“Cambodia seems so far…” reads the text from my friend, Kaie, as I leave the hotel room on my first day here. I chuckle and have to agree. But from the little I’ve seen of this place, I’m enchanted. Truly enchanted with Siem (pronounced as one syllable) Reap.
Siem Reap is one of the hottest Asian destinations, largely because it’s the gateway to Angkor Wat, a truly magnificent monument built in the 12th century. The city also possesses a charm that still bears remnants of its French past, a charm that’s evident in its shops’ architecture, relaxing scenery, and somewhat enigmatic food. I love it here. It reminds me of Boracay but without the beach, and that suits this anti-beach person just fine.
The Cambodians have an enthusiasm that’s infectious. These are people who are happy to just be alive. Their smiles mirror their unbreakable spirit but hide what they had to do to get to this point in time. Read any history of Cambodia and you’ll know about the unspeakable terror and anguish previous generations had to endure. For the Cambodians who are still here, it’s clear that they are deeply proud of and in love with their country.
Siem Reap is a delightfully walkable city. There are tuktuks, whose drivers are almost as aggressive as those in Vietnam, offering me a ride for “…one dollah.” The riel is Cambodia’s official currency, but the US $ is always the quoted price and is most often preferred. The city is divided into eastern and western blocks, its heart being Psar Chaa (Old Marketplace), an area absolutely packed with shops, restaurants, and bars. And ah yes, there’s a market too, both wet and dry.
Cambodia is a treasure chest for those who love silver and gems. Tucked deep into the market is a covered area selling nothing but gems, gems, gems. As I approach and make my way to each one, hidden bulbs are turned on by the vendors and magically, the displays light up like Aladdin’s cave. Most of the prices that are quoted to me are outrageous, perhaps to see how gullible a shopper I am. But it’s part of the experience and I move on.
- Cambodian roti. It’s a pancake that puffs up during cooking and is then finished with a drizzle of condensed milk. I was a bit disappointed with the taste ”“ very eggy, with the sweetness somehow out of place.
Complete slideshow of the Psar Chaa (Old Market):