But starting at the beginning...an email friend from Australia came to stay in K.L. and mentioned she had not been to Cambodia...so we had to rectify that. Happily another friend was also able to join up, so off we went.
Air Asia has done more to open up S.E,Asia to the world than any one other thing....however...there has to be a BUT. ...while “skybus” travels from Kuala Lumpur Sentral station at hours that coincide with flights...how the hell does one get to KL Sentral in the middle of the night? Absolutely no trains or buses are available and who in their right mind can afford a KL taxi even if you can find one and so we joined the 100's of people who sleep as best they can in hard chairs (if they can find one) at that grossly inadequate excuse for a terminal which is LCCT, so as to catch the early (and cheaper) flight on AirAsia.
Cambodia (unlike Vietnam which is still a nightmare) now has very easy e-visas online and is hassle free...while costing US$25 a visa if you are not lucky enough to be an ASEAN citizen. We chose KUL-PNH as to Siem Reap was a whole lot more expensive and the US$6-8 bus Phnom Penh to Siem Reap would still leave plenty of change in the pocket. ( I have since found out that its best to shop, as I find tickets can get from US$4 for the trip or US$9 for a VIP fast 14 seater) Beware Paramount buses, as they stop 5km out of Siem Reap, have their favorite tut tut drivers and lock the gate till you pick one. Don't be put off however and bargain from the asking US$ 4 per head down to US$2 per tut tut (4 pax) As the driver had good English we also booked him a ½ day to the Tongle Sap lake for US$5 and to DO Angkor Wat for US$10 the whole day. You must bargain and stick to your guns.
However the Khmer people are very honorable and will always stick to agreed price.
So if you think of going to the Tongle Sap lake between June and November when the lake is up....don't. Not only you see nothing as the floating village is dispersed around the flood plain. ...and now that boat price has gone from US$5 to US$15 per pax and officiated over by arrogant, rude Vietnamese arseholes, its just not worth it. In fact when the lake is down and you can actually SEE the floating village...at US$15 is still not worth it. A boat may earn US$400 a day and the boatman US$1 a day...after being licensed, which is a lengthy affair.
There are a huge number of places to stay and equivalent of 3 star averages around US$10 a room bathroom but no A/C or add US$5 for A/C. We found a great guest house at US$8-10 with bath and A/C. Attached is a great shop with beer at the right price and they also do bus tickets at discount prices. Contact by phone +855 12430427, Sam and Dany Souvenir shop, Group 3, Wat Bo Village, Siem Reap District. It is a short few blocks from the old market and almost next door to Hansa BBQ & seafood US$3 eat all you can and without a doubt the very best deal in town.
There are still many places with US$0.50 a draft beer, but even a cheap meal at around US$3-4 is in fact not cheap compared with Malaysia or Thailand. ...so live on beer!!. The night market seems to have grown and our favorite SAMBO stall B26 always remembers us and gives us a good price. This time gave a present for our daughter who was with us last trip. The Blue Pumpkin, up from the old market, still has a range of buns and cakes 50% off after 2000, but be quick as they go fast and when strapping Korean ladies elbow you out of the way...you just elbow right back.
I had never been to the silk worm farm as the thought of boxes of worms didn't appeal. But we had a bit of time and it was close by. They got to call it something else as this extremely well set up almost semi co-op company is fantastic. It was put in place to give skills to rural people, including handicapped (one section has all deaf/mute young workers all talking in sign). Young people are vetted and those accepted go through various stages of training until being certified as an artisan. Then they may go back to their village of what ever, but many either stay on or work outside and bring their works to the centre to sell. Its not all about silkworms, although the silk products are all superbly hand spun and made, many clothing items designed by leading French designers. The finished items are so well produced, they could not be bettered. This goes for wood carving, stone carving, tin smithing in copper, brass, silver plating, lacquer works...you name it. Every item a work of art. I wish our daughter had seen this, for as a sculptor herself, she would love to see how items were being made and the styles used. This is a must see and prices are excellent value for money. Even large items can be delivered around the world, often free.
The Victoria-Siem Reap
To Phnom Penh on VIP fast 14 seat and booked into the very basic AKA guest house on Rue 178 (art street) at US$13 a small double with A/C and bath. Phnom Penh has doubled the traffic in 8 months and I fear soon will be as big a nightmare as Hanoi. Crossing the street certainly requires the same tactics of form a group, start walking, don't stop and don't look. Close to the guest house at shop 23 Rue 178 there is a treat of a type of crisp fried patty or pau with choice of fillings, chives, savory yam, sar got (type of beet) with dried shrimp, plus a square fried rice flour with chive slice. May not sound much, but I defy anyone to not go back for seconds. This with a Vietnamese style coffee at the stall outside the Museum was a daily ritual.
While the Russian market has got tattier and in a downpour not the place to be, the refurbished New Market (Psho Thmey) is now probably the best market in S.E.Asia. Clean, well set out, top quality stuff and a massive variety, now takes over as a major attraction.
I hate discrimination and the only example I have found in Cambodia is a foreigners charge to get to the summit of Phnom hill (Penh) and Wat Phnom, that I believe gives the city its name. I will voluntarily donate to causes, but refuse to pay discriminatory fees. Its not the money, but is the principle and turns me right off.
We had a couple of days of very heavy afternoon rain and local flooding. The kids loved it and everyone took it in stride. At out coffee stall, we simply raised our feet when a 4WD or truck went past with massive bow wave.
Museum from our favourite coffee stall.
In just a couple of years, affluence has descended on Cambodia and the huge number of bikes, Lexus 4WD etc, upper market restaurants and shopping complexes is rapidly turning it into just another Asian country...except for the wonderful nature of Cambodians. But worth seeing it before it becomes a same old same old.
Tut Tut to airport from the river at US$6-4pax and remember the US$25 airport tax, then join the queue of Cambodian girls heading for a new life as maids in Malaysia.