Strolling through Siam Reap en route to our hostel brought to mind tourist Mexico. Visiting Playa del Carmen in high school, I remember the mixture of modern buildings, outdoor restaurants and ramshackle structures surrounded by hordes of tourists. Welcome to Siam Reap. Rob and I were once again on the tourist/backpacker trail and we ended up spending more time here than we originally planned.
We were amazed to find ourselves spending US dollars in Cambodia. At the airport leaving the US, we both had pulled some emergency cash and now it meant that we didn’t have to hit up an ATM right away. The other nice thing about Cambodia is that they drive on the right side of the road. Despite a month of Japan and a few days of Thailand, we still invariably look the wrong direction first when checking traffic.
Rob chose the Downtown Siam Reap hostel since we’d been isolated for the last bit. Our hostel had a beach bar area and a pool. With the surrounding wall blocking views of the street, it felt like a little backpacker resort. We met some pretty awesome folks there (or mainly Rob did since after the first day, I was pretty much down for the count after 5 pm). Our second night, we joined the hostel BBQ and its two free beer half hours from 5-5:30pm and 9-9:30pm.
Rob enjoying a beer at the Downtown Siam Reap Hostel
Our double room only had fan cooling, but it was definitely nice to have our own space. The main issue that we quickly realized is that the hostel doesn’t have enough water supply, so half the time you try to shower and find the water is out. This was also an issue for the toilet and it’s special feature the bum gun (pretty much a kitchen sprayer for you butt).
Bum Gun next to the toilet
Our first full day in Siam Reap was a bit of a wash since we had been up a bit late and slept in. We decided to use the afternoon to visit an orientation museum (Bayon Information Center) then indulge in a Smith family tradition – minigolf. Renting bikes from the most disinterested women ever, we biked north of town in search of the Bayon information center. For only $2 each instead of $12 each at the National Museum, we received background on Angkor especially the Bayon Temple at the center of Angkor Thom. One of the staff members walked us through a number of the exhibits and there was only one other couple there. Armed with new found knowledge, we prepared to the many of the temples ( in miniature form).
Angkor Putt was a 15 minute bike ride out of the center of town on a dusty highway. With some help from google maps, we found it quite devoid of other tourists. The owners were laboring to build a new temple replica of aluminium cans on one of the holes. There were definitely a few holes that killed our scores and when the dust settled, I beat Rob by a record 6 strokes. Normally, he wins by a couple. I was a gracious winner and didn’t brag too much. I even shared my hole-in-one beer with him (one beer per hole-in-one).
Tower obstacles. I couldn’t pull off this shot.
Rob and I both took the max on this hole..
Victory! Enjoying my hole-in-one earned beer.
By the time we finished minigolf, it was free beer time #1 followed by the BBQ and free beer time #2.
Needless to say, the next morning was not an early morning. I woke feeling pretty terrible, s0 we slept in until 11 am and with a couple pain relievers felt okay enough to venture out. We opted to hire a re-work moto (they call them tuk tuks too, but they’re different than the ones we’d seen before) and driver for $18 since we didn’t quite feel up to biking as we originally planned. With the wheels, we decided to visit the outer temples on the Grand Circuit. I found a guide book called Ancient Angkor at the hostel, which gave us great background and information on each temple (I saw a guy selling the book for $1 at Angkor Wat.
View from the back of the re-work moto. It wasn’t particularly fast, but it was nice that Rob and I could talk as well as stay cool in the shade. Plus, our driver knew where all the bathrooms are located.
Churning of the Sea of Milk entrance gate
We visited 7 archaeological sites (Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre Rup, Sras Srang, Banteay Kdai ) sites the first day and I was pooped by 4 pm. Since we didn’t really have lunch, we grabbed some amazing ice cream at Blue Pumpkin on the way back to the hostel (Rob also picked up four skewers and cold noodle salad for $1 at the local restaurant near the hostel). A nap and some more Vitamin I were required before dinner. Rob and I tried a local BBQ place on the same road as the hostel. We’d walked by many times and it had always been busy. We had a few tasty dishes and enjoyed the local atmosphere – kickboxing on two tvs and female beer reps drinking with tables of men drinking their brand of beer. Halfway through our meal, a car dropped off a group of attractive women in distinctive purple, green and yellow short dresses. They turned out to be cigarette reps selling their product to the restaurant clientele.
The next day, we pushed through not feeling great and rented a tandem. It was fine for awhile, but as soon as we got to the temple area ~11 km from town, the chain started falling off with increasing frequency as the day dragged on.
Our $6/day rental tandem needed some TLC. We should have gotten the fancy ones with awnings over the seats.
We went to Angkor Wat first braving the hordes for people and heat. There are guides everywhere trying to sell you their services. It honestly would have been nice to have a bigger group and hire one. The grounds are huge! It’s a pretty decent walk from the entrance to the temple itself.
Inner temple of Angkor Wat. Since it was a holy day, we were unable to climb up to the top. Normally there’s a wait to do this and they even have the “x min from this point” signs.
View of Angkor Wat from the pond outside the inner wall
The bas reliefs at Angkor Wat depicting many battles were quite neat. Unfortunately we were compelled to leave in a hurry and only made a cursory inspection of most of the carvings.
Daily life bas relief at Bayon. These guys are cooking skewers of meat.
The faces of Bayon
North gate of Angkor Thom. Check out the elephants on either side.
Bas reliefs at Bayon
Our next stop was Angkor Thom. Not feeling great, I survived our visit to Bayon Temple, the elephant terrace and the leper king terrace and the northern gate. The pain relievers kicked in just in time for the ride to Ta Prohm, the Tomb Raider temple, and our ride home with the timing chain falling off constantly. At times, we weren’t in a good place to pull over, so I got to power the bike solo. It would have been fun to hear “He’s not pedaling in the front” for a change.
Ending the day at Ta Prohm
We didn’t get back into town until well after dark. After a tiring day, we just wanted grease and got some $2.5 burger and fry plates from our usual restaurant a couple doors down from the hostel.
Our last day in Siam Reap, I felt so terrible that I relaxed in our room all day while Rob hung by the pool side. After having been worried that my symptoms were flu-like (also can be malaria symptoms), I called the nurse consulting line for our health insurance to see if they thought I should get test as a certain strain of malaria can get bad rapidly. We found a nearby clinic (Sok San clinic next to Same Same Bar) and they were able to draw blood and perform the tests right away ($15).
It was a relief to know that I didn’t have malaria and although the test for dengue came back negative, they said my low platelet count could be a sign of that. I wasn’t as worried about dengue since I didn’t have the high fever. To celebrate the good news, we got some Mexican food. It wasn’t too bad and we had a great time talking with a couple from San Diego that was heading to Vietnam for a motorbike road trip.
Viva Mexico branch in Siam Reap. There are two locations and one seems to have better specials.
At this point, we had already booked the boat to Battambang for the next day, so we hoped with all the rest that we would feel up to the 9 hour journey. Otherwise, we would be taking advantage of the travel insurance for the first time.