We spent a scant 5 days in Cambodia, and almost all of it in Siem Reap. Here are some mostly non-temple-related observations:
- Siem Reap is big tourism. The least aggressive tout is the adult male drivers ("Tuk-tuk, sir?") on the street corners. This is minor compared to the children ("Sir, you buy postcard necklace I give you good price 10 for 1 dollar") who descend upon your table inside the restaurant in mass. However, the most annoying has got to be the adult females of the species, who cry in a sort of nasal sing-song pitch, "SIIIIIRRRR, you buy cold DRIINNNKK? I remember you, you buy from MEEEEEEEE," continuously from the moment your tuk-tuk slows down, throughout the walk around the site, and as you are driving away from the temple. In all fairness, the majority of the big ticket price for the Temples pass goes to some big corporation so buying from the touts is one way to add some money into the actual local economy.
- Khmer cuisine is pretty good. We were big fans of the Cambodian dish amok (fish, shredded cabbage, onions in a creamy coconut sauce, sometimes with egg, and always in a bowl made from a banana leaf)... not so much into the lok lak (lukewarm tomato-y beef on a bed of onion, tomato, and cucumber slices with a black pepper sauce). Because of the huge tourist influx, eating options (and many other hospitality services) vary wildly from cheap, fantastic plates at the street stalls to Western prices (ridiculously expensive by Southeast Asian standards) for what seems like mediocre Western food. The dollar menu at the street stalls - a heaping pile of fried rice or noodles with recognizable vegetables AND shrimp! - puts McDonald's to shame.
- Sure, it's a gimmick, but we could not resist trying out the fish massage. You put your feet into what is essentially a blow-up kiddie pool on the sidewalk with tiny little fish that are supposed to nibble the dead skin off your toes. It is really more akin to that scraper they use in a pedicure for your calluses than an actual massage. The sensation tickles at first, which is why people getting the massage are laughing their heads off, and later, if there are a lot of fish nibbling, feels like one of those vibrating Brookstone or Sharper Image massagers or, as Richard more succinctly puts it, like getting pins and needles. For good measure, I also tried out the traditional Khmer full body massage, which was the best one yet.
- Getting back in touch with entomology, we also visited a silk worm farm as part of a visit to the Artisans of Angkor workshop. Cambodian silk is naturally yellow in color, and they do the dyeing, weaving, and embroidery there as well. Silk is one of the traditional crafts they teach (also wood and soapstone carving, lacquering, and silver-plating), and their pieces are really beautiful (although pricey because it is fair trade).
- Small world moment: In a bakery/cafe with awesome ice cream (we tried four-spice, caramel and cashew, Khmer fruits, and jackfruit flavors) and an even more awesome white-on-white minimalist lounge, Richard randomly ran into one of his college floormates who he has not seen in 10 years. Crazy!