|I have just arrived in Luang Prabang (Laos) this afternoon, so before my memory of Siem Reap fades, I'll try to give you an overview of the place.
I stayed in Siemp Reap for 7 nights and 6 days, 3 of which I spent exploring the temples of Angkor, and three relaxing and hanging around the town. I'll write about Angkor in a separate post. This is about the town itself.
On my first morning in town, I found myself buying a book called "First they killed my father" from a man with no arms, while small fish ate the dead skin on my feet. If this sounds like a strange sentence it's because you've never been to Siem Reap. :) This book is the true story of what happened to a Khmer family between 1975 to 1979, when the Khmer Rouge took power, told from the point of view of one of the little girls in the family. It's a true tear jerker but gives real insight into the hardships local people had to endure. The fish... well Siemp Reap is full of massage places that also include a small pool filled with little fish that nibble at dead skin on your feet. For the first minute or so it's quite ticklish, but then you get used to it: $3 for half an hour. As for the amputee salesman, his story mirrors that of many others who stepped on mines planted by the Khmer Rouge (who kept no map of where they had put the devices) and ended up blowing some of their limbs away.
That first afternoon I also visited a local buddhist temple.
The following day was spend at Angkor, but I caught a classical Khmer dance performance at a local restaurant in the evening. It reminds me of both Thai and Balinese dances.
On my third day (laundry day), I got a tour of the Artisans of Angkor worshops. This is a not-for-profit organisation that trains and employs impoverished and handicapped people from the countryside, providing them with lodging, food and training in various traditional crafts including silk painting, wood carving and metal work. There is also a shop selling their work. The tour was very interesting and on a pay-what-you-want basis (tips essentially).
I also checked out the Old Market and Night Market. I find markets a little tiring because they are hot and as soon as you start looking at something, the seller will not leave you alone and expects you to buy!
Siem Reap is a fairly small town compared to Phnom Penh, so the traffic was mercifully much lighter. Motorcycle and tuk-tuks still move in and out of lanes though, so you have to be careful crossing the roads.
Another neat thing about Siem Reap are the restaurants. There is a lot of choice, and some of them have special features, like The Blue Pumpkin with its wide day couches that act as seating. I also came across a small tapas bar staffed by a French woman and we chatted in French for a while.
My hotel room in Siem Reap was beyond doubt the most luxurious room I've had so far, yet only $25 (my budget maximum for accommodation). It even had a small pool which I used twice. So overall my stay in Siemp Reap was pretty laid back. Of course the days at the temples were hot and tiring, but that will be for another day. :)