After a fun night out singing Fatoumata Diawara and walking the streets of Saigon, I woke up bright and early so to catch the bus to Siem Reap. At this moment, I felt comfortable with the backpacking lifestyle – waiting, trekking, waiting, eating cheap food, getting lost.
The bus was surprisingly comfortable with reclining seats, an AC, and free bottled water. Wahaaay! Well, until we got to Phnom Penh where we switched buses and things got real. I was in Cambodia. My first Khmer meal was a $1 rice dish; delicious, oily and from a very informal setup. At this point, I was impressed with our bus driver, who managed to drive way over the speed limit and still dodge pond sized potholes. The first site of stilt houses along the road got me really excited because that meant, I was finally in South East Asia. I mean, that’s what I had imagined all along. I had no one to share this excitement with so I buried my head back in the book.
The first thing to note is that tuk-tuks are the way! They are the zippy, breezy taxi you’ve wanted. I arrived in Siem Reap just after 20:00; hot, humid, dark and confusing. The bus stopped at what seemed to be the middle of nowhere and told me that I needed to get off, we were in Siem Reap (apparently this was not the bus’ final destination). I suppose that’s when I realised that I was all on my own. A lone female, surrounded by men trying to get me on their tuk-tuk. I tried very hard to keep a stern but calm facade; however, my thoughts ran wild: no cellphone signal, I didn’t know where I was, it was dark, I didn’t break up my USD into smaller notes. Rookie error! Anyway, I negotiated a price ($10 to my hostel), we agreed and we disappeared into the darkness together.
This is when things got sketchy. Somehow, when you see the impending doom, you start making calculated plans. I remembered that I had downloaded maps.me when I was in Hanoi and downloaded the maps of the different cities I would be going to. At this point, my gut had basically put me in danger mode and the tuk-tuk driver was aggressively demanding $20 or he’d drop me off in the middle of nowhere. With maps.me in full operation showing me that we were not going where we were supposed to go and the driver taking many dark turns, demanding more money. I gave in! I could not risk my life for another $10! I was basically in tears and told him that the money is in my bag so I will give him the money when I see the hostel. When I could see the One Stop Hostel, I got ready to run. I put $10 on the seat then I RAN! In hindsight, this was a stupid move. He could’ve had friends around, or outran me, or waited for me the next day. Needless to say, I did not leave the hostel that evening. My nerves got me; I had planned to go to the night market and Pub Street. Oh well.
After all of the hysterics, I did manage to book an Angkor Wat tour with my hostel. This meant a 04:00am breakfast and tuk-tuk ride. I woke up feeling more optimistic, in a good space. Ben, who shared a tuk-tuk with me became my friend for the day. Everything was smooth sailing. Let me tell you, camera’s don’t produce decent photos when it’s hot, humid, and musty. I was basically breathing in water vapor and my dress was already damp. We wanted to catch the sunrise…but, so did the 300 other tourists.
Standing at the Angkor Wats entrance, I could not believe it! I never thought I would actually be there to experience its majesty! Gratitude! I cannot seem to put the feelings and experience into words except that there was a sense of calmness. Ben agreed. Nothing else mattered anymore, all was alright and I was calm. Be still.
Our tuk-tuk driver was ready and waiting to take us to the next site, the Bayon Wats. The faces. I cannot begin to describe the feeling of being on the back of a tuk-tuk, half of your body sticking out because you are trying to take a video and the cool, morning breeze keeping you dry. It’s happiness! That’s what it is in. You realise that nothing can rain on your parade.
On Sivatha Blvd, there are loads of Cambodian restaurants. We picked one that seemed to have a lunch special – buy a meal and get a free beer! Great deal. The beer was cold, too! I had a delicious amok. I would say, try to eat out with a few people so you can order various dishes to share. That is the best way to eat everything and anything! The night markets are the best to also try various street foods.
To this day, I don’t know whether I had a real Khmer massage or a special Khmer massage if you know what I mean. They asked me if I wanted to add anything special. Anyway, things got weird when my butt was getting oiled. I asked her not to and she looked confused. For $4, you can get a full body massage! What!? Anyway, try the Khmer massage. When in Siem Reap…
My Tips and Tricks:
- Download Maps.me – it might come in handy.
- Try to travel with other people or if you are a solo traveller, try to arrive at daytime.
- The sunrise Angkor Wat tour is 100% worth it and it’ll cost you $35.
- Taking the bus in and out of Cambodia is cheaper than flying.
- Make sure that you have US Dollars…cash. Small notes.
Would I recommend a trip to Cambodia? Yes! Although, I must mention that the amount of child labour and the abject poverty is truly disheartening.
How to Get There: From Saigon, the cheapest option is to take the bus. It is comfortable and hassle-free. The bus costs USD 26.
Where to Stay: I would highly recommend One Stop Hostel. It is basically on the infamous Pub Street. The staff is helpful and they speak English.