Sunday, April 14, 2013

Siem Reap

A week ago I was in Siem Reap, sweating profusely as usual. Even though my desire to be in a cool climate is quite strong, my practicality in pleasing my wife is greater. 
This was my second visit to the temples of Siem Reap. and being wiser, when Aya and I were planning out trip and she talked about visiting temples for 6 days I knew that wasn't a good idea. Plus, I had been there and done that so I was more interested in sitting around the pool and taking naps. In the end we spent each day getting up early and heading out to view temples, back around late morning, lunching and napping, then getting back out again in the evenings to see stuff in town. A compromise because hey, my wife and I are a good team. We did spend some mornings going to temples, 3 mornings in all. The temples were beautiful. Built over a span of hundreds of years and differing dynasties they all have their own slightly unique designs, but as our tuk tuk driver said after our third day, "Why see more? same same." I remember on my last trip here with my friend Richard we struck upon the idea of being, "all templed out." I've had that experience many times now in different places and the bottom line is that even if you have the opportunity that you shouldn’t push yourself to boredom just because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We took it slow. We napped, had massages, went swimming in the hotel pool, etc. and saw the sights in our own sweet time. We also saw some other sights such as the History museum, did some shopping in the night market, went to the military museum, tried to go to Tonle Sap, etc.
One of the odd things about Cambodia is that USD is used more frequently than the national currency, the Riel. Although I haven't researched it, it would be my guess that the US dollar is stable relative to the Riel. Another odd thing, which I found through a couple of arguments with shopkeepers, was that people won’t take a damaged large bill (US). They all told me that when they bring them to the bank they are charged a couple bucks for the damaged bills. Why is this? An economic mystery emerged and I began to speculate. Is it because the banks are charged for swapping bills with new ones from the US? Is it because they are charged a disposal fee for the damaged bills? Is it to discourage counterfeiting? Still a mystery.
Most things were priced as I remembered them. Tuk tuks were cheap, just 1 or 2 dollars per trip or 7 for a 1/2 day and 15 for a full day driver. Meals were slightly more expensive, but this would be expected as it has been 6 years since I was there and GNI per cap has risen about 30% since the last time I was there. What struck me most was the price of entry tickets/tours which have increased greatly. Our tickets to the temples were about the same as I remember, but at one point we went to check out a tour to Tonle Sap only to find out the tour company in charge of bringing people there wanted 50 dollars each person for the tour. So we turned around and came back to Siem Reap and went to the Military Museum (6 dollars each). This was even after our tuk tuk drivers offered to bargain down the price on our behalf to 40 each AND to loan us however much money we need. Such a nice guy, but we said no and that we didn’t have enough money. He must have thought we were dirty liars because we were staying at one of the most expensive hotels in town, the 5 star Sokra. What he didn't know is that we got a deal at 35 dollars a night compared to over a hundred normally and only because I booked at our original hotel for one day less than I should have. For 100 dollars we could have had two nights in a very nice hotel, massages each, and a nice dinner. Tonle Sap tour, not worth it.

 So I still haven’t seen Tonle Sap, maybe I will have to go back again in another 6 years. Probably the most interesting part of the trip for me was going over spots I had been to 6 years prior and seeing hordes of young college kids frequenting these places. One night sitting at Amigos I watched a group of people in their early 20’s chatting, smoking and drinking. The conversations were brash and timid all at the same time. You could tell that they were feeling each other out and that they always wanted to talk about themselves (who doesn’t?) and what they had done or seen. I am so glad I am not young anymore. Youth is great, but age brings wisdom.