At home, bargaining is not unheard of. You might try to negotiate a price at a garage sale or similar, and it’s quite normal for larger purchases (furniture, car, house, business deal). But most of the time, if you are buying a snack or a shirt or a pair of sunglasses, the price is as marked, and if you try to haggle people will just think you’re weird. I prefer this system because it makes all of those small transactions quick and unambiguous. By contrast, tipping is quite normal in Canada, if not quite so endemic as in the US.
Angkor Wat. Blimey. Possibly the single most “Thing You Must Do” thing we have indeed done on the trip. And worth just about every minute. Given the flood of tourists here in peak season, it’s somewhat remarkable that there was only one point where we cracked — the top of Bayon is a funnel point that simply cannot handle the dozen or so tour groups cramming into it, and we had to bolt for quieter environs. But that was the exception that proved the rule: the temples around Siem Reap are so huge, and so numerous, that the hordes don’t
The last thing we did before heading off to the airport at Seam Reap was head up to Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset. It was another one of those “must do”Angkor experiences, which means it was too crowded to enjoy properly. But there had been a rain storm just previously, so we got some very dramatic skies, even if the actual sunset itself was a bit of a cloudy anti-climax.
It’s super touristy, but I couldn’t resist an elephant ride up to the top of Phnom Bakheng. Much bumpier than I expected, but it did save us from having to climb the hill in the mid-afternoon heat.
All sorts of delicious Khmer food from Siem Reap. We were very spoiled by 6-course, $15 tasting menus in a couple of excellent restaurants. There’s aspects of Vietnamese and Thai to the cuisine, with some wonderful coconut milk curries (“amok”). Lots of fresh fish and delicate herbs, lemongrass and ginger.
One of the less charming aspects of Angkor is the omnipresent temple vendors. They are aggressive and insistent and never tire of trying to separate you from your money, one US dollar at a time. Their persistence is inversely proportional to the usefulness of their product, so vendors peddling cold drinks will often ask once and then leave you alone, while someone selling unbecoming artwork or dodgy jewellery will badger you incessently.
The dominant mode of transport in Siem Reap and Angkor is the tuk-tuk. The sites are so numerous and spread out that T you can’t really walk between them. Biking is feasible, but the weather’s so hot that it’s not the most comfortable, and you’re on your own for navigation. Cars are faster and come with drivers but are more expensive and also a bit anti-septic. Tuk-tuks are best of all worlds. Our driver, Thean*, took us around to all of the temples, advising on timing and so on to avoid the crowds. The tuk-tuk goes slowly enough that you
Angkor Thom was a huge fortified city, one that supported around a million people in the 1100s — when London had 50,000 or so. All over the site you can see sardonically smiling giant heads peering out from all angles, especially on the gates and in the city’s temple, Bayon. The truly remarkable Bayon gets really, really busy, and so to escape the worst of the crowds, we walked out to the west gate, where we were almost completely alone. The walk out there also gave a clear sense of just how big the site was - from the centre
In Angkor Wat’s grounds we came across a pack of monkeys, hanging out in the cool of the early morning. There were two very young babies (one rocking a super cool mohawk) with their mothers, and a few rapscallion teenager types, who gleefully chased after tourists while the mothers looked on in an unimpressed fashion.