Siem Reap, Cambodia is a living dichotomy. It’s like a mind split in two, the differences breathtaking. OK, maybe not breathtaking, but at least worth noting. I have to admit I wasn't in the best state of mind when I visited this city, so like every other post by anyone, it will only provide my limited 4-day mentally questionable perspective (as a side note I plan on writing a short article on how perspective influences life and travel).
So there I was... one moment I'm playing shuttlecock with some awesome locals after a ridiculous rain and sweat-soaking run, the next I'm dealing with:
The Tuk-Tuk Mafia
"Where you from"
"Where you going?"
"What you looking for"
"You want girl?"
This happens every 2-5 seconds while walking the streets of Siem Reap. As a lone traveler, I'm especially singled out as a target (at least it feels that way). I may as well make a costume with the body portion a dollar sign, and the headpiece with a loudspeaker attached that yells "please assault me with a barrage of goods and services, for it is pleasing!"
Can someone please make a cartoon drawing of that costume? I'm just not good with that stuff.
WTF is a tuk-tuk you may be wondering? It's a motorcycle with a carriage. Or, a taxi.
It's almost as though the very act of walking is some sort of atrocious social faux-pa, or maybe gravity is considered to be a nefarious entity to engage in battle with. Whatever the case, many have a hard time accepting the fact that one would rather walk than ride in their chariots of immaculate motorcycle emissions.
Even on the way to Angkor Wat the tuk-tuk mafia tried to get money from me. I rented a bicycle to bike out to the temples. For some reason, this was considered to be some sort of feat that only Olympic athletes should attempt. I was wished good luck a number of times, as though there was a good possibility that I just wouldn't make it.
From my hotel, it's only 4.2 miles. That's 6.76 kilometers.
On the way, there is a "ticket checkpoint," where people wearing purple shirts blow a whistle at you and tell you to stop (while those on or in motor vehicles whizz past).
Officer: "You have a ticket?"
Me: "No, do I need one?"
Officer: "Yes, you need to go all the back to town. Leave bike here and tuk-tuk will take you."
Me: "No, I'll ride my bike. It's not far."
Officer: "No, you should have known about ticket, leave bike here. It's far, tuk-tuk take you."
Officer: Same stupid bullshit
Me: Same answer
I start pedaling off.
Officer: "It's too far, you should know about ticket, tuk-tuk take you."
Me: "I DON'T CARE, I'M RIDING MY BIKE"
"What a fucking asshole," I thought.
It took me about 30 minutes to ride into town and get an overpriced ticket to see the temples. $20 for one day. They offered more expensive tickets for 3-day and week visits, etc. but I'm glad I opted for the 1-day thing. Don't get me wrong, the temples are cool, but I guess you have to really be into them to get a lot out of it. I know I know, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, and it should induce a state of awe and wonder that will give you mind-boners that last longer than a real case of Viagra overdose.
Can I be honest though? I could care less if it's the biggest religious monument in the world. It's cool but let's not get carried away here.
I also realize that Cambodia has had an extremely rough history, which is probably still a ridiculous understatement. And like I've said before, you can't judge a nation based on narrow anecdotal experience, but I'm going to shoot straight with my narrow anecdotal experiences in Siem Reap.
Before moving forward, I have to say that I've met some really awesome, super-genuine, kind, AWESOME humble happy people here. Also, I know the tuk-tuk drivers are just trying to make a living, so they're out there doing it ya know. I get it, but sometimes I'm just not in the mood. Most are nice and cool, if annoying. Or really fucking annoying.
My Best Night in Siem Reap
I figured it out. I had an incredible night walking through the streets of Siem Reap. Before I get to that, let me paint a picture of this place for you.
- There is a stagnant river that runs (?) through it. It's still kind of cool
- It almost seems as though someone is paying people to just drive through the streets at all times so that there is never a moment when there isn't an insane amount of motorcycles and cars cruising along the roads.
- There are around 1 billion massage parlors (this is a rough estimate)
- There are some hotels that look like they were made for Mariah Carey and an entourage of somehow-rich B-movie actors, and right next to them are shacks where people are trying to hawk goods
- There are always many Chinese tourists. They are everywhere in SE Asia, and I think I'd be freaked out if I didn't see them at a particular spot. *I met and made friends with some very awesome Chinese people on this journey.
- There are always backpackers who look exactly the same. They are usually very white and many wear billowy pants.
- There are many middle-aged couples of varying nationalities. They are usually staying at the same hotel as I.
- You can buy prescription drugs like Zoloft over the counter
- They have restaurants with names like "Herbal Pizza Happiness." This means they serve weed pizza.
- There are dubious looking bald lone travelers like me who one day may look lost, confused, and dazed, and the next calm and uncaring.
- There are locals who earn income from selling goods and services to tourists. These people talk at me all day long everywhere I go. Incessant is too weak a word to describe it.
- There are families and friends hanging out in parks
- There are a lot of temples
- There are the friendly shop owners.
- There are stray dogs.
How I Had An Awesome Night in Siem Reap
I had a lovely night tonight in Siem Reap. How? I'm so glad you asked! First, this is what you need:
- Something to plug the headphones into so that sound is produced
- An umbrella if it's raining
Before heading out I recommend you do some sort of physical activity to induce clarity of mind. Or if drugs are your thing to induce clarity of mind, do that. Whatever works for ya. Maybe hypnosis. Whatever helps you achieve that state akin to what Peter in Office Space attained, that's what we want.
OK, now you're ready to go out. Before stepping outside, it's vital that you have your earbuds in your ears with music that you love playing. It's best if you have the music loud enough to where you can't understand what people are saying to you, but you can still hear cars and motorbikes.
Now arm yourself with a dreamy smile and walk. Breathe in the air (or hold your breathe if you happen to be right beside a bus or a gonzo CO2 spewer), look around, and just be. You may notice peripherally that people are vying for your attention. Here you can just walk on, ignoring them peacefully. Or, you can smile at them and keep walking. I stopped a couple times and looked the tuk-tuk driver in the eye and proclaimed "it's a beautiful night my friend! It's perfect!" Or, in the same vein, I would state with pithy, "what is wrong with walking my friend, for it is a marvelous night to be walking!"
I walked through streets lined with pubs and seedy massage parlors. A whole gaggle of masseuses literally got in front of me on the sidewalk with posters showing low prices for a massage. I simply smiled, raised my umbrella high, and walked through and around them, enjoying a song by Deafheaven or some other band.
I did this a number of times, simply ignoring, raising my umbrella, and walking.
I walked through the night market where I know every shop owner called out with not only their voices but every cell in their body, willing me to look at and purchase the goods at their stall. But I was immune. I was in heaven!
Sometimes I would stop and talk with the shop owners. When it was apparent that the conversation was not real, but only words spewed to obtain cash, I simply smiled, said nothing more, and walked on in bliss.
It was an incredible night, and I finished it off by watching Fight Club.