A 10 year old kid ran up to me and uttered a well-rehearsed phrase, like a robot: ‘Hello. I don’t need money, give me food’. ‘I don’t have food kiddo,’ I replied. Considering how happily he was running next to me and how cheeky he looked, he was not starving. ‘Well here is a shop, go buy me some food,’ he went on. Of course, that’s a local ‘business’: I buy them a pack of cookies, and then they return it to the store and get back the money. I walked on. ‘Well fuck you!’ – the little cutie replied and ran away to find another foreigner.
Welcome to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
What once probably used to be a quiet sleepy town where locals harvested rice and sipped their most amazing chocolate-smelling coffee.
Until Angkor Wat ruins were discovered. In a blink of an eye the sleepy town turned into a bustling tourist spot where constant flow of backpackers fills half of the streets, concentrating around the Night market area and ‘Pub street’, where most of bars are owned by expats, most bar fights are fought by drunk and stoned backpackers, and tuk-tuk drivers struggle to rip off as many foreigners as there are hours in the day.
I was sitting in the guesthouse: third day in a row without going out or anything, not even to see Angkor Wat. I hate it when I stick my card into an ATM and the damn machine tells me that I am broke. So I was sticking to my job online, not even socialising in the pub upstairs. A new guy just arrived to the guesthouse, I think he was Argentinian, and his tuk-tuk driver was explaining to him that he can pay 13 USD to hire him for the entire day, to go to Angkor Wat, drive all around the temples and anywhere else in Siem Reap, full tour included, plus a pickup at 4:30 am to see the sunrise at the Temple. Another backpacker was sitting next to me and overheard the conversation.
‘Hey dude, me and two other guys are going to see the sunrise tomorrow morning, so we are hiring a tricycle for the day and split the cost. You can join us if you want, it fits 4 people.’
The Argentinian agreed, of course. Wouldn’t you? Pay 4USD instead of 13 plus get a company of fellow travellers for the day in Angkor Wat. He went to unpack his bags then.
The tuk-tuk driver came up to the other guy and said with a reproach and anger in his voice:
‘Do you realise what you just did? You stole my job! I was trying so hard to offer him my services, and now you offered him to join you on another tuk-tuk, and I am left with nothing’.
‘Well sorry man, it just will be cheaper for all of us,’ the guy apologised, I think most sincerely.
It distracted me from my job for a while.
When backpackers come to South East Asia, they expect cheap booze, cheap transport, cheap accommodation and sometimes can overpay to be treated like posh millionaires. I do not deny that I feel like doing it too, sometimes, when I am tired and just wanna be a princess. It’s quite cheap to be a princess in South East Asia, for a day or two.
I decided to stay in Siem Reap for a few more days, work and have a look at the Angkor Wat, just because my mum told me so. I did not particularly feel like going elsewhere in Thailand-Laos-Cambodia-Vietnam quadrangle. It would all look exactly the same, with filled up guesthouses and ancient sites featured in every backpacker’s Facebook gallery. I met some interesting people and hung out with them during my days in Siem Reap. Aga, a Polish girl who is studying in Tomsk, felt like a kindred spirit from the first glance, and everyone kept asking if we are travelling together, although we met that very evening for the first time. Richard, the most non-British Brit from Norwich, and Mike, an American who told us how he slept in barns around Tonga, played ukulele with me on a bridge across the river, under the stares of Chinese tourists. I thought that I was quite tired of Asia. Even too tired to get off the beaten trail and go into deep villages of Cambodia for a week or two.
One morning we went to a pancake place for breakfast. A little son of the house lady stopped in the middle of the café and peed on the floor, then kept on walking.
Asia is funny.
Here’s Angkor Wat anyway.