Tuesday, 18 October 2011

More Siem Reap

The flooding is so bad that I've abandoned plans to travel to Battambang on route to Bangkok, I'm staying put & it feels good not to be moving on. The ferry dock is under water so no boats are moving on the river or across Tonle Sap lake to Battambang & the bus takes much longer than going directly to the Thai border.

Like everywhere I've been in Vietnam & Cambodia the longer I stay in each place the more I grow to like it & Siem Reap has a great laid back feel but also buzzes with activity.

The town is awash with little Khmer restaurants where beer is half a US dollar & the food is fabulous. Khmer food is subtly delicious rather than in-your-face with spices & powerful flavours.

The Khmer Soup Restaurant served me a Khmer Amok with chicken (but it could have been fish or pork) that was cooked in fresh coconut cream with onions, shredded cauliflower leaves, eggs & a mixture of local spices. It was served in a cleverly shaped banana leaf bowl & came with jasmine rice - all for $3.25, including a free beer.
Their traditional Khmer Soup is based on pork ribs, although they were more like bits of pork knuckle. The pork is cooked with morning glory, green beans, garlic, tamarind, basil & a secret mixture of Khmer herbs. It has a fabulous tangy tomato-like flavour which I guess is from the tamarind. It was served in a strange stainless steel bowl with under heating to keep it hot & the usual dish of jasmine rice.

A desert of steamed banana & rice wrapped in banana leaves was wonderfully sweet & sticky, really tasty, but as filling as a main course.

On Monday it was a surprise to see rain at 2pm & then it got heavier & heavier until it became a torrent that was more waterfall than mere storm. At home we would begin to panic at such a downpour but here people merely stood passively under shelter or just continued on (dripping wet) as if nothing was happening.
I'm on raised decking, the water level is visibly rising & starting to lap my feet - I'm beginning to panic! Oh, its all over in half an hour, so I paddle back to my hotel, knee deep in warm water - panic over.

There are dozens of fish pedicure tanks around the town, great aquariums for dipping your feet in & having them nibbled by little Garra Ruffa fish. Every city in the UK now offers a version of this fish pedicure for around £25 a go - here it cost $1. I still didn't fancy it.
There's both a day market & a night market. The Old Market of Phsar Chas is by the river, its a huge covered marketplace that spills out onto the surrounding streets & alleyways. There are hundreds of market sellers offering everything that locals & tourists might want to buy.

The Old Market was flooded while I was there & was pretty unpleasant wading through water floating with all manner of market debris, but it didnt stop buyers & sellers who carried on regardless. Its a dingy cramped space, often with no more than 5 feet between opposing stalls, reminiscent of a souk but without the hounding & hard-sell.

Everything imaginable is available - exotic fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, shoes, hats, silks, kitchenware, clothes, T-shirts, silver, paintings, carvings, handicrafts & of course bootlegged DVDs & books. Surrounding the market are more upmarket souvenir shops.

The night market is aimed at tourists & is probably the best place if you're looking to buy - jewellery, silver, silks, clothes, carvings (more likely plaster casts), Angkor Bas releif rice paper rubbings, knock off guide books & lots more. There are dozens of foot massage chairs that were pretty popular & artists were producing painting but they were rather poor stylised efforts.

Along with the surrounding shops, bars & restaurants the night market is a good way to spend a Siem Reap evening.

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