I left Cambodia after only a short visit, with a good impression of the people and their customs. We hired our tuk-tuk driver, Som, for a second excursion to the temples, which included our new joint favourite, Preah Khan. This more than any other of the temples on our itinerary was like stepping into a video game, if you ignore all the other tourists and warning signs.
We visited no less than twelve temples over the course of two days – Som was doing a lot of driving for us in his trusty tuk-tuk. After the second day he invited us to his home for drinks and snacks, which we gladly accepted. We got to meet his whole family, most of whom didn’t speak English, but that didn’t matter – we learnt the Khmer word for cheers and that saw us through! It’s always a pleasure to meet locals when you travel, and we came away with strong feelings of hospitality from our new Cambodian friends. Incidentally, should you happen to be planning an Angkor tour yourself, give him a call on +855 969872792!
We explored Siem Reap during our off day between temple treks. It’s a town with a lot of atmosphere that’s retained some local charm despite the tourist magnet of Angkor Wat. We stayed a little out of the centre, in an area that feels more like a village than a city. We often stopped at the fruit stall just outside our hostel when making our way to and from town, and there are plenty of great food options just down the street.
The town centre lights up after dark with the night market and the appropriately named Pub Street soaking up most of the tourist dollars. And when I say dollars, I mean it, because Cambodia uses a strange mix of US and local currency. The official currency is the riel, but they use dollars for most things. But only dollars, not cents. Since the exchange rate is almost exactly 4000 riel to the dollar, if you order a $2.50 dinner (yes, it’s that cheap), with a $5 bill, you’ll get $2 and 2000 riel in change. This takes some getting used to, but it keeps your wallet getting weighted down with coins!
I’m struck by how chaotic the traffic is here, yet no-one seems to crash or have any incidents on the road. I’ve seen vehicles overtaking two levels deep on a one-lane road. I started to wonder why there aren’t more accidents, and I think I might have figured it out. It occurs to me that people here aren’t bad drivers; on the contrary, they are more attentive and aware of what’s going on around them. In safety-conscious Europe with our crumple zones and anti-lock brakes perhaps we take safety for granted. Cocooned in our metal shells we feel invincible, and this false sense of security leads to carelessness. Here in urban Asia, were most of the traffic comprises of mopeds and tuk-tuks, people don’t crash, because the stakes are higher. At least, that’s my take on things in the short time I’ve been here.