Kratie-a dirty, stinky, nasty, LOVEABLE town! …and mixed feelings in Siem Reap

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Asia » Cambodia » North » Siem Reap
March 19th 2011
Published: March 31st 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Kratie (Kra-CHEY) and Siem Reap minus...what's that place, oh yeah, Angkor Wat

We were glad to end Laos on a positive note, and we have to say, our border crossing into Cambodia was our easiest so far. Normally, we don’t like to do ANYTHING through a tour company, but after all the research we did, we found out it was actually the same price and highly recommended (even by sources who don’t like the typical tourist route either). We filled out all of our forms before even getting on the bus and our guide told us he would take care of the rest. As we were writing our info down, everyone looked over as a middle-aged man was yelling at guide about how confusing everything is, how unorganized they are, they don’t give him the information he needs upfront…blah, blah, blah. Of course he had to throw in the fact that, “ I’m a doctor and I know how to run a business. I can speak 6 different languages, so why doesn’t anyone speak good English here? There’s no excuse for this! What kind of business are you running here?” Apparently, he decdecided to not stick with our group and he and his wife went walking up the road a ways where they were told they couldn’t get on one of the buses they were trying to board. For someone who is so SMART and full of KNOWLEDGE, he sure didn’t have much for street smarts. Here’s what we were thinking: if your guide has your passport and your money for your visa along with your paperwork to get stamped out of Laos in his bag, then guess what? YOU STAY WITH THE GUIDE AND THE BAG!! Dumb ass! This guy was seriously so brutal that you could tell 90% of us wanted to grab him by his arms and legs and toss his ass in the Mekong. After the drama, we felt the need to go talk to our guide and try to help him forget about what an asshole that guy was, reassuring him that some people just need something to bitch about when they feel stupid about making a mistake. Of COURSE, it was the guides fault. It couldn’t POSSIBLY have been his mistake. Eventually we boarded the bus, the nicest one we have been on thus far, and made our way across the border, where we didn’t even have to get out of the bus until we got on the Cambodian side where our guide gave us our passports back with Visas taken care of. Really? That’s it? Sweet! Well, there was one moment of panic when a police officer stepped on the bus and pointed what looked like a gun at everyone's read their temperate and make sure they didn't have a fever or H1N1. We both sighed in relief as he handed us a yellow paper saying we PASSED the test 😊 Most of the people on our bus were on their way to Siem Reap, but we wanted to stop in a small town called Kratie first. We had to change buses about half way to Kratie, where we quickly realized that Cambodia would be the dirtiest place we had been to yet. While we were in town waiting for our new bus to leave, Nate went to use the bathroom (if you want to call it that). As he stepped in, he was a bit confused by what he saw. There was no toilet (squatty or western), no bucket or hole in the floor, just a little bit of water in a bowl on the ground. How did you use the bathroom you might ask? You pee on the floor and run some water over it to push it out underneath the wall.
After a little bit of a ride on the bus, we arrived in Kratie. We were expecting it to be a rural little town with little to do, and we weren’t too far off. It was a really dirty town with trash all over the streets everywhere you looked, and we were some of the only white people around. Honestly…we loved it! Was it dirty and stinky? For sure! Would we have eaten 90% of the food there? Nope! The best part for us was the real, true interaction we got with the locals. During the day when we were at a pharmacy, Jessie was having a great time playing with a little boy who we think was the grandson of the owner. He was a little scared at first, but within about 2 minutes of seeing himself on her camera, she was like his new toy on Christmas morning and he couldn’t get enough! Too bad one of the other kids didn’t feel the same way. One of the local men walked up with his kids, and she was being friendly to a little boy again (as always). How did HE react? You could see him quickly trying to determine if she was a real person or a scary monster with blonde hair and blue eyes, obviously very different from anyone else he sees. Unlike the other boy, he started to scream and cry pretty quick and tried to hide behind his dad’s leg to keep her away. The dad was laughing and trying to show him it was ok by taking her hand and putting it on his arm, but it was like he was putting the kid’s arm on a hot stove or something. The screams just got louder! Good job J! Haha! It was also amazing how curious people were. One night, we ate at a little stall to grab some street food after being called in by a really sweet local woman (the kind we just couldn’t say no to). Quickly after we sat down, there was an older couple who sat next to us, staring at us curiously (mostly because of Jessie’s bright blue eyes). The lady who was cooking for us spoke surprisingly good English, and was translating some questions from the other couple. The first question they asked was if we were married. Since it’s hard to explain living together and not being married in other parts of the world, we just said yes. Then, they wanted to know how weddings work in the US, what kind of food we ate at home, how long we were in Cambodia, and many more. Our favorite though, was “How many kids to people usually have in America?” Jessie: “ I would say about 2 or 3 usually. How many kids do Cambodians typically have?” Other couple: “As many as we make.” We all busted out laughing together immediately! That’s a pretty good, honest answer right there. You can actually tell just by looking around how true it was. It seems as though EVERY woman has a baby on her hip. The only part of the dinner we didn’t like that night, was the part where the electricity went out and a big ass rat decided to run over our feet as we were eating. We’d really rather NOT have any of THOSE guests eating with us. The nice lady cooking our meal told us it was a meow but we were damn sure it was no cat running over both of our feet! We are learning an important lesson in SE Asia, whenever you get the chance to put your feet up off the floor it’s probably a good idea. Because we were having such a good time chatting with everyone, Nate went up to our room to grab the ipod quick so we could show them pictures of our families. Jessie also has a picture of some Siamese kittens with big blue eyes on there, and it seemed as though our chef was in LOVE! She didn’t know the word for cat, but said “Me like meows with blue eyes. Can you send me picture?” It was really cute. We also learned that many Cambodians believe it is good luck to have westerners at their wedding because they think we represent wealth. We were walking on the street one day when we started to pass an area where people were getting set up for a wedding the next day. One of the men came up to us smiling and touching our arms and shoulders, saying something we obviously didn’t understand. There was a young boy who was grinning, knowing we couldn’t understand a WORD he was saying, and he told us it was good luck for us to be there. Glad we could help! Haha. We have to say, a few days after leaving this little town, we were actually kind of mad at ourselves for not staying longer.
One of the interesting things we found out about Cambodia also, is how the buses work. Normally, there are tour companies and there is a public bus run by the city, country, whatever. Not in Cambodia. All of the bus companies are privately owned and operated, so you’re pretty much on your own to figure out your best option instead of just heading to a bus station and getting a ticket for the next local bus departing. After booking our ticket to Siem Reap, we were really excited to see what was ahead of us. It’s funny how quick you learn to add at least 2 hours to any bus trip you take for miscellaneous stops; picking up locals at their house, dropping off food from the back of the bus, ya know…the usual. When we arrived at the bus stop in Siem Reap after 11 long hours of traveling and were immediately hounded by hoards of tuk-tuk drivers. You literally couldn’t take one step off the bus without drivers doing everything they could to get your attention. We pushed our way through the crowd to grab our bags and luckily found a really nice guy who charged us a low price to get to your guesthouse. It was incredible how good his English was! Don’t get us wrong, we’re not naive. We know everyone is out to make a buck, but he really was sincere with his words and must have thanked us 3 or 4 times when he dropped us off for being so nice to him. The day before arriving we had booked a room at Lisa Café and Guesthouse. The room we had booked was actually still full due to some other travelers staying longer than originally anticipated, so we got a nicer room with a private bathroom for the same price. You CAN’T complain about that! This would turn out to be one of our favorite guesthouses yet. The breakfast was really good and fairly inexpensive compared to a lot of other places, and the family who ran it was unbelievably nice! We were off to a good start so far and decided to go do some exploring. As we were walking down many of the streets near our home, we quickly realized that this city had a very different feel to it. Oddly enough, we didn’t feel like the minority anymore. On the contrary, there were more white people than we had seen in all of Laos put together! We had to admit, it was a real turn off for us. Everywhere we looked there were signs for western food, and of course, they came with western prices as well. Siem Reap (at least for us) had a similar feel to Bangkok where you couldn’t walk 5 feet without being asked for a ride. “Sir, you need tuk-tuk? You go to temple? Where you go? I give you ride ok?” “No thanks.” “Tomorrow I take you then ok? You give me job ok?” It was just as touristy, but for some reason, we just weren’t feelin’ it. There were just certain things that really bothered us. For instance, there is a road called Pub Street which is obviously filled with bars and restaurants, and they don’t let locals into this area at night. Huh? I don’t get it. Call us crazy, but we would much rather have real interaction with local people than be walking around in a city filled with western looking people. Honestly, we could’ve stayed in the US for that. We know this city is a major attraction because of Angkor Wat, and of course there is bound to be a ton of tourism. However, we just couldn’t quite get into it here like many others could. We did have to laugh at some of the people offering other “items” on the street. One night, on our way to Pub Street, a guy walked up close to us and quietly started to offer all kinds of shit. “Sir, you need marijuana?” “No thanks.” “Ok. You need cocaine?” “No.” “Ok, you need opium?” “Dude, are u serious?” If there was a drug this guy could get his hands on, he was offering it to us. Don’t get us wrong, there are some cool parts of the city, too. Many of the people are very nice, just like one of ladies we met who was cooking up some noodles on the street. After one meal, we were HOOKED! A big plate of noodles with veggies and a banana shake for 2 bucks…and the food is delicious!! That’s more like it! It was so good that we felt compelled to go up to her after our meal to thank her and tell her how much we enjoyed our meal, letting her know we would be back again for more. It was pretty apparent to us that not many people take the time to do this as we saw her face light up with a smile from ear to ear in appreciation.
One other thing that takes a little getting used to is having lots of beggars with missing limbs approaching you, hoping you will give them some money. You can’t even get upset with them. Chances are, they were going about their everyday life when then stumbled upon and undiscovered land mine from years ago. It can get even tougher to watch when children are involved, especially when they give you that “dagger to the heart” look. There were some days we couldn’t even eat without being bothered, but I guess it just comes with the territory.
Crossing the border into Cambodia not only brought with it the dirt but also the rain! We got an amazing thunder storm a few nights, something both of us really missed while living in California. Nothing better than hanging out at the mini mart, drinking a beer and explaining to the locals how to figure out how far away the storm is by counting from the time you see the lightning until you hear the thunder. The rain has been a blessing every night as you can imagine, the heat is hard to handle when there is no escape…well there is, we just are willing to pay the price!
No matter what, we were still pretty pumped to head the main attraction of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat!

Traveler Tips
Getting There – We definitely recommend booking through a tour company to cross into Cambodia. Normally, we don't EVER recommend that route, but it really is the the best way to go. It's the same price, if not cheaper, than doing it on your own
We stayed at Balcony Guest House, which was really nice. No need to make a reservation, finding a restaurant outside of the guest house is recommended.
Street food is the way to go, even if it isn't the best....the food in Cambodia isn't the best to be honest.
There isn't a whole lot to do other than take a tour to see the dolphins, which we didn't do, so walking works just fine.

Additional photos below
Photos: 78, Displayed: 32


1st April 2011
Her noodles were SO..DAMN...GOOD!

It makes me hungry here at work at 5 pm - looks so good;-)
2nd April 2011


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