Saturday, December 24, 2005

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Just a quick post on the town in a more traditional style.

Siem Reap is the tourist destination of choice in Cambodia. The reason being the temples of Angkor. It's slightly expensive by Cambodian standards and there is no BG as such. The locals prefer to cater to the tour groups and the well-heeled visitors that lodge at the palatial hotels of the town.

This makes Siem Reap a strange town for the backpacker. Bars have the gall to actually close and not a drug dealer to be seen. The restaurants tend to be expensive as they provide fine French fare or increase their prices on the basis that Angelina Jolie's pert bottom might have blessed the very same stool that you are perched on whilst she was filming the eminently forgettable Tomb Raider.

This forces the scruffy likes of me to go native as the only prayer of keeping to a budget. Therefore, in the most touristic place of Cambodia, you eat like the locals and with the locals. Oh the irony.

Today I actually saw a few of the town's other attractions. One of these is the Landmine museum run in the face of all odds by a guy named Aki Ra. He is an ex-deminer who started the place off a while ago until a local military figure decided to get in on the action and open a place of his own. They weren't too keen on free market rules so the authorities pestered Aki Ra with various annoyances from removing all signs to the place and once chucking him in jail. He still persisted and support from tourist gives him some protection.

Aside from the usual tour of markets I indulged in the other activity for trendy backpackers: I was vampirised. The childrens hospital here keeps open thanks to its director, Dr Beat Richner, who plays the cello to the wealthy crowd each saturday in exchange for daontions to the hospital. He has twigged that the guesthouse denizens cannot realy be a great source of income so he asks the braided crowd for a pint of blood instead.

They need the stuff as there is an epidemic of hemorrhagic dengue fever in the area. This fun disease tends to be particularly lethal to under 15's so the childrens hospital need blood to keep them alive. The local sprogs don't have the battery of anti mozzie kit the average backpacker has and often live next to stagnant water such as the paddy fields they cultivate to stay alive. Therefore I was bled of a pint of the red stuff after I had ascertained that they used disposable needles. Feeling woozy.

Some backpackers go on a jaunt to discover themselves and are amazed at what they find. I myself have discovered that I am a committed Christian thanks to devious Cambodians. A few of the wily locals have twigged that the modern Tourist is highly fearful of appearing insensitive to local customs. Therefore some of them mill about the statues of Buddha and light up a couple on incenese sticks for the passing tourist and encourage him to pray to the thing. They then put some money on the altar and encourage the newly blessed to do the same. Out of fear to offend the tourist often obliges.

I glimpsed this scene and the subsequent pocketing of the money by the helpful native and tried to think of a way out of it. I decided that two can play the religious tolerance game and made them understand that I was a Christian and felt no desire to pray to their heathen gods. Praise be to Jesus.

(For info, these chaps were not monks for whom the donations should be going to)

I also discovered that I should be careful for what I wished for. For reason of Xmas there is a slight drop of tourists in Siem Reap at the moment hence the high ratio of Tuk-Tuk driver per visitor. As a result there is an intimidating throng of them at the bus station. They surround the incoming bus, tap the windows and a baying mob of them crowd the door of your transport. I mentioned to fellow traveller that I wished someone in authority would tell them that there is such a thing as too keen.

My wish was realised when 2 members of the local constabulary showed up and tried to get the chappies to at least let us get off the bus. They did this by using whistles and the respect that their noble profession is due. When this failed they took canes and started to whip the legs of the touts with more vigour than I thought necessary. All visitors find pesky moto drivers to be tiresome but even I thought birchwhipping was tad harsh.

That's pretty much it for Siem Reap.

All the best,



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