Going it alone in Siem Reap

Simple pleasures eh?

So, mid orientation walk round Siem Reap on Monday night, we were stood gazing at a temple and collective fatigue and heat exhaustion was all around us.  Our guide was giving some very detailed history about the city, but it was so hot, and the end of an already long and busy day.

Suddenly, one of our group announced she was sorry, but she thought she was going to throw up and needed to get back to the hotel PDQ.  It was something of a dramatic exit potentially, but also a problem.  Our guide was taking us on to a Cultural Evening of dance, but the poorly person could hardly be left to fend for herself vulnerable and heaving on the side walks of Siem Reap.

Worry not!

I too was feeling not ill, but faint.  This trip is fantastic, but it is almost a bit too full on, no down time at all, so you keep going on nervous energy but eventually it is like tunnel vision and auto pilot.  In my case fear of missing out keeps me putting one foot in front of another.  I saw an opportunity.  I could save the day and get a let on this trip.  It’s not that I didn’t want to go exactly, but I am going to be here for a few months yet.  There will be other chances to see traditional dance, possibly even in a less contrived touristy context. Plus I really didn’t want to eat the meal that goes along with this evening’s entertainments.  I’m being very careful at present. The upshot was, that driven largely by self-interest I piped up, bit too quickly to exactly gain martyrdom status – ‘don’t worry, I’ll see her back‘.

Fortunately I’ve got into the habit of taking a business card from the hotel with me whenever I step outside. It’s a really useful tip in any unknown city, but a necessity here where there are so few familiar points of reference.   We headed out of the temple and onto the street outside.  For the first time since I arrived in Cambodia there was not a tuk tuk in sight, plus my companion was a bit borderline about whether she’d make it that far.  I was ostensibly upbeat.  ‘Don’t worry, if you are sick, so be it, we’ll sort it‘  I said with a breezy confidence that disguised my more shallow instinctive thought which was ‘please god don’t be!’  I did feel really sorry for her though. It is horrible being ill at the best of times but worse in this unfamiliar context and nobody want to be sick in the street.  We had to go a bit further on, and wake a dozing driver who was a bit taken aback at my approach.  I did wonder if I’d inadvertently done the equivalent of going to the back of a taxi rank, he was so surprised. Oh well.  Too late now.

I showed the card for the hotel, nope, he had no idea where it was.  I ruffled about in my bag and produce a map.  He scrutinised it with some seriousness, nodding unconvincingly.  ‘How much?’ ‘Three Dollars‘.  ‘Three Dollars!‘  he had got to be kidding it was about a  kilometre it was just that speed was of the essence.   ‘Two dollars’.  That seems a reasonably minimum fare for two people.  I agreed, and then realised I’d done my first succesful transport haggle.  We boarded, and I was quite relieved to see the driver confer with a colleague for directions. I said to my poorly companion that I’d top it up to $3 if she was sick, it was intended as light humour, but perhaps a bit too near the bone for her to appreciate my attempt to lighten the mood.  Oh well.

Within a couple of minutes we were outside the hotel.  My companion dived inside.  I did my ‘ah kohm’ing, and handed over two one dollar bills.  But here’s the thing.  The tuk tuk driver was astonished at my rudimentary use of Khmer and seemed genuinely pleased.  I think maybe Siem Reap is soooooooo touristy people do parachute in and shoot out again and it’s all a bit fast, furious and transactional.  Just using one word of khmer helped make a little connection.  I was really pleased too.  …. especially as he then said ‘Soksabi’ which I also now know to be a sort of generic, ‘thanks/ hi/ you’re welcome/ I’m fine’ as the guide on our bike tour at Battambang explained this all to us as we went about our travels.

So that was a series of minor victories today.  I know to more experienced travelers they may seem pathetically modest, but they are still milestones along the way to settling in.  Specifically:

  • Independent tuk tuk ride
  • Succesful price haggle
  • INteraction in khmer!

Plus I got brownie points, always valuable currency.   Deflated only by the fact that our poor guide was confused about whether or not I’d be coming back to join them and was a bit concerned that I never reappeared.  Oh well.  Let’s not let that put a damper on things, it all still happened!  Plus, my companion made the toilet in time, and I got some much-needed kip.  Plus, I may even have nabbed a reindeer – that has to count towards the Smiley’s 12 Days of Christmas challenge surely?


Everyone’s a winner!




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