I definitely won’t say more than “just” Angkor Wat, because its very being deserves the utmost respect and reverence. But I still would have enjoyed Siem Reap immensely if we had only stayed within the town’s borders.
We arrived at night and the core was very lively. The ambience was pulsing with vibrancy and color. Groups of people swept by in every direction. The dozens of bars and restaurants lining the streets were full. Even longer lines of massage chairs and outdoor “spas” were clustered together in the middle of it all.
We took a back lane into the darkness, adorned with all of our gear, to find a suitable guesthouse. Immediately I was bombarded with offers of cocaine and weed by guys literally emerging from doorway shadows, like out of a comic book. It was a surreal and really enjoyable experience; I never felt unsafe and there were always plenty of people around, even off the main roads. Most “advertisers” were fairly easy to deflect.
We found a really nice guesthouse which was a little pricier than what we’d have liked to pay, but we’d heard it’s be a bit more expensive here, so we settled for the night in an unnecessarily massive (but still very basic) room. By settled, I mean we dropped our stuff and headed back out into the town.
One thing we’d always wanted to do is get a fish pedicure and there were plenty to choose from. It was the funniest feeling at first, but you get used to it. We dipped our toes in and had these little fish nibbling away at the dead skin. Sounds kind of gross, and it might not be something you’d want to do at the same time as people you’ve never met, but it does feel really cool and smooths out your feet nicely.
One of the scams going around were different women holding babies in people’s faces as they begged for money. I actually witnessed an on-the-job shift change for this particular industry, where one of the women immediately wiped the grave look off of her face (like a hilariously night and day kind of change), passed the baby to her co-worker, who then took over the duty of begging-with-the-baby. I guess it’s only a scam in the sense that it’s an act they’re putting on; I don’t doubt their need to do whatever it takes to help feed themselves and their families.
The food was varied. Several places served beef loc lac and saucy satay dishes. There was ample selection of delicious Indian food, one place set up for diners to eat in bedlike booths with the table over their legs (we ended up here a couple of times).
A decent selection of Chinese and Vietnamese influenced dishes, as well. There was even a large Mexican restaurant serving nachos and tacos which we decided to check out one afternoon; it wasn’t the greatest, but we were never short on options when it came to food in Siem Reap and we wanted to try it all.
Of course, there was also the Happy Herb pizza, which we didn’t realize how “happy” it actually was until we visited another location, down south in Sihanoukville a few days later.
Siem Reap has it all, and we had yet to make plans for Angkor Wat, the main reason we were there. It wasn’t until we decided to look for a cheaper guesthouse the following morning that we would meet the family that would help us do that in the best way possible. At a busy, roundabout intersection, we found Backpacker’s Guesthouse where I’d meet someone who would become my friend and whose family treated us like one of their own. The “best breakfast ever”, right next store where we would get up and walk to every single morning in Siem Reap, was just an added bonus.