Part 1: Travel Diary
In spite of this long wait, the tuk-tuk driver always has a smile on his face and says hello to the Cambodian woman, i.e. by joining his two hands in front of his chest.
Let’s go for 1 hour of tuk tuk, where we breathe the pollution with full lungs. But it’s still very bearable vs. Bangkok or Kathmandu.
Our hotel is called Sakun Angkor Boutique, it’s a brand new hotel, that’s why tuk-tuks always have trouble finding it. As usual, we made a small video to present our home for a month.
JB has negotiated by email a very advantageous rate of 25$/night, breakfast included (and cleaning every day if desired). Frankly, it’s a luxury to be able to stay a full month in a 3-star hotel while paying a ridiculously low rent compared to our Parisian standards (it costs us 637€/month). The most economical since we started as nomads.
Day 1 :
Our hotel is only 10 minutes away from two of the most touristic places in the city: Pub Street and the Old Market.
We fall at once on a Vietnamese restaurant (The Soup Dragon). Well, the Khmer food will wait. I have the pleasure to find some lime juice, I missed it very much. This restaurant, like all tourist restaurants in Siem Reap, is quite expensive (3-4$/ plate) – except the sandwich at 1.5$.
US Dollars in Cambodia
So, I forgot to mention the payment methods here. Because of the lack of confidence and the inflation of the local currency (the riel) about twenty years ago, Cambodians started to use US dollars among themselves (without this being a government decision). Now, despite the stability of their currency, the two currencies still circulate together. And we don’t lose too much at the exchange rate. Example: in everyday life, 1$ = 4000 riels. Whereas the real rate is 4028 riels. When we give 1$ to pay for something that costs 2000 riels, we get 2000 riels back.
In countries with high inflation like Argentina or Vietnam, people still accept payment in dollars, but the rate applied is really worse than at the bank.
I have tried to make withdrawals, but whether it is a withdrawal in dollars or riels, the distributor tries to take $4 from me every time regardless of the amount.
So we decide to sell our stock of dollars (we bought them on purpose in Romania before coming), except for the hotel where we paid by credit card.
100$ bills are relatively easily accepted in tourist restaurants, which allows us to have small change for tuk-tuk and street food.
The fact that transactions are made in dollars increases prices considerably (for tourists). Because instead of setting the price at 2000 riels ($0.5), they tend to round up to $1 (“only $1 madam”), $2 or even $3. This is especially the case with the tuk tuk where you have to negotiate a little. Because of this, some things are more expensive than in Thailand or Vietnam (a bottle of water at the restaurant for example).
For some unknown reason, Cambodians don’t like $2 bills. If you try to pay with it, you will often be asked for two $1 bills instead.
Night Market and the boui
It is urgent to find local “boui boui” because the restaurants for tourists are frankly not good and expensive.
For example, we were at Old House near the Pub Street, and I was too excited to see the lotus stem salad on the menu… and other Vietnamese dishes, which I’m sure Cambodians have adopted. Well, I was too disappointed, because here, they tend to put a lot of sugar. Whereas the original Vietnamese recipe puts more fish sauce (salty) than sugar. 3$ to eat sugar!
Along the river that separates the Old Market from the area of my hotel, there are lots of boui booths like this. All the dishes are only 1$. It’s a stand attached to a scooter, so the salesman can move it very easily. Ingenious!
All the stands have super long menus (a dozen dishes), mainly grilled chicken wings (2 for $1.5), fried noodles ($1) – but in fact, the stands work together. If you take 3 different dishes, it’s possible that the order will be dispatched between 3 stands, because the kitchen space is so small that they only make 2-3 dishes per stand.
These stands are only there in the evening, which is normal because it would be too hot during the day. Even the locals eat here, sitting on small chairs on the sidewalk. I like it very much!
Walking a little further, I come across another boui boui that sells skewers grilled in banana leaves. It looks very local because I’ve never seen this dish on the menus before. We roll the skewer in the salad, adding cucumbers, aromatic herbs and a bit of vermicelli. Then we dip the whole thing in the peanut sauce.
A little off topic: Cambodian pepper (the famous Kampot pepper) is really superb! Full-bodied as it should be and it smells divinely good.
Inside the Old Market, where tourists do not venture too much, as in Vietnam, there are areas reserved for boui-boutiques. Well, I must admit that all this isn’t very hygienic because 10m further, it stinks of fish and raw meat. But we can find there boui-boutiques for lunch. The dishes cost about 2$, and the desserts 0.25$ (but you have to know what they sell, and dare to eat them).
I spotted a saleswoman selling fermented raw meat for example (one of my favorite snacks), but for hygienic reasons, I pass in front of her stand several times without daring to buy them. Rhhaaaaa… 😀 one day maybe.
Another very popular boui-boui here sells skewers of ??? (we’ll never know), served with toasted buttered bread, and a green papaya salad to drop. All this for $1.5 (1000 riels per skewer and 1000 riels for the bread). This is a dish sold only in the evening. It’s a kind of appetizer because the locals come to eat rather in the late afternoon.
In any case, the same rule applies everywhere, in all countries: as soon as you see more tourists than locals in a restaurant, you have to flee.
Massage & shampoo
There are massage centers everywhere. Those that have a real center (inside) cost from 6$/hour (without oil), 8$/hour (with oil). Those who install massage chairs on the street have crazy rates: 2$/hour!!
We have tested both, and whatever the price, the work is well done. You have to be less concerned about the hygiene of massages in the street (e.g. they use the same towel for a lot of clients). Whereas in massage centers, they wash our feet before the massage.
Here as in Vietnam, you can do just a shampoo and blow dry. I think we got a little bit cheated by paying 3$, but I wanted to test it to compare.
The first part of the shampoo is done sitting down, water is spritzed on my head and then shampooed. The second shampoo and conditioner are done on a reclining chair (you see on the left in the picture), head massage as a bonus.
Ah yes, speaking of care and all that: Cambodian women have a dream skin (despite the pollution), because it means that the food and the environment are favorable. Why am I talking about that? In fact, you only have to look at the skin condition of the locals to guess what kind of skin I’ll have 😀 When I see that Thai women in Bangkok all have a bad skin, well, I didn’t get away from it either. The food is so spicy and the air so polluted that it’s impossible to have a smooth skin. Just one day in Siem Reap and my skin will become as beautiful as ever.
On the Facebook group of Francophones in Siem Reap, we came across a post by an osteo traveler, Mathieu, who offers his osteopathy services. Too happy, I make an appointment with him.
Because massage is good, but it doesn’t put the bones back in place.
Normally, he will have a practice in Hoi An, Vietnam in the coming months, and will release an app – where osteo travelers around the world can be found. I will tell you about it in a separate article.
P/s : its whatsapp : +33(0)644 01 79 36
Having seen the floating villages from the plane, we pay without hesitation a tour to visit them. 18$/person. The agency gives us an appointment at 1:30 pm at the hotel. We will take 1 hour to pick up all the tourists around Siem Reap, before taking the road for 1 hour.
Then we take a big boat like this:
The interest of the tour is rather limited, since we don’t visit any houses on a pilot. There are few scenes of life, and the houses do not “float” as implied by the name of the tour.
You can then take a small boat for 5$/person to go deeper into the forest
The restaurant next door has bought crocodiles – in case anyone would like a small skewer.
A coconut bigger than my head….
We finally arrive at the lake – so big that it feels like being at the sea – to see the sunset. Wooowww!!
Being a belly on legs, I am a little disappointed not to see a floating market. From time to time we see small boats full of products for everyday life. A kind of walking supermarket, but that’s all.
Until about 1990, this area had no running water, the inhabitants used the river water to do everything. Now, fortunately for them, they have real toilets, running water.
To finish the tour, we visit a small non-flooded area. But in a few months, the water will come back and this whole area will be flooded again.
Look, I’m a little disappointed by this trick. We didn’t look at the program before, to give us a surprise effect. If we had to do it again, I think we would ask for a private tour.
Part 2: Practical Tips
- Hotel : 750$/month at Sakun Angkor Boutique (there is a long table in the room + tables in the restaurant to work, Internet is super fast)
- Restaurants :
- Boui-boui: 1$ to 2$/person
- Restos for tourists: 6$/person drink included
- Supermarkets :
- Small bottle of water: 1000 riels
- Large 6L water bottle: $2.00
- SIM card: 5$ with 5G included, on sale in supermarkets
- Linen : 1$/kg
- If you have been in Asia for a short time, avoid raw vegetables and ice cubes in boui
- If the prices are correct in most restaurants and boui boui, negotiate with tuk tuk and bargain to death at the market
- Take US dollars with you. They don’t care about the condition of the bills, so keep your nice bills for Burma, but spend the slightly uglier ones in Cambodia. Exchange rates are very good, at worst, exchange if you don’t have any dollars on you. For any withdrawal, the machine takes you 4$/transaction (except at MayBank – thanks Marlène). I don’t know what the maximum withdrawal limit is.
- Internet is very fast here, it is ideal for digital nomads, the city is small enough for those who like to walk. Scooter rental is still possible (contrary to what we can read on the blogs), for 10$/day