Sunday, April 13, 2014

Gateway to a World Wonder

Siem Reap is a small but lively tourist hub, located about a twenty minutes drive away from the famous Angkor Wat Temple Complex. The local economy thrives on the business brought in by visitors from all around the world, and the small and dense town center is filled with restaurants, massage parlors, guesthouses, and pubs. The nightlife buzzes with young backpackers looking to have fun, especially around the Pub Street area.  

Tuk tuk drivers crowd around the entrances to the Pub Street area, knowing there is much business to be had at this time of night. Be prepared to face a lot of touting - every five feet a driver would ask me if I needed a ride somewhere. They are friendly but insistent, and I found that a firm "No thank you" would work. Since there is such a large supply of drivers, the fares are extremely cheap, and it's easy to travel from one end of town to the other for 1 US dollar if you bargain with the driver ahead of time.

During the day the town is slightly quieter due to the intense, all-consuming heat that drives people indoors, but it is still quite interesting to walk around and look at the shops. The alleyways in particular house quaint boutiques and more high-end types of specialty stores, many of them supporting local artisans or causes.

Popular buys include airy printed pants, chunky necklaces and leather bracelets, paintings and postcards. Bargaining is not as intense a process as I have found it to be in Vietnam - it's fairly easy to cut prices down 50% or more, and shopkeepers seem very eager to engage in the process. They are mostly friendly and will call out after you if you walk away from a price that you feel is too high.

Personally, I tried to bargain down a bit, but I do not mind paying a price a bit higher than the seller's bottom line. In the end, a dollar here and there from me does not make much of a difference, but to the seller that same amount may mean a lot more.

There were also some nice art galleries featuring art and photographs of Cambodia.

Food options are plentiful in the Pub Street area. We walked past Italian, Vietnamese, western, and Cambodian options, finally deciding to stop by a small shop down a nice alleyway. As in Phnom Penh, you can get a fairly nice meal and a drink for less than $10.

Some examples of the things we ate in Siem Reap - a type of traditional savory Cambodian fish stew, mixed vegetables, and rice...

Mexican! We actually found a pretty authentic Mexican restaurant, where I got shrimp fajitas.

A nice and refreshing cucumber salad, with chicken, peanuts, and a tangy fish paste dressing.

On our last night we went to the New Leaf Book Cafe. I enjoyed the ambiance in the restaurant - it is partially a used bookstore, with shelves of books lining the exposed brick walls. I ordered a dish of egg tofu in a chili tomato sauce on top of bok choy, which came with a side of nutty brown rice. The entire meal was only $3.50.

There's lots of cheap and good eating to be had in Siem Reap! All of this food helped fuel us on our visit to Angkor Wat, which started at 4:30AM in the morning...

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