This most recent trip to SE Asia encompassed my first ever trip to Cambodia, although it consisted of 4 days in Siem Reap. Cambodia was thrown into the mix because, after asking several of my traveling friends what was the most impressive site they’ve ever seen, many answered “Angkor Wat.” So off to Siem Reap I went. My first impression after deplaning and walking from the plane inside to the terminal was that Siem Reap is HOT! In fact, in my opinion, it’s much more hot and humid than Thailand or any of my previously-visited SE Asian countries. I was prepared with two passport photos and two copies of my passport. On-line sources had said that the Tourist Visa would be $25, but it was actually $30. Groups of us surrounded tables filling out the Visa application, which we then handed to an official. It then went to a line of people who, I assume, were all working on stamping or whatever the various passports at the same time. My piece of advice to those getting ready to fill out the Visa application is to make sure and bring your own pen. Not only do you not have to wait for a pen, but several of those pens were out of ink, anyway. They call your name once your passport is finished, you collect your luggage and are on your way. I thought about exchanging currency, but the line was too long. I’d also tried to get some Cambodian riel at the currency exchange in Kuala Lumpur, but they told me that they didn’t carry it and that U.S. dollars are mostly used in Cambodia, anyway. My hotel had told me that they would send a driver for me, whether in a car/van or tuk tuk, I had no idea. I wasn’t really counting on it, anyway, as several former guests of the same hotel had stated on TripAdvisor that no driver ever showed up to collect them. In that case, I was prepared to pay the going rate for a cab – $7, from what I’d been told. Luckily for me, I DID notice a man holding a sign with my name on it as I exited the airport. My tuk tuk driver, Mr. Sey, grabbed some of my luggage and led me to my “carriage.” The drive to the hotel was rather uneventful, scenery-wise. There were plenty of people on motorbikes and plenty of cows/water buffalos in the fields/rice paddies. Upon arriving in town, Siem Reap seemed rather stuck in a time warp. It was smaller and quieter than I’d expected. My hotel was also a definite downgrade from my two fabulous hotels in Bali, but it was well located and the staff were very nice. As Mr. Sey dropped me off, I asked if I were to pay him. He said that the hotel provided his service free-of-charge, but I could pay him something, if I wanted. He then asked if I’d like to go to a restaurant featuring apsara dancing during a dinner buffet. The cost was only $12 and he could pick me up at 6:30 p.m.; I agreed. I didn’t pay him, as I wasn’t sure what the going rate would be. Besides, he would be picking me up later, so I could pay him then. Once he was gone, I asked the guy at reception what the going rate for tuk tuks was. He said to pay drivers $2-$3 if they picked you up and dropped you off somewhere, to pay $5 if they picked you up and waited for you, and $15 if they took you around for an entire day. Mr. Sey picked me up on time, then let me know that he would wait for me. We were given an hour to indulge in the buffet prior to the show beginning, although there was still food out during the show as well. Most of the food on offer wasn’t as appealing to me – plenty of pork, fish and tofu. I ate spaghetti Bolognese (yes!), garlic bread, chicken fried rice, noodle soup, deep fried spring rolls and an omelette that reminded me of Vietnamese banh xeo. I also drank a large bottle of Cambodian beer and a bottle of water. The food itself was fine; nothing outstanding. The apsara dancing was nice, though much less dramatic than Balinese dance performances. It was a pleasant enough way to spend an evening. With the addition of my two drinks and adding a tip to my wonderful waiter, I maybe paid $20. When Mr. Sey dropped me back at the hotel, I gave him $10 to cover both the airport pick-up and drop-off, as well as the one that evening. The next morning I had two tasks to take care of before Mr. Sey arrived. I needed to buy a disposable razor because mine had broken in Bali and I didn’t want to continue the rest of my trip with hairy legs and underarms! The receptionist directed me to a pharmacy that was relatively close. Since the hotel was across the bridge from the Old Market, I then wandered the market to find a pair of baggy pants and a loose fitting top to tour the temples on Wednesday. Some of the women in the market were decidedly cool towards me, so I started to feel as if I were in Vietnam again. I finally found a friendly vendor and bought a pair of “Ali Baba” pants for $6 and a long-sleeved, loose-fitting white top for $8. Mr. Sey arrived at 10:00 a.m. to take me to see the Cultural Village. It was $15 to enter. Once again, he waited. I hate to say this, but the Cultural Center bored me out of my mind. There was no real explanation of any of the exhibits. There was strangeness all around, such as “art” like a huge calculator on the grounds somewhere. What exactly does that have to do with Cambodian history and culture?! I watched them re-enact a Cambodian wedding ceremony. Once again, there was no real explanation of what was going on. I watched some dancers practicing apsara, which was, by far, the most interesting thing there. After an hour and slightly more, I exited to find Mr. Sey waiting. He asked if I was hungry, which I was. He took me to a somewhat upscale restaurant, where I ordered some type of beef dish. The beef was tasteless and chewy, so I didn’t finish it. After that, I wanted to go back to the hotel and regroup, beings the heat and humidity were getting to me. Mr. Sey and I agreed that he would pick me up again on Thursday evening to take me to the Phare Cambodian Circus, as well as taking me to the airport on Friday morning. After freshening up and relaxing in my room awhile, I ventured downstairs to ask the woman at reception whether there were any photography studios nearby where I could get my photo taken dressed as an apsara dancer. She made a phone call and said that someone could pick me up, if I was interested. The price was $50 for 3 photos and would take about an hour and a half. Once again, the internet had misled me; articles had said that there were many photography studios that would do it for $15-$25. Since I hadn’t seen any photography studios at all, though, I decided to go with the one she recommended. Rather than someone from the studio picking me up, it ended up that someone associated with the hotel dropped me off via motorbike. She had a bit of a difficult time finding the location, as they had moved from where they used to be. I was surprised to discover that the two photographers were Japanese! They said they’d opened their studio a few years before. The woman who did my make-up and dressed me, however, was Cambodian. She applied the make-up rather heavy with a little contouring for the photos, but not garish. Once she’d outlined my eyes heavily in black and affixed the false eyelashes, I felt like Mata Hari! The costume I’d chosen was green rather than white, so obviously not the traditional apsara one. It took quite awhile for her to drape the various pieces of the outfit on me, then adorn me with as much jewelry as possible, along with a few fake flowers. I loved it, though. As she was proceeding to show me how to pose (she’s an apsara teacher), the electricity suddenly went out. Any coolness provided by the fans was gone! The costume weighed a ton and beads of sweat were starting to form, but they made me feel so comfortable. I was really having a good time posing. Not only did the two photographers take pictures with their cameras, but also with both my point-and-shoot camera, as well as my DSLR. They showed me the finished product and, honestly, all of them looked good to me. They added that they could put a background (such as Angkor Wat) in any photo for an additional $3 and that I could have another photo for an additional $10. Sounded great to me! I chose the first photo and a background, then told them to go ahead and pick the other 3 photos that they deemed were best. They ARE the professionals, after all! I then paid and they said that the photos would be edited and E-mailed to me within 2 or 3 weeks. The apsara teacher was then kind enough to drop me back at my hotel, although it had started to drizzle. The weather cooled off nicely for awhile. The evening found me down on Pub Street. Why is that street so famous? It’s small, with nothing that interesting there. I ate some deep fried spring rolls and had a strawberry daiquiri and a beer at World Lounge (I think it was). I wandered the Night Market and couldn’t believe the amount of loose gemstones that were being sold; they seemed too good to be authentic. Then I went to bed early in preparation for the all day photograph tour that would commence before sunrise. I’d booked a photography tour with So through http://www.withlocals.com. His tuk tuk driver, Sokha, and he were at my hotel by 5:00 a.m., as promised. Naturally, the weather was pleasant at that time of the morning! We went directly too Angkor Wat, along with hordes of other travelers, to watch the sun rise. I only intended to spend one day seeing the temples, so the one day temple pass was $20. Approaching the magnificent temple, I parked myself in front of the reflecting pools for quite some time. The sunrise wasn’t as spectacular as So had hoped, but still beautiful. We then toured the inside while he explained part of the history and talked about many of the carvings. He was also handy because he could take pictures of me rather than me having to ask strangers who don’t know anything about using my camera. Since he’s a photographer, he figured both of my cameras out, with minimal help from me. Next to Angkor Wat is what he calls a “pagoda.” It’s where young boys go to train as monks. So, himself, had lived and trained there for 10 years. He said that it’s rare that tourists go there at all. Once they’re done with Angkor Wat, they rush off to the other temples. I came upon a very young monk crying, as I was trying to take his photo from a distance. So asked him what was wrong; apparently, the other young boys had been teasing him. The others all seemed jovial while they ate cake and hung out together. I loved taking pictures of them. We talked to another monk who was studying before So introduced me to the elderly monk/priest that would be giving me a water blessing. The priest was collecting flowers from a tree to put in a bowl of water, which he would use to bless me with. Actually, both So and I were being blessed at the same time. However, So took a break in the middle of it to take pictures of me with both of my cameras, as well as with his. Another family, who were waiting for a water blessing themselves, sat on the side and watched. The priest chanted while dipping a “wand” into the water and flicking it (a lot of it!) on me, after which he tied a red yarn prayer bracelet on my right wrist. The next temple was Ta Prohm, more popularly known as the “Tomb Raider” temple, the one that’s overgrown with trees. They’ve already removed part of the trees because they’re destroying the temple, but have plans to remove more. It was beautiful, but not as magnificent as Angkor Wat. There was one more lesser-known temple after that. It was obviously lesser known because no one was there other than the 3 of us! We sat in the tuk tuk eating potato chips and fresh pineapple while drinking cold water before exploring that one. By then, the heat and humidity of the day was at its peak. So and Sokha dropped me at my hotel at 11:30 a.m., but said they would return at 1:30 p.m. During that time, I showered, changed from the loose-fitting top to a tank top and was ready to hit the streets again. I’d only recently found out the day before that Khmer boxing is held on Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. Since it was my only chance to see it in Siem Reap, I’d asked So if he could change my afternoon schedule to incorporate it. That was fine with him. He took me to an agency to buy the $15 ticket before we proceeded to Bayon, the temple with the huge faces. It was also beautiful, but I was still a bit too hot to fully enjoy its charms. As we were leaving the temple, we noticed “nuns.” Both So and I were taking their picture, while So was talking to them. One motioned me to come closer and handed me sticks of incense. I placed them in the urn, then asked So what I was supposed to do – pray and bow/kneel three times before giving them a small monetary donation. I felt a little awkward, but did as instructed. So and Sokha took me to the boxing stadium shortly after 3:30 p.m. So was going home for the day, but instructed Sokha to wait for me until the boxing matches were over. I walked into the stadium with no clue as to whether my ticket was for a certain section or not. There was a raised section on one side where obvious expats were enjoying an unobstructed view and drinking beer. However, I also saw expats in upper rows of other areas. I sat in the second row of the “normal” area with all of the locals. They gave me a few looks out of the corners of their eyes when I dragged my cameras out, but were curious and not unfriendly. I enjoyed the boxing, of course, but it’s much less brutal than Muay Thai. That must be because only knees are allowed in Khmer boxing, while knees, elbows and nearly everything else are allowed in Muay Thai! As promised, Sokha was waiting for me when I exited. He dropped me at my hotel and insisted on shaking my hand. He asked if he might take me to the airport and was disappointed to find out that I already had someone for that. I told him that he could return at 8:00 p.m., though, as I wanted to go to a certain restaurant on Street 24, to which he agreed. Beings I had yet to be impressed with any of the food in Siem Reap, I’d mentioned that to my friends on Facebook. One of them had suggested a restaurant called Square 24 to me, so that’s where I went to dinner on Wednesday night. The restaurant was gorgeous and the staff was super nice and friendly, but I was the only person there. I ordered a beef salad (spicy) and chicken amok (also spicy), along with real French wine. The beef salad was good, but the chicken amok was really good. I know that Cambodia is known for its fish amok, but I wasn’t in the mood to eat fish. Once again, the staff was very attentive, making sure that everything was to my liking. They even brought me a complimentary banana dessert. Before paying the bill, I’d ordered a fish amok to go (their mains were a mere $9). One of the staff walked me out the front to make sure that my driver was there. When Sokha saw me, I handed him the fish amok, my left-over chicken amok, steamed rice and the banana dessert. “For me?!” he asked incredulously. “Of course!” I was content to return to the hotel and go to sleep early after starting my day at 4:00 a.m. Thursday was my last day in Siem Reap. I once again went to the Old Market and bought another pair of baggy pants. I picked up some macarons at The Blue Pumpkin Bakery, but they were sort of crunchy on the outside. I had a very good candle massage at Kaya Spa for $25; they melt massage oil candles and then massage you with the heated oil. That was followed by a $15 facial at Angel Spa/Massage, which was great because they do extractions. I ate some fried rice with three chicken skewers at The Sun for a mere $5, then spent an hour asleep by the pool. Mr. Sey picked me up at 6:00 p.m. to take me to the Phare Cambodian Circus. The circus performers are all youths who come from disadvantaged families. The circus is like a mini Cambodian version of Cirque du Soleil, though they have 2 or 3 different shows, which alternate. I’d reserved a VIP seat on-line for $35. Everyone there was very nice. You walk through their gift shop first, which has many interesting products. You’re then in their café area. My ticket included a complimentary bag of popcorn, but I passed on that and simply had a soda while waiting for the show to begin. My seat was basically the absolute middle of the front row – the best seat in the house. I was certainly happy about that. All of us in the VIP seats also received complimentary bottled water, as well as an adorable elephant mobile. The performers were very animated, talented and proud to be involved with the project. After the show, which was nearly an hour and a half, guests were invited to meet the performers and take pictures with them. I passed on that as well because the mosquitos had chosen to devour me during the performance and I really couldn’t handle any more of being eaten alive! Once outside, Mr. Sey confessed that he’d gone to a wedding reception and had a few drinks while I was in the circus. Whatever, as long as he could get me back to my hotel safely. He then had a burning question to ask me. What was it? He wanted to know how I get my teeth so white! As I tell everyone – Crest White Strips; they really work! I paid Mr. Sey $6 and he clarified that he’d be there at 9:00 a.m. to take me to the airport. Back at the hotel, I changed, rested momentarily, then wandered back out for a few drinks on my final night in Siem Reap. Rather than deal with Pub Street again, I found an intimate, moody little bar only a block away from Pub Street. At Miss Wong, I had an order of har gow and a couple of glasses of red wine before turning in for the evening. In a nutshell, I don’t have strong feelings about Cambodia, one way or the other. The temples were completely worth seeing and the people were friendly enough, but the food was rather bland and the heat and humidity really got to me. On the other hand, I also enjoyed my photography tour, the Khmer boxing and the Phare Cambodian Circus, as well as dressing up to be photographed as an apsara dancer. Siem Reap won’t be on the top of my list to return to, but I won’t complain if my travels take me there again.