We arrived in Siem Reap from 4000 Islands after what was again, an extremely long day of travel. Our voyage started at 8am, where we caught a boat from 4000 Islands to the mainland, and waited there for close to an hour (as you may have picked up on, we end up WAITING around for who knows what very often). Our tour guide then went on to take all of our passports, because he was going to deal with the border for us (which was also a big deal for lots of people, since in general, nobody trusts someone who wants your passport). But Katie and myself just decided to trust him, because what else are we going to do? We finally arrived at the border and it was several hours of sitting there before we actually left. Another common theme on this trip is being promised ‘VIP bus’ and then it turns out to be a very crammed mini van for 7 hours. When we booked this trip, we asked the man ‘is it really VIP?’ and he said ‘Yes-I’ll show you pictures of it.’ He then showed us pictures of the lovely bus we would be on, and sure enough when we got to the border, there was a VIP bus sitting there!!! We were ecstatic, but the back end of it was open and being fixed. Once they finally started loading it up we were told that our ticket was not VIP and that we were on the regular bus! That was a bummer, but when the VIP bus was officially pronounced broken, and all the people on that bus had to squish onto our bus (some sitting on tiny stools in the aisle) we were happy that we never started on the VIP bus.
One positive aspect of these very very long journeys is that they are the perfect place to meet other travellers-nobody has anything better to do and you are looking for any way of entertaining yourself! It was on this voyage that we met our first Winnipeggers! This was very exciting, and it as it turns out, we know some of the same people! One night, we went for dinner and out to the bar ‘Angkor What’ with them, and another day, spent the afternoon at ‘le terrace des elephants’ which is an expensive hotel with a rooftop pool (and you can pay $5 to use it if your not staying there!)
Our first day in Siem Reap, we quickly realized that we were going to like it here. It reminded us a bit of Chiang Mai in the sense that there are tons of really nice restaurants with authentic as well as food that we are more used to. We had amazing Mexican food, great pizzas, pancakes, sandwiches as well as a meal at ‘Cambodian BBQ.’ It’s a bit like a fondue where they bring out a BBQ type device that sits in the table and you cook your meat in the center and surrounding that is hot chicken soup in which you put your noodles and veggies. It was delicious.
Since it is a very touristy place, there are once again, massage parlors and fish massage tanks-and we tried both of them! Within a couple hours of being there, I decided to try the fish massage. Katie sat on the sidelines but did stick her hand in for a photo.
We also both decided to get massages, since they are just so cheap here. I got a head, neck and shoulder massage which turned out to be more of a back massage, and Katie got a foot reflexology massage. At one point, while her massouse was looking at her feet, said ‘You chew?’ Having never been asked whether or not she chewed her toenails, Katie obviously said ‘No.’ Although, I can’t imagine someone would confess the truth if they did in fact sit in their room and chew their toenails!
Before coming on this trip, we had both heard that we would be able to volunteer at the ACODO orphanage while out here. After a couple days here, we decided to look into it, and as it turned out, we would have to commit closer to a week if we wanted to volunteer. However, since the orphanage gets no funding, and relies soley on donations (mostly from tourists), the kids dance every night for visitors, and then expect a donation. At first, this seemed weird to go to an orphanage to see the kids dancing their traditional Aspara dances. We researched it and found only positive reviews about the orphanage as well as reviews from volunteers saying that the kids love to dance and love that people watch them. We decided to go and it turned out to be the right choice. One worker explained to us what ACODO is all about and the kids really seemed to love performing. After the dances, they were coming up to us and asking about our lives and about Canada etc. We both agreed it seemed like a good place for them and that if we ever do come back, we will have to put aside a week to volunteer to teach them English.
It is strange that the most poor place we have visited so far, is actually the nicest and most touristy. We are constantly approached by little kids, begging for money, but have been told by many people that they are sent out by their parents, and that if they don’t get money, they won’t be sent out. So, tourists are not supposed to give them anything, but it’s definitely shocking and sad to see so many little kids begging. There are also lots of older adults begging, who say they are victims of land mine explosions.
We have also spent some time shopping, and although the shops are nicer here than anywhere else we have been, it is exhausting because all we hear is ‘lady! lady! come in! you want to buy something?!’ from all around us. Katie is constantly saying ‘I don’t know. I will let you know if I find something I want.’ After five minutes of this, we generally leave completely worn out. However, the actual stores are much better and although we still get followed around the entire shop, we feel much less harassed than in the market.
Next blog post: Angkor Wat!