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Siem Reap

Written on: Monday March 21st, 2005

A journal entry from: South East Asia 2005

We took a bus from Bangkok early one morning to Siem Reap. For some reason we were lucky and there was almost nobody on our the buses during our trip. We heard later on that these trips are usually jam-packed with travellers... so we lucked out somehow! So 4 of us set off: Drew, Simon, Cormack, and myself.

The bus from Bangkok was very nice and plush. It took us a couple hours to drive to a border town where the fools who hadn't purchased a visa paid 4 times as much for one, and we had some noodles while we waited. Drew had picked up a guitar while Sarah and I were seperated from them so Cormack and I played some tunes and started teaching Drew how to play a bit. From the border town it was a short drive to the border crossing.

The crossing was pretty intense, busy and the people around very poor. Lots of children begging. We gave as much as we could, but we didn't have much to give. The customs dance was uninteresting, we just shuffled through two stuffy rooms and had our passports and visas stamped. The signs are a little intimidating though, basically saying people found with drugs will be executed. Don't bring drugs into Cambodia.

On the other side, we rested at a little cafe and got some beers for the next part of our journey. Siem Reap is only like 100km away but the road is SO poor that it'll take us 6 hours to get there. Also, theres a little bit of a scam run here. They tell you that in Siem Reap, its better for you to get Riel (Cambodian currency) then use American dollars. They say $1 USD is the lowest currency and change you'll get (which is true) but if you use Riel you can pay less for things and get change (which is not true) and the exchange rate given to you at the border is terrible. There are no ATMs and few banks in Cambodia so we did get a little exchanged in case, but realized after that anything is priced to American money. So yes, you could get change back in Riel, if the prices where such that change was given back. But everything is in even dollars.

Anyways, so off we went, in another almost empty bus to Siem Reap. Playing guitar, drinking, singing, and staring out the window. I met an awesome girl selling bracelets at a stop named Jenny. We chatted for a bit, and I bought a lot of her stuff and she gave me her hair clips as a gift, simply because she had nothing else to give but they are a great reminder of the people I met and love in Cambodia. I still have them.

Many uneventful hours later, we arrived in Siem Reap and settled on staying at the Sidewalk Guesthouse. We would stay for about 2 weeks and it was an awesome place. Siem Reap is kind of a strange place. It is such an international tourist attraction because of Ankor Wat, but the area is SO poor. So you see the shantys and $2/night guesthouses, and then not far are these Las Vegas-esque sized hotels of pure splendor at $1000/night. Such a dicotomy of living. I'm sure they provide a lot of jobs but they also waste so much resource that should be going back to the people of Siem Reap. They are the only place you'll see green during the hot season, they waste a lot of water on keeping their grass green when the rest of the country is yellow, crispy, and barren.