbnail.
I hope you see why I loved Ta Prohm so much! I loved that we were able to explore inside, unlike at Angkor Wat, and the massive trees that grew over, under and through the ruins. Badass!
On a kind of unrelated note, I love how ridiculous some tourists are. These people were slightly ahead of us at Ta Prohm and were constantly holding their iPads in the air to take pictures. I mean, come on. If you can afford an iPad and have room in your luggage for one, you have the money and the luggage space to get a camera.
Eventually, we moved onwards and upwards (literally) to other temples. I have no idea what this next one is called and I don’t really care enough to look it up but it was also really interesting. They had installed steps so people could climb to the top, which had a great view.
After this, we headed back to our tuk tuk and went back to our hostel. On the way, we saw this:
We had enough time to pack up our stuff and head down to Peace Cafe for a relaxed lunch before we had to get picked up to catch our bus back to Phnom Penh. However, we were talking and we decided to fit in one last yolo: we walked to the middle of downtown to find a tiny store down a little alley that sold really cute scarves (this is ME we’re talking about here!). We managed to make it there and back in 20 minutes, llama scarf in hand.