We love Cambodia. Seriously, it feels like our trip has really, really, begun now. We arrived in Siem Reap early on Tuesday morning (it’s Friday night now), which was the eve of the three-day Khmer New Year celebration. The New Year is a big deal here, and Cambodians from all around the country descend on Siem Reap to visit the temples. It’s not peak tourist season because it is so hot at the moment, but over the past three days we’ve seen the town fill up rapidly with Cambodian tourists. Tonight the main streets were so packed with cars, tuk-tuk’s and motorbikes that traffic controllers had to come in to untangle the chaos.
We’ve had two days at the temples so far, and a day and a half wandering around town and chilling out at the hotel. In this time we’ve seen and done so much that I am finding it quite difficult to carve up all my material into coherent posts! The Temples of Angkor will be a post on their own, and I’ve started drafting some overall reflections on Siem Reap, which really should be written nearer the end of our time here (that I’m jumping the gun is an indication of how amazing this place is). So, for now, some first impressions.
Siem Reap itself is an intriguing mix of the Wild West and a modern town. At times it feels like a time-warp – take away the cars and the tar-seal, and you’ve almost got a frontier town:
We’ve eaten some fantastic food since we got here. On the first day we ate at a restaurant recommended in our Lonely Planet book – Angkor Palm. The book said that mains were between $2-5 US each, but prices had definitely gone up, and were more like $4-7 US ( I suspect the Lonely Planet recommendation has something to do with this – the restaurant has a big sign advertising this!). Anyway, the food was very good. I got a Khmer tasting plate with mango salad, fish amok, stir-fried morning glory (a green vegetable), rice paper rolls, and a couple of other dishes – I could have licked the plates clean.
It wasn’t long before we discovered a new favourite restaurant down a quiet alley, named “For Life”. This place has food just as good as Angkor Palm, for half the price, with excellent service and great background music (Simon and Garfunkel tonight!).
On our second day we walked into the most intense shopping space I’ve ever been in – an indoor food market. It was jammed with people selling fruit and vegetables, fish and other seafood, fresh meat, rice, and cooking food to sell. It was smokey, often smelly, dark, very noisy, and quite confronting at times – piles of pig’s heads, bowls of fresh quivering liver, fish that were still alive and gasping for air, and people sitting cross-legged on tables chopping up chicken and other animals directly in front of them (eek!!). Suffice to say that we bought fruit only.
OK, that’s all for now – have to get up early tomorrow so I’m off to bed. Maybe I’ll blog about the temples tomorrow, but until then, here’s a sneak preview: