Siem Reap is a classic tourist town, in the centre at least. We took a tuk tuk into town from our hotel, which is out in the countryside, and were immediately assailed by people trying to sell us things. And, really, buying things is about all there is there is to do in the town: The entire economy seems to revolve around persuading tourists to buy stuff. There are markets and tourist shops and tourist shops in markets. It’s hard to understand how there can be the level of demand for wooden elephants and t-shirts that the number of vendors would seem to indicate. Especially since a little research reveals that virtually none of the stuff in the tourist shops is made locally.
We didn’t hang about too long; after achieving our main mission which was to get some cash we retreated via the more believable Artisan d’Angkor compound, where you could not only buy wooden elephants but see them being carved, to the hotel pool. The boys and I had a swim while Jennifer had a massage – and much to the boys’ delight we had milkshakes at the swim-up bar.
This evening we saw both more of the same and a different side to the town. We had a picnic on the parapet beside the moat surrounding Angkor Wat. I just want to say that again: We had a picnic on the parapet beside the moat surrounding Angkor Wat. For me, Angkor Wat is right up there with Petra, the Pyramids and Machu Pichu – it’s the stuff of myths and story books and movies.
We first had to buy tickets in a process which was a perturbing combination of high-tech and over-staffing. With rather cool-looking three-day ticket in hand, we headed out to the Angkor Wat complex as the Sun began to set. Our first view of Angkor Wat was stunning – the place is immense and, bathed in orange sunset, absolutely glorious.
It has to be said, though, that beyond the physical wonder of the place there were disturbing elements. There were people trying to sell tat all over the place. There was the woman begging while holding the terribly deformed child. There was the western man sitting in a chair and having a coke and smiling when he was approached and hugged by two very cute local children.
But beyond all that was the beautiful buildings reflected in the calm waters of the moat as the Sun set. The stuff of myths made real.