Slightly Lost Geek – Siem Riep Cambodia
In this new series of strange ranty type things, a Slightly Lost Geek (read as me) wanders various places on the planet with somewhat limited resources. The SLG will then tell everyone what the SLG notices about the topic location. Take note that the SLG is from a “reasonably developed” third world country known to many as Malaysia, or home of the corrupt… and all thoughts and opinions are of the SLG alone. In this episode, SLG explores Siem Riep, Cambodia. Better known as the home of Angkor Wat… or one of the wonders of the world… or an old pile of rocks.
So, upon landing… you basically see a few upgraded huts that serves as the Siem Riep International Airport. I kid… The Siem Riep International Airport actually gives off a strangely similar vibe to that of the old Subang Airport Terminal 1 (now known as Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah airport)… except smaller. The experience and what you see are very much different on the way out though, but more on that later. Transport from the airport to (almost) anywhere is relatively cheap even coming from a third world country with a currency that is currently (as of early 2017) shitting itself. Most things can be paid for in US$ (the local currency tends to be used as an equivalent to cents for foreigners), and based on the price of transportation from the airport, most people would likely be best suited taking a car from the airport to whichever hotel or cardboard box they choose to stay at. I honestly have no idea what a “REMORK” is, but a “MOTOR” costs US$6, and a car costs US$7, while a minivan costs US$10 (but may work out cheaper for you if you’re travelling with all 6 of your children). We paid for a car, and ended up with a nice (first generation) Toyota Harrier which comfortably fit the SLG and a companion… and the baggage. If you’re not willing to pay the extra US$1 for a car and choose a “MOTOR” or “REMORK”, well, be prepared to spend a lot more than US$1 on your lung cancer treatment – more on this later.
The most common mode of transport for a foreigner will most likely be the friendly neighbourhood tuktuk. Typically, within the city limits, drivers will quote (at least in our experience) US$1 per person per trip. While this doesn’t seem like much (mainly because the number 1 is attached to it), it quickly adds up because of the number of people you are travelling with (2 in my case), and the fact that you also need a return journey in most cases. Going out for 2 meals per day and nothing else works out to US$8 per day… and you’ll most likely be making more trips than just that if you’re going to be seeing anything at all in Siem Riep. If you want to save money, either plan ahead to walk where possible, or consider hiring the driver for the entire day which “might” work out cheaper if you are planning multiple stops. This of course is dependent on your ability to negotiate and how desperate the driver is feeling on that day. Worthy of note is that you should probably bring along a filter mask of some sort – Siem Riep in general is incredibly dusty and your lungs will thank you profusely if you have some sort of filtration prepared. During the wet season, I imagine things would be slightly better, but you’d still be better off wearing a mask anytime you are near a road with heavy traffic whether you’re walking or sitting in the back of a suicide cart. The pictured masks are what I would wear at a minimum if I ever made my way back to Siem Riep again, but if you want to go a little more hardcore, knock yourself out. The dust/sand gets EVERYWHERE… this includes into your shoes if you have even remotely breathable shoes (think Nike flyknits). Be warned!
The vast majority of “life” outside of the obvious Angkor Wat (and surrounding areas) lies in the Old Market area (this includes Pub Street)… well, at least most of the things that I saw and did anyway. Whether it’s in the daytime or at night, you’ll probably end up in the area. There’s food, drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), massage, and all other sorts of things to see/buy in the market which is more lively at night than in the day. There’s slightly less to see in the daytime, but it’s still worth a walkabout.
Most foreigner facing businesses will speak English, and from what I saw, most people who do speak English will speak it fairly well. French is also quite common here, but of course I can’t judge fluency since I don’t speak at all… but it sounds like at the very least conversational. Beer is incredibly cheap (US$0.50 to US$1 depending), and food is reasonably priced even in tourist areas. A good dinner in a fairly swanky restaurant (that had good reviews on Foursquare) only cost around US$30 for 2 people who ate like pigs and had dessert… one of said people had just run 128km over 30 hours not long before. For those who aren’t into the alcohol fueled lifestyle however, you may have slim pickings when it comes to after dinner coffees besides wherever you had your dinner. There was a lot of walking around looking for coffee, but it ended up with nothing… that said, it was around 11PM at night. Daytime coffee may be marginally easier to find, but you’ll most likely end up at a Costa Coffee (no, it’s not great, but it’ll do) for convenience.
On to Angkor Wat, which is obviously something you shouldn’t skip if you’re in Siem Riep… Visiting is going to set you back a minimum of US$20 (for a 1 day ticket, or US$50 for a 3 day ticket I think). Unfortunately, due to time limitations, we could only go for the 1 day ticket… and I can safely say that 1 day is not enough to enjoy the whole Angkor Wat experience. At the very best, you’ll be able to do Angkor Wat and another 1 or 2 locations in the area. The only way you “might” be able to do everything in one day is to start at the crack of dawn (I believe it’s 6AM) and keep going until closing time (which is around 5:30PM). Transportation is most likely needed, and we grabbed a tuktuk for the Angkor Wat experience which cost us a total of US$15 (for both of us). The driver took us to locations, and waited for us while we walked around, met us at the exit and then took us to the next location. 1 day or 3 day is your choice in the end, but I prefer to do things slowly, so I personally would go for a 3 day pass if I ever head over to Angkor Wat again.
When I said that the Siem Riep International Airport looked very different on the way out, here it is. What looked like an airport from the 80s or 90s on the way in, looked very modern and tasteful on the way out. Would I be back? Sure… one day… prepared with filter masks.