We left Melbourne very late Tuesday night, dinner was served on the plane despite it being around 1am. I’m still confused as to how long the flight went for due to time zone differences. I vaguely slept on the plane, but really just tossed and turned a lot due to uncomfortable and screaming babies. I feel really sorry for people travelling with babies, even if at the time I mainly feel annoyed. They then woke us up for breakfast, despite the fact it still seemed to be the middle of the night, turning on the plane lights, then we hit turbulence, so breakfast was delayed. Not sure why they feed you at odd hours, it would have made sense to wait longer I think.
Landed in Kuala Lumpur airport, we had a stop over of about five hours. We found a café with free wifi and killed about an hour there, we had a look at the shops of which there were many, a whole shopping mall, but they were boring unless you like fashion, make up, perfume and other boring things. There was a jungle in the middle of the airport that pretty damn cool, as was the train between terminals, trains are always cool. The Malaysian noodles for breakfast were also good.
The flight to Cambodia from KL was a short one. The airport at Siem Reap is a small new airport. We landed and had to walk from the plane across the tarmac to the airport. This gave us our first impression of Cambodia, which was hot, with lovely tropical plants, also jet engines are very loud. Cambodian customs and visa checking was very efficient and quick. We were met outside the airport by our driver, provided by Sojourn, yes my name was on a sign!
We got into his car and he had an esky in the front, offering us beer, soft drink and water. His name was Mr How and he was our driver for the next few days. His English is quite good; he owns his own car making him fairly rich by Cambodian standards and freelances for Sojourn. He gave a bit of a spiel about Cambodia and Siem Reap and we got to look out the windows of our air-conditioned car and make some more first impressions. Roads vary from sealed and good to unpaved and full of potholes. Everything is very dusty. Motorbikes and pushbikes outnumber tuk-tuks and tuk-tuks outnumber cars by a lot. They drive on the wrong side of the road, but really they drive on whatever side of the road has less potholes and less traffic. Traffic moved fairly slowly, about 20kph on average, which given the mix of bikes, tuk-tuks, cars and motorbikes is probably the safest option. Helmets are optional and not many people use them. Motorcycle leathers are non-existent.
Our resort is called Sojourn. This is a fairly luxurious resort and in the medium high end of the price range for accommodation. But still pretty cheap by Australian standards. It is about 15 minutes drive outside of Siem Reap – or $3 by tuk-tuk. We picked it because they have an ethical business model, pay real wages, and work closely with a local village providing training, employment and capacity building. They also make sure they only support tours and organisations that are ethical and non scammy business models.
We arrive at the resort to be greeted with glasses of fresh lime juice (lime, sugar syrup and water) and a snack that is a crepe stuffed with palm sugar and coconut. We were given information about the resort and about the tour package we had booked – which involved a bunch of planned activities. We were also given information about how to be an ethical tourist. Things like don’t visit orphanages, children are not entertainment – some orphanages make the children work and perform for money, Also – don’t give child beggars money. Education is free in Cambodia, but if the kid is begging in the temple, they aren’t in school and parents will make them beg for money rather than going to school.
The resort is very swish. Its small, only about 12 cabins. There is a salt water pool in the middle. And every service is easily accessible.
Our Swish Cabin
We got to unpack and relax with our drinks and a swim.
The swamp in the village over the road from the resort, we didn't swim here, but the Cambodian children were, photo provided for contrast.
Then our driver picked us up and it was off to Angkor Wat to see the sunset. We picked up a multi-day temple pass and were driven to the edge of the Angkor Wat moat. The driver then set us up with some picnic snacks and a bottle of white wine. The sun sets behind you and you watch the colours change over the towers and walls of Angkor Wat. It is a stunning site.
It was part of the package, and maybe I am peasant, or too egalitarian, but it felt really odd to have someone doing everything for us. The driver wouldn’t let us carry the picnic basket, he opened our doors… just made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I know it was his job, but the idea that its expected doesn’t sit well with me.
One of the snacks was some kind of shellfish on skewers. Kids were wandering up and down with large bags collecting empty plastic bottles and cans from tourists, so we gave them the skewers. Technically they were not begging. There was a group of three of them, so they grabbed all the skewers very quickly, then the oldest one started yelling, I started to worry we were about to have a fight. She got all the kids to give her all the skewers but then she shared them out evenly, despite there being an odd number. The skewers disappeared very quickly and the kids ran off fairly quickly when our driver approached to see what was going on.
Our driver then took us to a shop selling authentic Cambodian made silk. There are places selling cheap silk everywhere – but most is not real silk, you can feel the difference. So I brought a few pieces, before returning to the resort.
You look at the markets and after the hundreth stall selling the same cheap 'silk' scarves you really wonder if there is a market to support that many people selling the same product. The pleas of come in and look, please buy, please buy sound desparate and its hard to deal with. The poverty in Cambodia I found really hard to deal with. The contrast between the rich tourists and everyone else was heart breaking.