Chuseok 2013: Shopping, Drinking, and Dining in Siem Reap
|MsC and MrL in tuk-tuk, somewhere in Siem Reap. This was how they traveled most of the time.|
For those of you who aren't interested in
Today's post, gentle readers, is about Siem Reap, which is the closest major city to Angkor Wat and where almost all tourists stay when they visit. Most hotels have English-speaking staff (and many have staff who speak Korean and Chinese as well, due to the huge number of tourists coming from Korea and China) and every shop and/or restaurant had English-speaking staff. In other words, Siem Reap is an easy place to visit if you are an English-speaking foreigner.
|tuk-tuks - cheap and widely available - were everywhere in Siem Reap|
MsC realizes that there are numerous travel writers and travel bloggers out there
Most of the shopping/dining/drinking action for tourists -when they are not clambering around temple ruins in Angkor- happens in and near an area of Siem Reap called Psar Chaa, in the Old Market vicinity. The Old Market is a sort of a warren of covered alleyways full of booths selling everything imaginable, but heavy on tourist favorites such as t-shirts emblazoned with 'Angkor Wat,' items made out of silk, jewelry, and so many silver, wood, stone, metal, and rattan objects d'art that MsC can't really describe them.
|Rice in bulk?|
|Spices, mixes, nuts, food....anything you can think of.|
Amateurishly painted sunrise over Angkor Wat? It's yours for a few dollars (For you, I make special price, Madam.) What? You've already bought a traditional Khmer scarf? (You need another one, Madam! I give you special price!) Similar items can also be found at the Night Market (which actually opens at 4:00pm in case one isn't a night owl.) There are also numerous other shops, galleries, and boutiques in the city selling merchandise ranging in price from a dollar (most transactions take place in US dollars) to several thousands.
Note: While MsCaroline (who is an information junkie) realizes that Cambodia is now the fastest-growing economy in Asia (an average of 6% per year), it would be wrong to pretend that Cambodia is not still very much a developing country, due primarily to the 30+ year regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. When one considers that Cambodia really just emerged into the world community in 1997, it is truly remarkable to see how far the country has come, and it will be exciting to see its development in the next few decades. However, there is still much ground to be covered, and - despite the obvious indicators of modernity - many Cambodians still live in relative poverty. In addition, scam opportunities for 'voluntourism' have increased in Cambodia, with well-meaning foreigners making donations or paying fees to 'volunteer' for a few days in various institutions, including 'orphanages'. Many of these turn out to be scams populated by local children who have been recruited to play the roles of 'orphans' for a day and thus diverting resources away from the truly needy. Adults and children peddle books, postcards and trinkets (many of them made in China) in the streets and at temple sites - and there is no way of knowing where one's money goes if one buys from them - so MsCaroline didn't. All of that being said, MsCaroline tried her best to spend her money in ways that were guaranteed to support local workers and the local economy, which explains why she spent so much time, money, and- eventually- blog space on these two places:
Artisans d'Angkor This workshop in Siem Reap near the Night Market provides vocational training for young Cambodians in the traditional Khmer arts, including wood- and stone-carving, silk weaving, lacquering, gold leaf embossing, and silver casting, among others. Proceeds not only go to the deserving craftsmen, but also toward training programs for new students. Master craftsmen- and women train students in a number of open-air workshops throughout a small campus in Siem Reap, where visitors can take a free guided tour and watch them at work. Also featured are displays that show, step-by-step, what is involved in making certain pieces. Arriving visitors are assigned to a guide from the school who directs them through the workshops (at no cost), explains the various processes involved in creating the artwork and answers any questions (tours are available in several languages.) Masters and apprentices go about their work as visitors wander through (note: all photo credits for Artisans d'Angkor go to Son#2, who actually took photos while MsC just gawped.)
|Carving display from step 1 (far end, raw wood) through priming and lacquering to final product.|
|Reproduction in early stages|
|Carving in progress.|
Artisans d'Angkor are also responsible for much of the restoration and all the reproductions found throughout the temples of Angkor (many priceless items have been stolen, damaged, or simply removed for safekeeping, and subsequently replaced with high-quality reproductions.)
At the end of the tour, visitors are invited (not pressured) to visit the gift shop, which features finished products ranging in price from a few dollars for smaller souvenirs and spice mixes up to thousands of dollars for enormous stone carvings or temple statues and archways that MrLogical
Fortunately, MsC did not spend all her money at Artisans d'Angkor, which gave her a chance to spend
Their serene and tastefully-appointed shop in Siem Reap is a nice change from the crowded and overflowing marketplaces. It sells much of the same merchandise (at very reasonable - although just slightly higher-prices, and also supports and stimulates the local economy. Win-win.
|One of the showrooms|
|Silk: scarves, tablecloths, pillowcases...|
|And more silk...|
|Handmade soaps in exotic fragrances|
|At a very reasonable price!|
|Peppercorns and spice blends|
One may also tour the Senteurs d/Angkor workshops (a shuttle will take you from the store) but unfortunately, MsCaroline did not have enough time to visit.
Lest readers begin to roll their eyes at all of MsCaroline's earnest do-gooderness, let her quickly move on to a different topic: drinking. This particular incident (there were several) took place on a late afternoon in an eye-catching - but nearly empty - bar in Pub Street called 'Linga', which MsC vaguely remembered as getting quite good reviews for its cocktails in her Lonely Planet Guide. As it turned out, the cocktail menu was, indeed, extensive and interesting,
|This is the 'G'-rated part of the drinks menu|
In fact, the Slings were so good, that they had a 2nd, which resulted in a certain amount of high spirits.
|obligatory maharaja shot at Linga Bar.|
At this point, MsC and MrL were faced with a terrible dilemma, because the Ladyboy show did not begin for a good 3-4 hours, and it was becoming increasingly clear that the bartender was pouring quite generously: could they - two middle-aged persons who normally were in bed by 10pm - possibly continue to sit there and drink for the next 3-4 hours in order to see what would surely be an outstanding performance?
The answer was - sadly - "no." It was absolutely necessary for them to find food as they were, by that time, both on what Son#1 the University Student coarsely refers to as 'the Struggle Bus." They decided to get some dinner and, should they find themselves feeling alert enough afterward, consider a return to see the show once they had
Fortunately for them, directly across the alley was a Cambodian Barbecue establishment. Being familiar with Korean-style barbecue (where the meat is grilled at the table on a portable tabletop grill and accompanied by a number of side dishes,) they were
As the grill cooked the meat, the juices ran down into the heating broth, which was full of a variety of vegetables and noodles.
Once everything was cooked, diners enjoyed steaming bowls of meat-and-vegetable noodle soup.
|Obligatory maharaja-at-the-bbq-shot. Most likely a direct result of all those Singapore Slings.|
Had they been aware of its existence, they would most certainly have followed their meal with a stop at The Blue Pumpkin, a French bakery and ice-cream parlor, which they (sadly) only discovered on their last day and which would have been just the thing to top off their evening, featuring, as it did, pretty much the Best Ice Cream In The Entire World, including all the standard flavors as well as many more exotic ones:
|caramel and cashews, ginger & black sesame, khmer fruits...how to choose?|
|Passion fruit? Banana? Or just vanilla?|
The Pumpkin also featured a cool lounge upstairs, as indicated by this sign:
|Yes, the lounge was, in fact, cool.|
It is probably just as well that they did not visit at that point, since the Cool Lounge included a sort of reclining couch-and-table arrangement, which might have led to someone falling asleep and embarrassing
Instead, MsC and MrL - as much as they prefer to think of themselves as the sophisticated and worldly clubbing types - boarded a tuk-tuk and headed back their hotel, where they lounged around the Maharaja Suite
dozing through watching Tomb Raider (DVD thoughtfully provided by hotel - nice touch, eh?) with Son#2, and turning in just about the time the Ladyboys were probably starting to do their thing.
As it turned out, it was a good thing they got their rest, because they would need it the next day when they started visiting the temples of Angkor.