20 March 2012

Siem Reap - Gateway to Angkor

Hotel City Angkor
The trip from the airport to town was longer than I remembered. Partly because of the immense traffic. Imagine that: traffic jam in Siem Reap!!! 12 years ago you might have passed a bicycle or an ox cart but now there were buses, cars, motorcycles and a lot of tuk-tuks. An a lot of tourists. There were more western people to see on the streets than Cambodians!

Angkor Star Hotel
The other big change is Hotels. Hotels everywhere. Huge Hotels. I had a deja-vu moment, thinking I just entered Las Vegas. That was unexpected and in that moment I was happy to know that my hotel was located outside of the town's center. Closer to the local monasteries and to the entrance of Angkor Wat, which after all was my main reason to re-visit this place.

I briefly met with my reserved tour guide(s) to go over the plan for the next 2 weeks. They were waiting for me in the lobby already. When finished I checked into my suite and had the second "wow" effect of the day. I had never expected such modern rooms with flat screen TVs, free WiFi, fitness center and all. Last time we stayed at a wooden hut, designed in the way the monks quarters in a temple are designed. Nice, but dark, full of mosquitoes. Beautiful yet unpractical with no space to store your belongings. This was much better now and surprisingly cheaper than 12 years ago.

The town was next. A tuk-tuk costs 2$ everywhere, though they will ask for more. 5$, 10$ anything is fine but locals pay 2$ so that is all i handed the driver and got no complaints. That is a trip inside the town! Visiting the monuments or going outside will cost more and is subject to good negotiation skills, where I excel!

Relaxing at Blue Pumpkin
Siem Reap now has a pub street!!!! Restaurants, Bars, Dance clubs, fancy Internet cafes, travel offices and lots of tourist shops. It was an immediate turn-off for me. I was looking forward to the quiet and traditional village/town that I had experienced before. All gone now! And tourists, mostly Russians. Everywhere! It felt a bit like Phuket or Pattaya in Thailand, Seminyak in Bali or any other place where many western tourists go to.

Close to Old Market
Fancy restaurants with "please wait to be seated" signs with a multitude of long drinks and designer food. Internet cafes with a lounge style, where you half sit and half lay on your couch. Some good, some bad. I did enjoy relaxing at the Blue Pumpkin though the Internet connection sucked! And I did enjoy the food and atmosphere at the Sugar Palm Restaurant, but the latter one especially because I knew the Manager there.

Children's Hospital
A bit of a shock was also to drive by several of the most expensive Hotels, Le Méridien, Sofitel Royal Angkor and other places tucked away behind high whitewashed walls and see the huge lines of Cambodian families sitting on the floor outside the Children's Hospital waiting for a doctor's appointment for up to 5 days. That is 5 days on the street, waiting in line, sleeping on the street on mats!

An interesting experience to re-visit Siem Reap, but I was more looking forward to re-visit the temples and the surrounding land, villages and people. Kampong Pluk trip was scheduled for the next morning!

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