Wednesday, 8 February 2012

I need space

By the last full day in Siem Reap, I was gagging for space. I felt the claustrophobia as everywhere I walked and everywhere I turned, there were so many Korean, Japanese, Chinese, European and even more American tourists closing in on me.

We visited the Old Market or Psar Chas as it was called in the Cambodian language. David and his Nikon fell in love with the sights, sounds and smells of still live Amok or catfish getting de-scaled, whole pig heads sitting neatly in a row and bound for somebody's dinner pot of pork stew, dried sausages, fish and what looked like bats strung from strings across the shop ceiling and a basket of beetles the size of a Range Rover perched on top a woman's head. I was searching for the nearest coffee shop, cursing under my breath that Starbucks hadn't had the good sense to open a store here. I know. I have to stop whining and enjoy the sights and er.. smells.

David heard my mental cry for help and gamely paid for an hour of foot massage for me so that he can give me space while he traipsed up and down the Old Market for more photos.

When he came back for me, he recounted his experience with a young vagrant girl carrying a baby asking him to buy a can of milk powder for USD13 at a nearby store so that the baby could get fed. And he did buy it for her, realizing only later that he fell victim to a scam whereby the girl would return the can of milk powder to the store and the store owner will give her some money and re-sell that can of milk powder to some unsuspecting tourist for the same price again! I was extremely annoyed that David's actions, out of the goodness of his heart was taken advantage of and even more disgusted with the store owner for using the innocence of that young girl to make a quick buck when she should rightly be in school instead. I made a mental note to seek her out later, or at least have her photo posted within this blog so that my friends and family who visit Siem Reap next, will not fall victim to such scams.

After mingling with the natives at the Old Market, we sauntered to the rather chi chi Hotel de la Paix for a refreshing gin and tonic. Not that the Royal Angkor was a dump but how I wished I had booked the 4 nights here instead. However, David thought the only flaw to that would be that it was crawling with French tourists. Frankly, if they served my drink with a straw wrapped in sexy, shiny, black 120gsm quality paper, and they didn't have a Groupon deal on the room nights, we probably couldn't afford to stay here anyway. We walked right back into reality when we left Hotel de la Paix.

As we stepped out of the lobby, a street vendor asked David if he wanted marijuana, cocaine or boom-boom and he didn't mean a visit to the land-mine museum. We didn't need to be sold marijuana under the table really, it was freely available as a pizza ingredient at the Happy Herb Pizza Parlour. I hope the uninitiated didn't think the happy herb was a sprinkling of sage and thyme.

I had also decided to go "ethnic" on our last day in Siem Reap. We donned a brave front and had a local roadside barbecue dinner. Safe bets with the usual choices of fried rice, fried noodle and a grilled calamari still convinced me that Cambodian food tasted shite. Our next ethnic venture was to watch an Apsara dance at a bar above a restaurant. I wasn't impressed with the venue for a classical showcase but it was free and the cocktails were on a one for one promotion at happy hour. Nice.

The best thing was the fact that when we left the bar, we spotted that young vagrant girl. When I confronted her, her eyes shone with fear and she mumbled "I don't know" while scurrying away as fast as she could.

Tomorrow, just before we check out of the hotel and head for the airport to catch our flight back home, David wants to visit Wat Thmei, a small temple that houses the remains of some of the still unidentified victims of the Khmer Rouge. The visit serves as a poignant reminder of Cambodia's tainted history, but would lend a nice ending to my trip to Siem Reap.

If and when I visit next, a 3-day stay would be more than enough. This time, at Hotel de la Paix.

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