Slow boat from Battambang to Siem Reap
Our 9 hour river boat journey from Battambang to Siem Reap began at 6am. A bus would have taken 3 1/2 hours and cost 1/3 the price, but hey….. we have to see the floating village people, right? The boat was a mix of western tourists and locals transporting rice and other vegetables and goods. Travel time was split between local pit stops to drop off cargo, villager photo shoot opportunities, and smooth cruisin’ down the Tonle Sap River. One highlight was sitting on the top deck inhaling the full riverside experience as children screamed, “hello, hello” waving and wondering why these crazy white tourists were snapping pictures. During stops, villagers would pull up on a small canoe and pick up locals from our boat. We managed to grab a quick bite to eat about halfway through…. where Christie discovered the toilet was a cut-out hole in the floor leading straight down into the river. This was especially odd considering the amount of bathing that takes place nearby.
The Park Lane Hotel arranged for a pickup at the Siem Reap pier. Brett had booked the room under “Mr. Tom” for simplicity sake. So, you can imagine the smiles on our faces upon seeing the tuk-tuk driver holding the “Mr. Tom” sign!
The city of Siem Reap
Siem Reap was the first town with traffic lights since Bangkok. It is such a confusing place to describe. On one hand, you have these amazing historical achievements in architecture. Then, an entire town built to cater to tourists ranging from college kids to entire families to seniors. We wondered where traditional Khmer culture fit into this diverse picture…… Tons of well presented hotels, restaurants, spas, tour companies, and night markets. There is a nice downtown restaurant scene called Pub & Alley Street with every type of International cuisine. The problem is that most menus are more or less the same and you feel like you are vacationing in Cancun or Cabo, definitely not the real Cambodia.
Dining in Siem Reap
That said, we did find a few great restaurants a bit pricier than our typical $6-10 meal. Chamkar vegetarian was our favorite dining experience and well worth the extra Riel. Their food selection was great considering how badly we were craving something new besides rice/veggies or noodles/veggies. Khmer Amok curry was our favorite. It is usually made with fish, but Chamkar’s vegetarian version is made with a paste of nuts and jackfruit, wrapped in Amok leaves and served in a lightly spiced curry. After dinner, we tried to enjoy some nightlife making stops at Angkor What?, Laundry and Hookah Bar. Laundry delivered a very talented French DJ (mikus) spinning “Nu Disco“.
As a “tourist”, you expect the overly helpful accommodators. What you hope for is a nice experience where the hosts truly care about your long-term business. In Siem Reap, every second you are asked if you need a “tuk-tuk”, tour guide or fish foot massage. You quickly realize they are in it for the quick buck and have to adjust accordingly. The night market had a hilarious t-shirt that read, “No tuk-tuk, not today, not tomorrow”. There is a much larger discussion to be had around the Cambodian government’s interest in eliminating the Khmer culture during and after the Khmer Rouge era. We had such amazing experiences touring the Angkor temples, but left yearning for some interaction with the local people and their customs. The Khmer people around Siem Reap are harmlessly cold and taught to earn money at the cost of poor human interactions. The government has done well in promoting the Angkor temples and Siem Reap tourism. It’s good for the Khmer people to have a vibrant tourist economy, but this has led to greed and fierce competition for non-value added services. You leave having a once in a lifetime experience….. wondering, “who are the modern Khmer people?”.