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Published: November 24th 2014
Goodbye Phnom, Hello Siem
We wake up early and go for breakfast before getting on the boat to Siem Reap. PP is actually quite pleasant at sunrise, the locals are setting up the market stalls, and the colors on the water, cooler temperature, and slowed traffic are refreshing. We are told the boat ride takes 6-8 hours. It costs us each $ 35.00. A bus would be $11, but would take longer, and we thought a boat would be cool. We grab lunch right by the port and get to go lunches for the trip. I'm sticking with eggs and toast for breakfast, but the rest of the crew has jumped on the Cambodia breakfast wave and are eating noodles and pineapple fried rice. We get to the boat and we are immediately swindled into paying for a tuk tuk for when we arrive in Siem Reap (SR), surely more than we would pay if we bargained there. But of course it's someone's "cousin" or "uncle" who will take care of us, and it's too early to argue. I then see the boat and my stomach drops. It honestly looks like an airplane, with a long enclosed tubular body and no seating outside. Inside the boat the air is heavy of fuel and fumes and there is no circulation whatsoever. Then the people start piling on, and I don't know how I'm going to survive 8 hours in a cramped non ventilated tube with no breeze or air. A lot of people filter out and sit on the roof of the boat, or on the front ledge (there are no seats, no real guardrails, people just plop down on the cylindrical ceiling and call it a day.) I think for sure once the boat starts up people will filter back down, but no. The crazy travelers need no seats or seat belts and they hang out straddling the boat and flapping in the breeze. I'm glad because it keeps the cabin empty, but I'm convinced they all have death wishes. A mom even brings her two kids under three years to the main deck and they just bobble about oblivious to the danger. I was hoping there'd be a breeze once the boat starts, but hopes are crushed. The cabin air stays hot and stale. Fortunately we find an air condition unit right at the front of the boat. We hover around this device and claim ownership of it for the entire trip.
Jason is the first brave one and steps onto the dock to take photos. The trip really is stunning, with views of floating villages and fishermen. However, it is impossible to breathe in your seat, so after about 2 hours of hovering by the A/C I get brave and join Jason on the deck. It's actually quite nice and everyone else looks peaceful. So what the hell, I jump on the roof and drink a beer and this is my perch for the rest of the trip. I even do a crossword puzzle up there. It's actually quite fitting. This is Cambodia - Cramped, dangerous, nonsensical - but everything just works itself out.
We arrive and disembark in a completely chaotic fashion and find our tuk tuk drivers - again, no clue how they know we are their passengers, or where we are going, but it's always right. I already prefer Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. It's a quaint city with a quieter pace. The city is based about the river which runs through the center and is lined with trees with many small crossing bridges. Tourism definitely has left a heavy footprint though. There are a ton of trinket markets and hostels and even a boozy bar lined street with a flashing neon sign of "Pub Street." All is on a small, manageable scale though, and SR retains it's charm and quaintness when out of the direct tourist center.
We arrive at our hotel and it's beautiful. It's about a km out of town, closer to Angkor Wat, called Samatika Villa Boutique. We are greeted with fresh orange juice which tastes of passion fruit. The one downside to our arrival to SR was the prearranged tuk tuk driver. He is very pushy and we can barely get rid of him, and it takes our hotel workers to finally shoo him away. But once he's gone, we get to our rooms and I know I'm a goner. My bed is huge and the room is decorated with dark wood and tile. There is A/C, a balcony and a nice bathroom. It's not going to be as nice as this in future travels, but I'll revel in it now! We shake off the travel and have a beer downstairs before heading out for the night - in our complimentary tuk tuk.
We head to a dinner show for the evening which was recommended by our hotel, even though we asked to go to a different show. They convinced us this show was "better"... It wasn't. It was a cheesy dinner show buffet with tons of tourists, and all the dancers did was bend their fingers to a highly flexible extent. The best part of the show were the Asian tourists who jumped on stage for a photo op. We are all tired however, and the food is acceptable, so we turn in after the show for our next big two days at the temples, which I will write about separately.
Our tuk tuk driver is Ang, and he is 28 and has a wife and a 2 year old. Most of the hotel staff are very young and are studying the hospitality trade. Per usual, Sasha's dad befriends them all, and we actual form a nice group. We are the only ones in the entire hotel, and they kindly cater to our every need, including laundry. There is a nice pool and restaurant on site as well. Sasha's dad tips them massively, so it's a pretty win win situation.
I was going to change locations for my last night, because I was staying one more night then the rest of the group. However, the hotel owner offered me a huge discount to stay because the hotel has been so slow, and I couldn't pass up. My last night, I spent over two hours talking with Sok, a 23 year old man who is one of 9 children living in a small country town 71 km outside of siem reap. He is intelligent, patient and extremely humble, and his English is quite good. It takes me 10 minutes to convince him to sit with me, as he stands next to me at attention as we try to converse. They only way he finally sits is because I told him it made me uncomfortable to have him stand, but he still won't let me buy him a drink. We talk about how he is the only one in his family to graduate from high school. Two of his sisters now work in the garment industry in Phnom Penh, and three of his brothers work on fishing boats in Thailand, and have yet to come back home once to visit. I guess their bosses keep promising vacation time, and then take it away. You can tell he misses them very much. All of his siblings but him quit school to work, and they send their extra money home to their parents. He was able to graduate high school because at 15 he became a monk for 8 years. As a monk, he received free room and board and public education (he could have also chosen a heavily discounted private education. Now he is working and hopes to save enough money to go to college for marketing. The souls of the staff are so curious and tender, with a wisdom far beyond their years. The average daily wage for a Cambodian citizen is $1.26. I feel so fortunate to have met this group of young people, and it truly made a mark in my heart for Cambodia.
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