We spend the day time hours enjoying town. We eat cupcakes at Bloom: an NGO that provides training, employment and access to healthcare to women. The cupcakes are delicious and pretty. We have our teeth cleaned and scaled at the dentist for $US8 (at home this would cost $100-200 so I haven’t had it done in three years). And we haggle for a few items from the markets. I buy a camping hammock with mosquito net for $US11. And Paul gets a t-shirt seller down from $US6 per shirt to two shirts for $US5.
You can buy all the usual touristy items at the Old Market. Buddhas, t-shirts, sarongs, prints of paintings and jewellery. And, as with the rest of South East Asia, the vendors aren’t shy about encouraging you to buy. The t-shirt vendors all proudly announced that they had shirts in our sizes. The Buddha statue sellers all insisted their statues were the best price. The jewellery shops all tried to persuade us everything was the genuine article. We wanted to buy some paintings so used this visit as a recce. Prices would start at $US50 or $US35 depending on the size of the piece. Showing interest the promising to return tomorrow would instantly bring the price down to $US30 or $US20. Walking away made it cheaper again ($US25 and $US15 respectively). I’m sure we could have haggled a price but we weren’t yet sure of what we wanted to choose so no purchases were made (later they will be though).
There’s also a smallish food section at the Old Market. Animals in all states of butchery sit on benches waiting for a buyer. Pork, chicken and still twitching fish seem to be the staple here. Fruit and vegetables abound, providing colour to the meat market. You can even buy fresh honecomb, complete with buzzing bees.
Every night, Pub Street assaults the senses. Bars compete to play their music the loudest. Stalls line the street selling cocktails and beer. Tuk tuk drivers offer lifts. And Westerners give the locals a terrible idea of what our countries and cultures are like. This is travel at its worst. And it happens here every night. If you’ve not been here you can’t imagine it. Nightmares are preferable to time spent on Siem Riep’s Pub Street; possibly one of the most culturally damaging experiences. Not to the culture of local people but to the reputation and culture of all Caucasian people. I mean, this is all some Cambodian people will ever experience of our cultures so no wonder the more conservative might believe our cultures are depraved or immoral.
The Platinum Cineplex is modern and relaxing. Tickets cost $US3 each and snacks about the same again. There was a good selection of English language films in 2D and 3D. We chose Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: the story of a young American soldier’s journey with PTSD. It was thoroughly moving and thought-provoking. The quality of the cinema experience here is excellent and the seats far more comfortable than our local cinema at home (though it is being upgraded so that will change). If you are seeking some reprieve from the heat, this is a good option in Siem Riep.
Words cannot do justice to this emotionally charged experience of the Phare Circus. Acrobats, musicians and a painter work the stage, sharing the story of how the war has affected the people of Cambodia and what they are doing to move forward into the future. Even writing about it twelve hours later I feel a lump well up in my throat. Such was the brilliance. The performers, musicians and artists are trained at the Phare School, which provides free education in the arts to Cambodian youth. The storytelling is second to none and I leave looking at the locals in a whole new light. Sure, I had a positive perception of the country and it’s peoples’ resilience but the performance made it more real and emotionally engaging than anything written ever could.
After a glorious afternoon nap we took my cousin and her partner to Bugs Cafe. The French owner explained the concept and helped us select some food. We opted for the large tasting platter and some deserts. Bugs Cafe is a place where insects are used as protein in “regular” foods. Far from being outrageous, th dishes are delicious and we quickly forgot the taboos around eating this high protein, low fat and environmentally friendly food group. I am sold on the idea of bugs becoming a staple partnod our diets to reduce our reliance on larger meat producing animals (no, I have interest in becoming g vegetarian).