03 November 2008


.Red: Walking route
Yellow: start/end point
Green: Stops.

This is the one-pager street map of Siem Reap town. We wanted to cycle but it seems the bikes here were all too big for the ladies' comfort. Starting from dot yellow, we passed the Old Market and crossed the Siem Reap river looking for that hidden Singing Tree Cafe to have lunch in. It is impossible to believe there are cafes/restaurants down this street. It looks so abandoned and when we found it, there stuck a note reading they were closed for the P'chum Ben festival until 4th of October. My stomach sank. Just our luck ok! So we detoured to Butterfly Garden that came recommended in many online reviews.

As we enter the gate, it becomes obvious that the entire open area is screened off to prevent the "1000-over" butterflies from escaping. Speaking of which, I didnt see close to a handful of butterflies fluttering around, of those i saw, most were dead =\. It would have been a pretty tranquil area to sit and chill if not for the heat and the 4USD INSTANT beef noodle soup!

Tim casually asked if they served beef noodle soup. It wasnt in the menu but the waiter said "yes". So Chee Ting and I quickly cancelled our order and ordered the same. Tim took a walk around the place, passing the kitchen, came back and said, "Ehhh, auntie, i think they are using packet noodles... you go have a look". I didnt think it could be possible. But one taste of the soup and bite of the noodles, it is indeed instant noodles! What a rip-off!! Loven, too agreed that their food do not match the prices they charge.

We took off to the Royal Palace and the Royal Independence Gardens. Poor Boon was down with a bad flu and was feverish but did not wish to miss out on anything. We passed by many guesthouses, pointing out those we've read about, considered and thankful we did not end up picking. There's plenty of eateries here at Wat Bo Road; Chinese, Thai, Khmer, and it's a surprise most eateries are tastefully decorated and cosy.

Across the Royal Residence on National Road No.6, we saw 2 shrines. One of which is a shrine home to two Buddhas, Preah Ang Chek and Preah Ang Chorm. It is said to provide protection for the town and is considered a place of good fortune. As we approached this shrine, we were alarmed by an overwhelming screeching noise. There were hundreds of bats hanging on the branches above us. I still have no idea what is the link between the bats and the shrine. In the middle of the road, and opposite of this shrine, is the Ya-Tep shrine. The local believes Ya-Tep to be a 'patron saint' with the power to protect travellers and gives lottery ticket numbers >_<".

.You can pay to release these pigeons from captivity. Another gimmick although with an intention to free a 'life'.

I guess most of us at some point, when travelling to 3rd world countries, have a prenotion of a messed-up country, conjures up images of taunting beggars and pickpockets, scheming peddlers, poor transportation, poor hygiene and for whatever reason lead us to strike it off our travel list. While it was not a journey of great comfort, we felt safe... pretty safe honestly. People are generally friendly and do not hesitate to reply with a big smile when approached, children as young as 4 are multilingual, they can speak conversational English, Chinese and even Japanese!

It is also funny to see at one instance wooden hand carts packed with goods, overloaded trucks jammed with people with all sorts of belongings, merchandise and even chickens, and at another instance see brand new Lexus and Landcruisers cruising on the roads! We've also noticed that they have no drainage systems in place; no drains can be found on either side of the road causing the stench in certain areas. And what may or may not be surprising is, i've counted less than 10 traffic lights in my entire 5 days in Siem Reap.

.(R) Crocodile skin lovers will love this shop on Sivatha Boulevard. I, for one, cannot tolerate the smell of it, it is plain blearghhh.

Hotel De La Paix was one of our luxurious choice but at close to 400USD per night, it was way over our budget. I almost keeled over when Loven said if informed earlier, he could have gotten us the rooms for less than half its price. This was our pit stop; to catch a breath and take a crap. Oh, and this hotel smells heavenly.

These paintings were hanging on the walls of the Arts Lounge of De La Paix. Call it a coincidence or six degrees of separation, we later discovered over dinner that the art curator of this lounge is Loven's mate. He roams around galleries and by instinct and feel picks pieces and illustrations of art for exhibit at the lounge. With no artsy background, he has a pair of fine eyes for outstanding art and a taste for the world of fashion. .Based on Toul Sleng prison photographs.
.You can read more about him here and here.

Navigating the streets of this town on foot is probably one of the most rewarding ways to discover its pain and secrets. Timmy basically conducted a mental survey of the ubiquitous foot-massage parlours he will eventually visit one by one. We bought a chunk of our souvenirs and gifts at the Center Market, though i still prefer the Night Market for its variety and atmosphere and the Old Market for authentic stones.
It is obvious that Siem Reap has plenty of room to grow. With budget hotels mushrooming at every other corner, and expensive hotels catering to the high-flyers, this town has an endless choice of places to stay and dine whatever your budget calls. What seemed damn obvious to me is, despite the wealth that development has brought to some, it is at the cost of the poor living around the developed town. Affirmed by Savong and our drivers, local wages have not kept up with the inflated prices. With an average wage of $2 a day, it is quite impossible to dream further than surviving.

Siem Reap today is said to be barely recognisable from the Siem Reap back in 2000. I like the way it is now, safe and pleasant with hints of French colonial and Chinese-style architecture. We're glad we have seen Cambodia now as opposed to what it may become a few years down the road. What will it become?

.Exercise for the day: 15km.

.A day with Savong coming up... =).


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