Siem Reap

Before I get to my massive, eagerly-anticipated Angkor Wat post, I want to briefly mention Siem Reap, which is the town you stay in when you go to Angkor.

I arrived there from Phnom Penh by taking a boat trip up the picturesque Tonle Sap river:

On the Tonle Sap River

which is all lined with palm trees and stilt houses and other rustic, tropical things. Normally the Tonle Sap flows into the Mekong, and from thence the sea. but apparently in rainy season the Mekong swells so much that the Tonle Sap river actually reverses course and pools up in a huge lake in the middle of Cambodia, also called Tonle Sap, becoming the largest lake in Asia. That’s what I sailed up to get to Siem Reap.

Siem Reap itself is a pretty enough town. Small and easy to get around—it was a nice change of pace from the ugly hecticness of Saigon and Phnom Penh. But it is ridiculously geared up for Angkor tourism, and much of central Siem Reap just feels like you’re in some western country. Really, it could just as easily been Chinatown in New York. The majority of the people you see are tourists, the majority of the stores are for tourists, the majority of the restaurants serve pizza and hamburgers. I dont know where all the tourists came from, cause they certainly wernt hanging out in Phnom Penh. But they were in Siem Reap en masse. Busloads and busloads of them.

And the primary business of Siem Reap is extracting money from the tourists in every possible way. You can barely move without someone offering you a tuk-tuk ride to see the sunset over Angkor Wat, or to come into their restaurant, or to buy a book on Angkor Wat, or some Angkor Wat postcards, or an Angkor Wat t-shirt, or a massage. I’ve noticed that ever since Jessica left I’ve been getting offered drugs a lot. Like all the time. Also I get a lot of offers for “boom-boom”, which I assume must be some type of food or something.

Also, it’s commonly accepted in Cambodia that foreigners should be charged double or triple for everything. I found it interesting because the Cambodians are very upfront about it. Like I bought a water and asked my tuk-tuk driver how much I should be paying for it, and he said “for you 2000 riel, for me, maybe 500-800 riel”. It’s just understood that foreigners are founts of wealth whose purpose in Cambodia is to inject money into the Cambodian economy. And that attitude is present at all levels, from the guy selling water bottles on the street to bars which have “Happy Hour prices for Cambodian Only”. I mean, I don’t mind that. Tourists from industrialised nations really are ridiculously wealthy compared to the average cambodian, and it’s good to even out that disparity in whatever little ways you can.
I dont mind paying more for things, but I do mind that the idea of ripping foreigners off is so ingrained. At least two times I’m aware of cashiers at stores (like real stores, drug stores and 7-11s) gave me blatantly incorrect change. One guy got angry at me when I called him on it, like I was being rude. It’s just such a different attitude, it’s difficult to get used to.

But it’s difficult to not pay too much for things, especially since most of the people trying to sell you things are adorable little children. Some just come up and say “you give me money?” But most of the children of Siem Reap are the most persistent, shrewd salespeople I’ve encountered anywhere. There are 2-year olds, not more than a foot and a half tall who walk around with baskets of postcards and drive a much harder bargain than I ever could. They’re obviously sent out and coached by their parents, and are often adorably oblivious to what they’re actually selling, or whether or not I might have a need for the thing. Like I’d frequently be offered scarfs and bracelets and earrings. When I explain I dont wear bracelets and dont want one, they’d say “dont want one? How bout ten??”, or the older ones would say “not for your girlfriend? for your mother? you dont love your mother?” Very sneaky. This little girl almost convinced me I really needed to buy a turtle from her:

This Girl Wanted to Sell Me Turtles

Plus everything seems to cost one dollar. Bottle of water? “one dollar”. Big bottle of water? “one dollar”. Wooden flute? “one dollar”. Five wooden flutes? “one dollar”.

The best kids are the ones who have an angle. Some will recite the alphabet to you. Some will give you a drawing they did “because I like your beard”. This little girl could name the capital of every state in the USA:

A Very Pushy Saleswoman

Really. We quized each other. She could name all of them. I cant even do that, and I’m from the USA. Very smart kid. She actually made me pretty sad. I hope she’s not destined for a life of poverty and selling crap to tourists, with no schooling or outlet for that intelligence, with only “boom-boom” to look forward to. I bought two big bottles of water and she gave me a drawing with a poem she wrote in spanish. I could have died.

But anyway. Siem Reap isnt all tourist traps and begging. The land outside of town is green and lush and beautiful. Cambodia is a very pretty country:

Cambodian House

Cambodian Cow

Cambodian Rainbow

So it’s not all annoying tourist trappiness.

Note on Cambodian food

I have tried to continue Jessica’s work by photgraphing some of the traditional Cambodian dishes I’ve sampled. It’s generally curry-ish, and pretty good if you get away from the western restaurants. I enjoyed Amok:

Chicken Amok

which was like a chicken curry thing. I wish it had been made with duck so i could have called it “Duck Amok“, which is a joke that might be funny only to animation nerds (and probably only my friend kvassey from pdi).

I also had Beef Lok Lak:

My Beef Lok Lak

which was like beef in an oyster sauce. It was okay, but had peppercorns all over (still on the branch!) which I wasn’t into.

I even had Durian-flavored ice cream:

My Durian Ice Cream

Which was as stinky as a durian, and terrible. I couldnt finish it. But by and large I ate pretty decently in Cambodia, sometimes even without being disturbed by little girls selling turtles.

Check out my Siem Reap pictures below:

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  2. Oct 18th, 2007at6:19 am

    Incidentally, “Duck Amuck” is probably the best Warner Brothers cartoon ever. Right up there with “What’s Opera Doc?,” “Feed the Kitty,” “The Old Mill,” and “The Brave Little Tailor” on my list of greatest classic animation shorts.

  4. Oct 18th, 2007at6:21 am

    Oooh very insightful comment Taylor. Way to comment on your own posts. Nerd.
    It’s not like you just copied that list from the experts or anything.

  5. cameron
    Oct 19th, 2007at10:06 am

    you’re forgetting Gerald McBoing Boing and The Adventures of Prince Achmed. and One Froggy Evening! and you call yourself an animation nerd.

    although, i suppose your list wasn’t meant to be comprehensive.

  6. rebecca
    Oct 19th, 2007at7:38 pm

    my personal favorite is Knighty Knight Bugs, but that doesn’t seem to have made that list. oh well.

    do you know..”amok” is one of the only two Malaysian words to have been adopted into the English language? the other one is “orangutan”. why i can remember these factoids from NPR and not actual important things is beyond me.

    also, durian rules.

  7. Oct 20th, 2007at4:39 am

    The Adventures of Prince Achmed? That’s some obscure animation referencing. I guess I was just thinking about classic american hand-drawn animation, not Weimar German Shadow-puppet animation. I think of that movie more as a curiosity than anything else, though yes, it’s very cool.

    As for One Froggy Evening and Gerald McBoing Boing, they both always kinda annoyed me. I really didnt like that frog as a kid. But obviously they were ground-breaking in their own ways.

    And rebecca: I’m really glad I ate amok instead of orangutan. And durian is stinky and gross.

  8. rebecca s
    Oct 22nd, 2007at10:35 pm

    i’d just like to point out that the rebecca who left the previous comment on this post (me) is not the same rebecca that is leaving comments on other posts, even though we both do not capitalize and both make interesting points. at first i thought someone was impersonating me, or even worse, spamming your blog using my name, but then i thought maybe there are other people named rebecca out there, and just maybe, one or more of them is your friend. there is still a twinge of paranoia in the back of my mind, but i’ll ignore it for now.

  9. Oct 24th, 2007at5:32 am

    oh i know.. i have your email addresses! but you DID both attend the same college, and you ARE both into music. so maybe the other rebecca really IS impersonating you. or perhaps you are impersonating her. it’s hard for me to know.

    you doppleganger!!

    that reminds me of pete’s doppleganger from college. i wonder whatever happened to that guy. the other rebecca might know what im talking about. :)


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