We arrive at our accommodation, Gloria Angkor Hotel. Yep, a hotel this time it can't be bad. We get an amazing reception on arrival; fresh towel, drink, crisps and some big smiles and make our way to room 203. The small guy on the reception desk insists on carrying both our bags (I can barely lift my own bag let alone Sam's) and then walks up 2 flights of stairs. It seems after the 4th step he's wishing he had taken me up on my offer to help. He is tiny; about half the size of myself and is clearly struggling. After a lot of huffing and grunting we arrive at our room. The poor guy can barely speak he's so out of breath but determined to make a good impression he continues with a guided tour of the room, needless to say it was a great first impression. It's quite late so we settle for some food and drink in the hotel's restaurant and make our way to bed.
Throughout our stay, the hotel would turn the beds down for the guests at night as many do but what was really nice is you would also get a Cambodian bed time tale. The stories were always in broken English and the translations would amuse us as we read them out loud to one another. The content was at times rude and the moral lesson confusing but we soon found ourselves looking forward to bed time to see what story we would have next.
The following day started a little grey but this didn't last long with the sun soon burning its way through the clouds. On the arrival of the big ball of fire in the sky which you may believe to be somewhat of a myth at times living in England we made our way to the pool, as you do. It finally felt like we were on holiday, we sat discussing what we may have been doing in our ordinary lives if it had been a typical Tuesday. Even now I can hardly believe the life I lead and I often like to stop to remember this fact as you'd be surprised how easily you come to take it for granted.
Later on that evening we decided to make our way to the night market, making use of the free tuk-tuk supplied by the hotel. The tuk-tuk journey was the first one which I could enjoy, knowing that the driver was employed by the hotel, there would be no unwanted diversions here. The drive to the market was about 10 minutes and was a great way to become accustomed to the new environment. I found it alarming to have traffic coming from all angles, there's no sense of direction at times and we were forced to trust our driver with our lives and hope that he could make sense of the chaotic nature of the traffic. The market itself was amazing full of colour and embellished with Cambodian charm. The stalls were bulging with souvenirs, watches, sunglasses, wood carvings, paintings and most of all clothes. At first it was a little over powering as there wasn't many potential customers walking round so the few that were there were big game. "You look, you buy" almost every stall vender would say while trying to usher you closer.
Sam wanted some (Aladdin type) trousers, so we started looking as closely as we dared at passing stalls. Clothes' shopping in England is somewhat different to here, for a start when you try to make a purchase you're not given a 200% mark up. In Cambodia, you can always take the first price offered and half it and now you're getting closer to the real price. The other thing that makes it different here is that the people are genuinely very poor so you can barter for a better price and you normally will get it but the 50p - £1 you have just argued over which means very little to you means a lot to them as we have found out.
We finally found a pair of trousers Sam was happy with so we engaged with the vendor and commenced the negotiations. After winning the bartering wars the girl started to plead with us "Please, please I need the money. Please pay more". This is neither a pleasant moral situation, nor a typical reaction of a clothes retailer and we certainly felt guilty. We had learnt from our first purchase that perhaps rather than trying to squeeze the best deal out of these poor people we should think of it a little like charity and pay what we think the item was worth to us. Satisfied with our bartering skills and Sam's new Cambodian treasures we made our way to Pub Street for……….yep..…beer!
My first impression of Pub Street was a pleasant one. The atmosphere is buzzing and not at all seeded like Koh Saan Road in Bangkok. The establishments are all of high quality and the Red Piano Bar was our first stop and possibly the nicest of all that we visited during our stay. Later we visited Angkor What? (obviously wordplay on the famous Angkor Wat). This was a trendy bar with graffiti covering the walls and music bellowing from its speakers. The bar was busy and we watched as a couple approached some crazed Chinese people sitting opposite us, they wanted a place to sit. Unfortunately they were turned away by the Chinese who were high on something perhaps life I don't know but I've never seen so many pictures taken of the same thing, to say they were happy may have been an understatement.
Taking pity we offered a seat with us and started chatting. Turns out they were very interesting as most people are that you meat along the way. The guy (Peter) works saving women from the cruel world of human trafficking, something I wish more people would support. During our chat between the four of us the publican found it amusing to start teasing me, tapping my shoulder and running away as I turn to find to my surprise no one there. Of course this is childish and not funny in the slightest but apparently not everybody holds the same opinion; as the rest of the table were clearly enjoying the show. Joking aside with a huge language barrier this simple humour goes a long way over here and it's nice to all be able to laugh together. It doesn't matter any ways as I got my own back when he challenged me to an arm wrestle which I won with surprising ease.
The four of us decided to move on, it was at this point we realised how huge our new friends were, Peter 6"7 and Maddi 6"3 towered above Sam and I as we followed behind like small hobbit like people. As we strolled through the streets looking for the next bar we came across small children who had tiny babies strapped to them begging not for money but for food. This is an extremely sad sight but it exists with one purpose, to scam you out of money. How it works is you take pity and offer to milk powder for the baby. You are taken to a shop and purchase the items as requested by the child who always opts for the most expensive brand. After you walk away the items are returned and the money is kept and the child and baby return back to the street to find more victims. It's a harrowing thought that someone would capitalise on this and make it in to a business but this is the darker side of Cambodia.
We finally settle on another bar, after many beers and a close tournament of pool that we lost mainly due to my inebriation thanks to the alcohol we parted ways and started planning our trip to Angkor Wat. (Which is another blog as together it's too long).
Siem Reap with its buzzing night life, superb markets and its awe inspiring temples completely exceeded my expectations. The city is richer than their surrounding neighbour which is mainly down to the tourism generated by the temples. The financial success is evident from the great bars, restaurants and accommodation the city boasts. If you combine this with the charm of the city and its people you get a truly great experience, one that I would one day like to repeat.