The bus journey itself is pretty quiet but as I look around I can already see the difference between this and my previous bus trips. There are not too many backpacking party kids on this trip, and the atmosphere is lighter, more relaxed, people are just enjoying the ride and not so focused at showing the rest of the world how cool and unaffected they are. |
We stop at a restaurant for a quick break and I spot a man who seems to know what he’s doing, noting the fact that he’s only traveling with a purse-like bag which means that he’s probably on a border run to extend his visa. He’s an American called Jay and he’s in his late 40’s with hair and a beard that reach down to his belly and a quiet, confident look in his eyes, and it turns out he’s a meditation master who spends most of his days in India (and confirms that the right sort of people don’t go to Goa anymore but venture further south). He’s friendly and receptive and immediately starts to clue me in on what to expect from Siem Reap where he’s pitched up and doing some NGO work.
I decide to follow him and stay at the guesthouse he’s staying at, just purely because I have no other plans, and then something else happens – all the other people, who’ve been observing our conversation, start drifting over and inundate him with questions. There’s a couple in their 30’s from Israel who seem cool and relaxed, a lone wolf in his 20’s from Germany who is massively overdressed due to an over-the-top fear of mosquitoes and malaria, an eccentric-type of older gentleman who is obtrusive and in-your-face but somehow in a friendly way, and a group of Austrian girls who were traveling alone but have bonded in previous stop off points and are now as one. They all seem to be heading to Siem Reap for one thing, and one thing only – the wondrous Angkor Wat Temples. We all decide to stay at the same guesthouse. I love this off-the-cuff type of bonding, and it’s actually the first time I’ve seen it on my travels, since the tourists in Thailand and Goa were a little too cool and too unfriendly. There’s nothing groundbreaking about it but it lifts my spirits anyway.
After a couple more hours on the road, the bus pulls in at a quiet street seemingly in the middle of nowhere and the driver informs us that we now have to get tuk tuks into town. The others seem a little put out by this but we all know that it is part of the norm when it comes to traveling in backwater countries where locals try to maximize the earning potential for as many of their people as possible. However, the price we are quoted is $6 for a $1 trip and, as we try to barter, it becomes obvious that they will not budge since they know that we have no choice. Jay intervenes and phones his guesthouse which promptly dispatches three tuks tuks to ferry us all. The ride is bumpy and hilarious as the tuk tuks, with the drivers hurling friendly insults at each other, race each other back to the guesthouse in record time. I’m beginning to like Cambodian people.
We turn down a dirt track alleyway-cum-road and I start to have my doubts… until we actually pull up outside our guesthouse. An idyllic courtyard full of greenery and a fountain, a big welcoming doorway and a couple of soothing, smiling faces to usher us in, the whole place whispers serenity. The main reception area is a dazzling and pristine sea of dark polished hardwood, a beautifully tranquil area which I immediately fall in love with.
After a bit of commotion with the receptionist trying to deal with all these new arrivals, I enter my room and marvel at the palatial warmth of it. A big room, at least 7 by 7 meters, with en suite toilet, air conditioned, cavernous with high ceilings, beautiful embroidered curtains, pillows and bedding, a fridge and a flat screen TV, and more dark, elegant, polished wood everywhere you look. And this is costing me $12 a night, $10 if I stay for a week. This is the same that I was paying in Goa to share four walls with peeling paint and a fan with a few bugs. And it turns out that this place has a rooftop swimming pool too.
Whilst the others opt for an early night in order to be fresh for the next day and their excursions to Angkor Wat, I decide to go for a night out in the famous Pub Street....
John Owens Is a writer for Vacations rental homes and holiday homes and rental condos rented directly from the owner of the vacation rental home.
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