Siem Reap: Friendly Locals, Some Snakes, Five Traffic Lights and Dr. Fish

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November 21st 2010
Published: November 30th 2010
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"There’s no rewinding, no replay. The chance you lose today will be gone when it’s gone.
We’ll never be quite as strong nor as young as this again.Make them last, make these moments last right now." That is how the song goes.

And that is our new mantra now. I mean besides "Happy everybody. Happy everytime" --- a line borrowed from our Cambodian tour guide who repeats that line each time with the sincerest smile from the heart.

Getting temple overload in Siem Reap is to be expected. But beyond the temples, the dust, and the lake, one can meet Dr. Fish and discover finds in the old market, central market and night market. Trust me, you get better in the haggling game after your first market.

Some tourists may have problems with touts selling almost everything from souvenir items to hats, books, maps, fans, etc. Those little girls with a singsong voice begging you to buy "3 for 1 dollah...." are simply trying to make a living. They sound sweetly, and they can charm you with their smiles. We never had any problems with them. So with the tuktuk drivers who would offer
Grilled Bananas, anyone?Grilled Bananas, anyone?Grilled Bananas, anyone?

They were skewered, and they were grilled, and they were good. I gave US$1 for this street food and the lady gave me 12 bananas on a stick!
to take you around the temples for a few more "dollah". They try, but they don't push. When we visited the floating village where swampland turns dryland when summer sets in, we met many friendly locals with a keen sense of self-respect. No begging. Yet we saw how dirt poor they were. No trash nor garbage.........yet we wonder how they survive without decent plumbing. These villagers survive on fishing, and some local handicraft which they sell to tourists. Life here is almost normal with pets on floating mini-rafts, without chains. A pity my camera didn't catch one dog jumping from raft to raft in those still waters. Babies sit by the rafts, accustomed to the waters. I couldn't help but think how these little cuties can stay put all afternoon without dropping dead into the warm water.

Speaking of little cuties, we searched for a Catholic Church on the Sunday we were in Siem Reap. It is just a short walk from our Sokha Angkor Hotel. Past the park and a bridge, we found a smallish Catholic Church. No pews, everybody sits on mats. Those who can't sit for long hours can use one of those stack up
$1 Ride On a Tuktuk$1 Ride On a Tuktuk$1 Ride On a Tuktuk

From our hotel, it was easy to hail a tuktuk to bring us to either central market, old market or night market.
plastic chairs during Sunday Mass. Beside us were Sisters of Charity with kids aged 2 to 6. They are orphans - both Cambodians and Vietnamese. One crawled her way into the lap of Elizabeth and chewed (chocolates) the hour away, happily. The Vietnamese boy kept looking back , perhaps hoping to have a bite off the chocolate too. It didn't take very long before he found the courage to crawl towards my friend. On the way back to the hotel, we crossed the same bridge from where we watched a boat race, part of the Water Festival celebration. (Sadly, the Water Festival in Phnom Phen was marked by a stampede which resulted in as many as 330+ casualties)😞😞😞

Breakfast back at the hotel nourished us for the rest of the morning and afternoon. Sokha Angkor Hotel serves a good breakfast buffet and I must say the best bread and pastries! We couldn't have enough of the French Baguette and the marmalades. Choices are so varied that one can go Continental one morning, Vietnamese the next, and Chinese/Thai the morning after. Too bad they do not have the Dragonfruit Shake we have come to love at the Jasmine Restaurant where we had 2 lunches of Khmer cuisine.

Street food? We tried the grilled banana on skewers. Paid a dollar and got 12 bananas! It's good to eat while you are having your Dr. Fish Massage at the corner on way to the Night Market. At US$3 , you get fish feeding on the dry skin on your now calloused feet. What a way to get a pedicure! The US$3 include a bottle of beer or soda which goes well with your grilled bananas. Either that, or you can buy the sticky rice cooked in bamboo with a hint of coconut milk. Yum. Unless your stomach is made of iron, better stick to the grilled banana.

Shopping is an adventure in Siem Reap. From the Old Market to the Central Market to the Night Market, you find the same rows of Dr. Fish Massage, Foot and Body Massage Parlors, silk stalls, local handicraft, painting, toys, souvenir items, and SEMI-PRECIOUS GEMSTONES! I am not a big shopper but I like buying stuff that won't dent my luggage and my pocket. Those semi-precious gems are a steal! I got carried away and bought 8 sets of earrings with
Dr. Fish MassageDr. Fish MassageDr. Fish Massage

From US$3, going down to just a dollar as one gets deeper into the night market.
amethyst, blue sapphire, amber, green peridot, ruby, etc. I would advise the lady travellers to forego the souvenir items and instead buy jewelry at basement prices. Buy only after you have gone around for at least 30 minutes. Trust me, it gets cheaper as you round up the corner. And you also get better in their haggling game. 😊

After a good bath and rest at our hotel, we were ready for a good dinner. We chose this place called French Indochine along Suvatha Road. Don't worry. There are only 5 traffic lights in Siem Reap. One need only remember the Main Road and Suvatha Road , and you're fine. Suvatha is the road leading to the Night Market, by the way. French Indochine, we tried the Cambodian national dish. Fish Amok. It's fresh water fish , presumably fished off Tonle Sap Lake, cooked and simmered in coconut milk. I would still prefer the fish in Tom Yung soup that we tried at Jasmine Restaurant and another restaurant called Sands, but this Fish Amok in French Indochine Bistro has better plating and the place breathes good ambience. It helps that we indulged in some aperitif. Cocktails never fail, right? Drinks go well with those Vietnamese spring rolls. Since we have tried US$8 lunch buffets, the menu in French Indochine Bistro is deemed quite pricey at US$11 to $15 per pax for a set meal. And that excludes the drinks, of course. Oh, well. After all the crawling up and down the temples of Siem Reap (check out my earlier blog:Crawling Up and Down the Temples in Siem Reap ), we deserve this, don't you think? Also, we have grown tired by this time and have no energy left choosing our fish (from the aquarium) and deciding how we want it cooked. My friend Evelyn is in charge of this department and I remember her saying on our first evening out that she would point to a fish in an aquarium one after another and wondered why they seem to have the same name. Until she realized the man from the restaurant was actually checking the fish and citing its price........."one dollah, five dollah, ten dollah, fifteen dollah". 😊

So much about food. Let's get back to how simple life is here in Siem Reap. The friendly locals have all the reasons to smile. The ancient temples are just 5 to 12 kilometers away
Khmer Food?Khmer Food?Khmer Food?

frankly, it tasted either vietnamese or thai to our taste buds. except for the fish amok, which is the Khmer national dish cooked with coconut milk.
from the city center. The semi-precious stones are so dirt cheap you will find it a challenge to waste an entire US$100 in a whole day of shopping. You don't need a map to roam around the city. Just remember those 5 traffic lights and you'd do fine. Food is cheap, so long as you don't go to fancy restaurants. There are many guesthouses around the markets at really good affordable rates. Walking at night is not a problem. I never felt safer in the few roads of Siem Reap, compared to how I felt in many Asian cities. Massage for US$3? Life is good. Let's hope all this tourism hype won't spoil Siem Reap. 😞

Check out my earlier blogs: Crawling Up and Down the Temples in Siem Reap and When Temple Gods Haunt You in Angkor Wat

Additional photos below
Photos: 31, Displayed: 27


Apsara Dance?Apsara Dance?
Apsara Dance?

We had this cultural show while having dinner at Sokha Angkor Hotel. We didn't do it justice as we were too busy eating and chatting with long, lost friends.
Floating VillageFloating Village
Floating Village

Hard to imagine this place as dry land when summer sets in and the waters from Ton Le Sap Lake spills into the Mekong River.
Our Very Competent GuideOur Very Competent Guide
Our Very Competent Guide

Vanaak speaks good English, with a slight Cambodian accent. Oh, ok, not that slight. But he's easy to understand. And he is a very kind, gentle soul. Email him at
I want a bite off that chocolate bar too!I want a bite off that chocolate bar too!
I want a bite off that chocolate bar too!

This Vietnamese orphan kept looking back until he found the courage to crawl towards my friend Elizabeth who was feeding another kid with a chocolate bar.

30th November 2010

here are a couple of pictures from when we were in Siem Reap last year in January in the dry season. it's amazing to look at Google Earth - as you zoom in and out it shows you how far up the water comes towards Siem Reap, hard for us to imagine despite the stilt houses being 15' in the air! thanks for the good memories of Siem Reap and the temples. :)
1st December 2010

fun blog!
funny pictures! Some snakes? lol
9th October 2013
Bye, bye Siem Reap

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