Tag Archives: Cambodia

Siem Reap: children’s massages and $0.5 beer

The following morning after visiting the Landmine Museum we were very lazy, especially ‘Sleepy Dwarf’ Auste, so we just went for a massage. There was a place that charged $4 an hour, which sounded somewhat dodgy, so… we went to check it out!

We walked upstairs into a dark room and laid face-down on rusty ol’ mats. The room was separated by red curtains and we could hear other people being ‘dealt with’ – I couldn’t tell what kind of massages they were getting, but their presence was evident by an occasional click-clacking of skin contact. I have to admit I was a bit intimidated by the overall ambience. Laying down, I heard two girls walking in – I couldn’t tell their age, but they were giggling and having chupa-chups. I expected some instruction whether to take any clothes off (like you normally would in a spa), etc, but she just jumped on my back and went into action. The girls were very young, they wore jeans and simple t-shirts – honestly, I felt very uncomfortable, as if I was exploiting kids. That wasn’t the case though, as lots of families have many children who help with their businesses from early age. Even though we had clothes on, the session was really good and we felt ‘streched-out’ the next day.

Siem Reap

On our last day we left the hotel in the heat, again. We seem to have this thing of going for sweaty mid-day walks with our backpacks on. We had about 5 hours before our flight, and since we were flying with AirAsia and only had 7kg of cabin baggage allowance, we decided to treat ourselves to another massage. We chose a place that charged the same as everywhere else – $6 per hour. This one had staff with uniforms though – a sign of professionalism, one may think.

When we came in, the service was too good – we were seated, given flip flops, even our feet were washed! To be honest, the last part was too much for a simple guy like myself. We walked upstairs, no red curtains or chupa-chups, and we were given pyjamas to change into – this was going to be awesome. Without going into much detail I’ll just say that I couldn’t wait for it to be over: the girl was either exhausted or just lazy as she kept yawning every five seconds. She didn’t put ANY energy into it and just generally messed about with my arms and legs. I had my eyes closed and when she locked my knees to stretch out my thighs, I felt that she laid down on the mat. From the long awkward pause I could tell she was taking a nap. Taking a nap! ON MY MAT!

This is by no means our natural behaviour, but straight after this we had another massage! This was a proper salon and both the exterior and interior looked very welcoming and professional. It was more expensive as you would expect, and the back massage cost $6 for 30 minutes. We were offered tea upon coming in and leaving, had our feet scrubbed with scented salts, there were massage tables with face-holes, relaxing setting and the massage was done by professionals – definitely worth the money.

Feeling riel'ly rich
Feeling riel’ly rich

Cambodia

During our stay in Siem Reap we had surprisingly many beers and cocktails – another thing we don’t normally do. If you like South East Asian food, Cambodia is the place to go, well at least Siem Reap. Some foods are cheaper than in Thailand, depending on where you eat – we usually go to places where the locals go. We definitely avoided the infamous ‘Pub Street’ filled with fancy restaurants and bars that have cotton napkins and stuff. We opt for squeaky tables and rusty fans – we’re in Cambodia NOT because we want to feel like we’re in England.

At a home-style restaurant in the heart of the city you can have a meal with rice for $1-3. The best part was that a pint of draft beer was $0.5 – it’s $2-3 in Chiang Mai! Smoothies and fruit shakes were $0.5-1 too… We also have good news for vegetarians as restaurants have good range of vegetable dishes.

some things on the menu make you wonder…

We finished our trip with a nice plate of ‘French fried’ and a crisp yet smooth bottle of Angkor, made of ‘only the finest hops and fresh spring water’. It’s interesting that all beers in the world have the same qualities, maybe that is what makes beer – beer?

Cambodia, Siem Reap

Cambodia, Siem Reap

A funny thing – when we thought of going back to Chiang Mai we called it home. Even our trip to Bangkok felt like going home!

More photos on our Flickr page and read about our exploration of Angkor Wat and Co here.

Exploring Siem Reap: Landmine Museum

To learn more about the Khmer people, we went to the Landmine Museum, located around 35 kilometres from the city (40 min by tuktuk). We arranged our driver through the hotel again, which cost us $20 for the day. Entry to the museum was $5 each, and was definitely worth it. Not only it is a museum, but it’s also an orphanage, a school and a charity.

Cambodia has an extraordinary history, including French colonisation, and the more recent Vietnam War. Because of the Vietnam situation, the U.S. bombed Cambodia for nearly 10 years, and many of the bombs did not detonate. Apparently the unexploded ordinance can sit in the land for hundreds of years, making the land dangerous for both people and animals. This also means that any kind of development, let alone farming, is out of the question. There were two opposing parties in Cambodia around 70’s – 80’s. The Thai government didn’t want the war to affect their own country so they supplied ammunition through the Thai-Cambodian border to one party, so the other party laid thousands of mines along the border to stop the ammunition supply. Interestingly, in some countries it is legal to produce, trade and use landmines to this day.

Siem Reap Landline museum

The founder of the museum used to lay mines himself when he was a child-soldier, but after the war he realised he could choose his own actions in life. When he met locals affected by the war, he really saw the impact on innocent people’s lives and started de-mining farmers’ fields simply using a stick and a knife! It is estimated that there are still over 5,000,000 active mines in Cambodia.

Siem Reap Landline museum

Reading children’s published stories was heart-breaking. Most of them had lost a limb, some are able-bodied, but come from families so poor that they actually live a better life in the museum… Large area of the property is a school and isn’t accessible by tourists so the children can live a normal life. I definitely recommend a visit, as it’s really eye-opening and factually fascinating.

DSC_0074

On our way back to Siem Reap we knew much more about Cambodia’s history and we started looking at the people differently. For one thing I wasn’t annoyed with the tuktuk drivers as much. To this day, people farm the de-mined land and herd cattle, and live on a dollar or two a day. Considering those that are able to invest in a motorbike and a tuktuk carriage and move to the city, they can make anything from $5 to $40 per day. It is evident that people are trying to make a living in any way possible: we drove past many rusty stalls selling souvenirs, petrol and food. We also saw people catching fish in roadside trenches. After seeing the suburban areas we went to explore the city the next day.

More photos on our Flickr page. Also, read about our trip to Angkor Wat here.

Siem Reap and ancient temples of Angkor

We arrived at Siem Reap within 55 minutes of leaving Bangkok. We completed the arrival and departure cards, medical form and visa application on the plane so it felt more like 20 minutes. The landing at Siem Reap felt much like arriving at Kaunas airport in Lithuania – very few staff, not many travellers and post-soviet grey concrete interior with 10 officials. Two officers collected the medical forms, then we were herded through to pay the hefty $30 for tourist visas (staying just 5 days..) and $2 for not having a photo. Our passports made their way through several officials and reached us with full-page visa stickers and a stamp, so make sure you have at least 2 full pages in your passport. I missed the visa number on the arrival slip, so the border officer gave me an odd grin and made this weird sound with his lips, as if he had something stuck in his teeth, or he was calling a sheep or something. Anyway he didn’t seem satisfied with my application.

We were hesitant to dive through the sea of tuktuk drivers, but once we ‘jumped in’, we saw a guy holding a piece of A4 with my name on it – I felt so important for a second! Some hotels offer a free transfer service with their own tuktuks, which are more reliable. I’ve read lots of online reviews that there are a number of dodgy independent ones that could potentially scam you big time, especially with the temple offers.

We checked-in, explored the area, and went for a two-dollar (!) meal with beer. Supermarkets are everywhere, as well as bike rentals, petrol shops and… dogs. Signs of French influence can be seen by baguette sales and signage of d’hotels and le’shops. Next day we had quality European breakfast, but orange juice was a bland instant-powder type drink of a deep carrot colour with Fanta-like taste. After breakfast – [In Robin’s, the Batman sidekick’s voice]: “To the tuktuk-mobile!”

Banteay Kdei, Cambodia

We’re not tourist-type people, but we just had to visit the world-renowned temples of Angkor. I recommend you get a reliable tuktuk, who would wait for you outside each temple. We took aaaages, and ours was $15 for the full-day, as of October 2014. To avoid the tourist crowds, we started at Banteay Kdei, then went to Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, Chau Say Thevoda, Bayon (Angkor Thom) and finally, Angkor Wat.

Chau Say Thevoda, Cambodia

Some tips for exploring the temples from our experience:

  1. It was a bit annoying when random people (employees?) approached us in temples and showed where and how to take photos: ‘sit here, point up, good photo, see everything, yes’. I suppose that’s useful information for the selfie-stick-people.
  2. Everywhere around temples people ask for money – they’re singing, playing music, kids selling souvenirs, books – you have to learn how to say no, unless you actually want to buy stuff.
  3. Some approach you and start saying ‘Hello, where you from’ – they don’t care about your answer and use this tactics to get your attention, since westerners find it rude not to answer. Try to reject them asap and not show interest, unless you want to give money. Otherwise they start asking you more questions and then you try to awkwardly avoid them, but they say they’re students and try to show some official paper and ask for money in the end anyway, and he’s learning English, he cycles many kilometres to school… And by the time you actually ask them to leave you alone, you feel more awkward as he’s given you the full tour of the Elephant terrace.

Talking about elephants, ALL the tourists are wearing those pants… do you know how they’re called? Elepants. I expect at least a giggle.

Banteay Kdei Cambodia

Bayon Cambodia

Tour guides were as scarce as tuktuk drivers, especially around Angkor Wat – there were dozens of them! It gets hot around 10 AM – we were in full sweat by then, even though we had been walking in the temple shade. If you’re considering bicycles – don’t. I thought of renting one, but I read reviews advising not to. You kind of only realise the distances once you actually see them. We were sweaty just from walking, even though we’re relatively fit. It was +30°C and we spent 9 solid hours walking in the temples – no way could we have managed cycling on top of that.

Ta Keo, Cambodia

We spent the most time exploring Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm – the quietest, most mystical and least reconstructed temples. We were ‘templed-out’ by the time we reached Angkor Wat, and luckily we left it last as it was the touristiest one. We probably took more photos of tourists in Angkor Wat, than the actual temple.

Tourists d'Angkor
Tourists d’Angkor

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Templed-out after Angkor Wat & Co
Templed-out after Angkor Wat & Co

We saw real monkeys for the first time and they were hostile! One of them grabbed one lady’s bag and scattered all the sweets and lollipops on the stairs. Then a few of the monkeys were having chupa-chups with their babies – they definitely had their 5-a-day.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

We finished at around 5pm and went back to the hotel. In the evening we put our bargaining skills to a test at the night market and bought some clothes, walked around the pub street, had a couple of $1.5 cocktails and walked back. At night, most tuktuks approach you with a friendly smile offering drives for $1, then after being declined come up to you real close and secretly whisper if you want some weed. It was good weed though – just joking! During the day children come up to you and either ask for money or offer some books about Cambodia, etc. Obviously it breaks your heart, but there’s so much to the country’s history, it’s difficult to comment. That’s why the next day we went to the Landmine Museum to learn more. Read about our trip to the museum here and more about Siem Reap here.