All independent travelers must have tales to tell about being conned on their trips. Some are small, some big, and some stories perhaps so horrifying they leave a scar on the traveler forever. Perhaps it is not the degree of "cunningness" displayed by the con that distinguishes between evil and rather harmless cons, but rather the maturity and experience of the traveler, or even the traveler’s attachment or sentiment for the destination. For me, for my first time, it was both. It was a story of love and deceit in Hangzhou, China - a long, bitter story. But I will leave that for now and tell you about little cons you might experience in Siem Reap.
Kompong Phhluk is about an hour away from the famous monuments of Angkor Wat. Rarely visited and very much living under the shadows of its neighbouring temples, Kompong Phhluk is nevertheless one of the most haunting and yet beautiful places I have visited.
First of all, the journey to Kompong Phhluk itself was a long and laborious task - which could have been prevented if not for the fact that we wished to avoid the stupendous feeling of being "conned". When brought to a tourist office and asked to pay $100 by our driver for a boat ride in Chong Knea and to Kompong Phhluk, we declined adamantly and decided instead to search for our own boat when we reached the pier. At the pier it was another 30-minute negotiation under the scorching sun, during which we felt like idiots being watched and conspired against by all the boatsmen and taxi drivers on the pier. Eventually we were offered US$60, and gladly took it – we had no energy left to argue.
Chong Kneas is the more famous and accessible floating village en route Kompong Phhluk , where everything, literally everything, happens on water. It was around lunch hour on the day we visited, and hordes of small boats were carrying parents and their children to the floating village school, where I could see small children playing basketball at the back of the school in a small court encased in a wire mesh.
On reaching Kompong Phhluk , our minds were blown away. Kompong Phhluk is an otherworldly place reminiscent of Kevin Costner’s Waterworld. Though the village itself was dry when we visited (a more rewarding time to go is during the wet season), it is not hard to imagine what it would be like when the water levels of Tonle Sap rise. All houses here are built on soaring stilts 6 to 7 m high, and during the wet season water laps at the wooden supports while chickens, pigs, even crocodiles bob about in floating rafts.
The village was dry, but the “forest” next to it remained immersed in water. Paddling slowly through it, I had a feeling of being in a Venetian Amazon, where the aftermath of a horrible hurricane had engulfed the whole of the rainforests in South America.
We were encroached by children once our boat reached dry land. Children with US$10 notebooks, children with US$5 pens… all begging us to buy from them so that we can “distribute” to the schoolchildren in the village. “Notebooks at home don’t cost this much!” I argued, but it was a half-hearted argument from the very beginning. “Are you Cambodian?” the girl with the pink hair clip and big smile had said. “I thought you’re Cambodian because you look so pretty!” Argh... great, Nana, she had you right there. “Ok fine… I’ll take the notebooks, and the pens.” I have a weakness for children.
And so we walked, or inched, or fought, through the village with notebooks and pens in hand, distributing them through the sea of hands so dense I can hardly see whom I am actually passing them onto. Children as young as one or two years old were amongst these hands. I wondered whether they even knew how to read or write.
This is the bizarre but beautiful village of Kompong Phhluk , where children run about with you as you marvel at the stilt-supported bungalows, as you walk past piles of dried shrimp airing in the sun, as you get lost, and eventually need to pay them another US$20 to raft to the next door village, Kompong Kul, the only village accessible by road.
Well, if I have to be conned, at least let it be somewhere memorable, surrounded by the beautiful laughter of children.
Hotel de la Paix
Tel: + 855 63 966 000
Fax: + 855 63 966 001
One of the best hotels I have stayed in – a cool combination of art deco and traditional Khmer design. One of best things about the hotel is its fine dining restaurant, Meric, headed by French chef Joannes Riviere. The food is excellent, a perfect blend of French sophistication and Khmer tastes, and the hanging day beds a delight to dine on.
1. Meric Khmer Tasting Menu
- Sweet Corn Salad with Crispy Pork Fritter
- Green Star Fruit Salad with Grilled Beef
- Roasted Chicken with Rice Wine and Prahok Sauce
- Braised Prawn with Pumpkin and Lemon Basil
- Stir Fried Calamari with Green Peppercorn
- Pork Rib Sour Soup “Jungle Style”
- Assorted Khmer Sweets
2. Sugar Palm
This is apparently the place where food and beverage managers from nearby five star hotels come to feast. Serves old-fashioned, flavorful, and hearty Khmer food on the second floor of a spacious wooden house with a beautiful balcony. The restaurant has a warm and inviting ambiance with subdued, covered lighting.
3. Breakfast at Psar Chaa, or Old Market – the butchers and produce sellers will be in full force, peddling dried fish, fruit stacked in neat pyramids, and freshly pounded kroeung (an herbal paste used in many dishes). Pull up a plastic stool at one of the food counters and order a bowl of baay sac chruk - superthin pieces of grilled pork served with white rice and a tangy cucumber and ginger salad.
The Legend of Angkor Wat – a musical
Do NOT watch this show set amidst the backdrop of the Angkor Wat – sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Do not be fooled, this is one of the cheesiest, most unimaginative shows on earth.
If you can, avoid the spas and massages here at Siem Reap - they are nothing compared to what you get in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand… you name it. If you must, go to Bodia Spa, at least it is clean and pleasant.