First impressions of Cambodia

Trip Start Nov 06, 2009
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Trip End May 28, 2011


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Where I stayed
# 10 Guesthouse

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Monday, March 29, 2010

First impressions of Cambodia: very positive. The pace seems to be slightly faster than in Laos, and it's a lot more developed than we imagined it would be. Every 5 minutes tuc tuc and moto drivers call out 'Sir, can I take you somewhere?'. Or the street vendors yell 'Lady, lady you want something to eat? cold drink? cold beer? cold pineapple?'. And the massage parlours (of which every other shop seems to be) 'Sir, sir, lady, lady, reflexology foot rub?'. But not pushily, and always with a smile. 

It feels a bit odd paying for stuff in dollars, which are more widely used here than the country's actual currency, the riel. Although as they only use notes and no coins of either currency, if something is 50 cents and you pay with a dollar and get the change back in riel. All a bit confusing but slowly getting the hang of it.

There's also a lot of obvious NGO-activity going on, and loads of socially responsible/fair trade enterprises all over the place.

Of course, these impressions are all so far only based on Siem Reap, so watch this space.

As for Siem Reap itself, the only real (but massively significant) reason for visiting the city is because it's the gateway to Angkor Wat. Before visiting the ancient city of Angkor, however, we had a day spare to check out the slightly more modern Siem Reap city, and found to be surprisingly charming.

Siem Reap means 'Siamese defeated' - the name the Khmers gave it when they whooped the Siamese in the 16th century. The city was originally a cluster of little villages which developed around individual pagodas, until the French arrived and established a colonial centre. We strolled along the banks of the Stung Siem Reap river which runs through the middle of the city, through the impeccably manicured Royal Independence Gardens, past the Royal Residence and down to the Old French Quarter and Psar Chaa, the Old Market area.

Psar Chaa is where all the action is - the market is buzzing and tthe streets lined with pretty bars and cafes. We splashed out on a nice dinner (sampled the very tasty national speciality, 'Amok' - fish grilled in banana leaves with lemongrass and coconut) and a few drinks in a couple of the kerbside bars. We were about to call it a night and head back to the guesthouse when we heard people calling our names from across the street.

We joined Laura and Joe (who we'd met in Don Det) who were with their friends Ben and Ruth - who happen to live in Brighton and are very lovely too. So a couple of drinks turned into a couple more and a slightly sore head in the morning, doh!
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