“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens’ quote from his wonderful book “A Tale of Two Cities” kind of sums up my experience in Siem Reap last month.
I feel Sept 2022 was definitely the best and worst of times for the inhabitants of Siem Reap that rely so heavily on tourism. The best of times because travel was opening again. People were starting to come in. The hotel I stayed in finally opened its doors on 1st Sept after over 2 years of closure. There was hope.
The worse of times… there is not enough tourists coming in. The hotel I stayed in had 3 rooms being used out of a possible 275. It was spooky and creepy feeling like the only one staying in such a big grand hotel. Shops shut. Go to visit some place on google maps – closed, derelict, decaying. People desperate for money. Too many tuk tuk drivers, not enough people needing them. Too many places open to eat, not enough people in them.
Coming to SR post-covid was definitely beneficial to a tourist like myself – the sites which pre-covid were teeming with people were quiet. It was great to be able to get photos of the wonderful temples without hordes of people in them. Everything was cheap, and bargains were to be had. The temple card that you need to apply for in order to enter the complex was offering a special 2 days for the price of 1. It was obviously super easy to get a seat at a restaurant and service was quick and amazing. Life for the tourist going to visit SR right now is wonderful. YET….
This didn’t sit well with me. I am not naive, I had been to third world countries before. I had seen struggle. But by gosh, SR was a shock to the system. I don’t know if I have become more sensitive to people and their struggles now that I am a parent, but I left Cambodia feeling sad, depressed and just hopeless. I don’t see how it will pick up any time soon. I hated seeing kids my daughter’s age begging for a dollar instead of being at school. I hated seeing cows, dogs and cats on the side of the road so skinny with their bones sticking out. I HATED seeing girls a few years older than my ten year old wearing mini-skirts and walking along with some 60 year old fat bald european man, knowing that they had to do you know what to probably feed their family.
It sounds like I didn’t enjoy myself, and this is not the case!!! I had a wonderful time, and the temples of Angkor are definitely deserving as being “wonders of the world”. They are truly spectacular, and I think anyone that calls themselves a “traveller” or even “tourist” needs to see these amazing ruins for themselves. The people of Cambodia are also amazing – such gentle, graceful people, smiling and joking even though times are tough. Never did I feel pressured by the people to buy, they were never aggressive. They were always polite and smiling. And I think that’s what got me the most! That is what “copped me in the feels” so to speak. It’s the people who are the kindest and gentlest and nicest that seem to suffer the most. I guess my time in Cambodia just reinforced to me that the world is not fair. And that no matter how much you wanted to you cannot help everybody!
I guess what I am trying to get off my chest is that if you ever felt like you wanted to visit Siem Reap, and Cambodia in general, now is the time to go. Now is the time you are needed the most! And yes, be prepared for some “culture shocks”, be prepared for things not to be so rosy, but please go with a open heart and open mind and you will be rewarded with amazing ruins, great food, wonderful people and a holiday knowing that your $$$ are helping some of the world’s poorest people. The guides and locals I spoke to all said the same thing to me – get the word out there! tell people to come visit! So I guess this is what I am doing. I am not someone that sugar coats things. I am a hopeless liar! So maybe this post isn’t painting a “picture perfect” holiday. But I would hope most of the people I know that read my blog are not the “perfect” holiday types anyway. Most of you, dear friends, love to explore off the beaten path. You don’t mind if things don’t go perfectly to plan. You don’t mind a bit of sweat and dirt and heat. So please, go and visit Siem Reap and enjoy this amazing place!!!
Here are a few impressions to begin with…. because I took sooooo many photos, and there is so much history and culture to write about, I will do what my mate over at Leighton Travel’s (https://leightontravels.com/) does and write about each temple site. Speaking of, if you ever have questions about Siem Reap you can of course ask me, but Leighton has spent many months during covid lockdown “stuck” in Siem Reap – he is an expert and was super helpful when I had questions. His Siem Reap pages are so worth checking out!