I landed in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, a little over an hour after leaving Bangkok. The airport is a fraction of the size of BKK, but the chaos was the same. First I waited in a line to get my passport stamped and then in another to get through customs. After that it’s the gauntlet: a sea of motorbike, tuk-tuk, and taxi drivers waiting for you like hungry zombies on the other side of the door.
|Leaving the airport in a tuk-tuk. Ricky Bobby!|
“Mista’, Mista’, taxi? Only $9!”
“OK, OK. $8! Special price for you!”
“$7! Happy Hour price!”
They’ll play this game all day. I fought my way through the zombies, only getting bit once, until I found a cheap tuk-tuk (*Webster’s defines tuk-tuk as: 3-wheeled-motorcycle-rickshaw-deathcab, usually driven by an inebriated man with 4 teeth and a hidden agenda) to take me to The Mad Monkey, my hostel ($5/night and great).
I got my free beer with check-in, met some cool people, and debauchery ensued. The next morning I woke up with a slight headache, ate some breakfast, and waited for the bus to Siem Reap.
Around 11 am, I hopped on the bus with “V.I.P.” written in duct tape on the windshield. I wasn’t surprised to find that it was crowded with both people and bugs and that the air-conditioning barely worked. V.I.P. busses are supposed to have A/C and be more comfortable than the standard busses. However, after traveling all over SE Asia on them, I’ve learned that (1) I am not a Very Important Person; (2) they’re almost always lacking. It’s something you get used to.
What was supposed a to be five-hour bus ride was closer to seven. Cambodia had been hit hard by flooding and at times it felt more like I was riding in a boat than a bus. When I was eventually dropped off in Siem Reap, I took a tuk-tuk for 75 cents into town and found a place to stay (Smiley's Guesthouse… again $5/night and shockingly nice). I bought a Cambodian SIM card for my phone and met up with one of my roommates, Ryan, who had also just arrived there.
Let me school you with some knowledge right quick…
Siem Reap is a small, old town in northwestern Cambodia. It’s name means the “Flat defeat of Siam”, referring to a victorious battle the native Khmer people had over the Siamese (of course, Siam is now Thailand). It’s a quiet town during the day, but starting around 6 pm, there’s a large night market where you can buy anything from a traditional Cambodian scarf to a knock-off Rolex (I bought a fresh Breitling and some Ray-Bans for next to nothing). Around 9 pm Pub Street comes to life. This is where the tourists convene and where you’ll find restaurants and bars booming until the early morning hours.
Siem Reap is a popular tourist destination primarily because it’s “the gateway” to the Angkor region (where Angkor Wat is located). Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th centuries. The ruins are still there and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, drawing in thousands of visitors each year.
|The entrance to Angkor Wat. Inside... The Temple of Doom.|
I ended up spending about a week in Siem Reap and I loved it. Of course, there’s the usual bombardment of hustlers and beggars and you have to keep your eyes open just like when traveling anywhere else. But, for the most part, the people are incredibly nice, the food is good, and everything is cheap.
|Oz the Aussie at Angkor What? Bar.|
Ryan and I had more than one crazy night out at the bars on Pub Street, which are full of fun and interesting people from all over the place. Because of the flooding, all of Pub Street was underwater. Amazingly, however, everything was still open. On a normal night there’s tons of people coming and going, drinking and dancing. Even with the flooding, this was still going on, just in knee-deep water, which made for a pretty crazy time… probably best left unmentioned.
It was fun… meeting new people, raging all night, coming out of the bar at 3 am, Michael Jackson blaring in the street from an unknown source, a 9 year-old little Cambodian girl dancing in the knee-deep water (waist-deep for her) and singing along, “Billy Jean is not my lover” followed by, “come on man, give me one dollar” (holding up a basket of bracelets), while I look over and Ryan (a 6’2’’ Ginger) is street-fighting her 7 year-old little brother. Who punches a 7 year old? Kidding. Good times.
|She was a lot happier when MJ was blaring.|
|"Finish Him! ... Fatality."|
But good times can be had at any time, at any bar, anywhere in the world. The best part of Siem Reap was by far being able to see the 1000-year-old ruins and temples of Angkor. I have to say that it’s probably one of the coolest thing that I have ever seen in my life. It’s like the Grand Canyon, words can’t describe it and pictures just don’t do it justice.
|"Tomb Raider temple"|
We rented bikes for a buck and paid $40 for a 3-day pass and saw just about everything that there is to see. If Indian Jones and Lara Croft had an extraordinarily good-looking love child, it would be me (*Speaking of Tomb Raider, they filmed it in Angkor). Some of the temples, buildings, and walkways have been restored but most of it has been left basically untouched for the best part of a thousand years. It was like being inside of Mortal Kombat. I was half-expecting Scorpion to run around the corner looking for Sub-zero, “Hey man. You seen a ninja ‘round here… wears a blue mask… likes to freeze shit?”
|... more really, really, really, really old stuff.|
|This monkey attacked me about 10 minutes later. True story.|