The taxi weaved in and out of mopeds and trucks at speed. Cambodian traffic is pretty intense, people tend to not really stick to a designated side of the road or wait for enough space before overtaking. We whizzed passed small villages and shacks, naked children running wild and stray dogs wandering up and down.
Cattle graze on the grass and wander across the road. Whole families pile onto mopeds, trucks packed so impossibly high with baskets start to wobble precariously. We saw bikes driven with over 50 dead chickens hanging from either side, some with dead pigs slung over the back and some with live animals in cages roped on either side.
You will see people ride by on all sorts of botched up machines from falling apart mopeds (held together in some parts by duct tape) to strange vehicles I can only describe as a hybrid between a tractor and a scooter, chugging along and billowing smoke behind them.
Arriving in Siem Reap was a bit of a shock to the system after the relaxed pace of the island. The street smells are pungent, the traffic is insane, there are people everywhere shouting at you to buy things. The general bustle and amount of people was such a stark contrast to the quiet beaches we had left behind.
The taxi pulled over after a few hours and we were ushered into TukTuks who offered to take us to our hostels for free, providing they could come back the next day and see if we wanted to take any further trips. There is such an overwhelming amount of TukTuks in Siem Reap that they get very competitive, and will strive to be the chosen driver for tourists and all of their excursions. They tend to get quite irritating after a while, as everywhere you go, they will shout at you offering services (unfortunately not always just driving). You can walk passed five or six and you will have to say no to every single one of them as they will keep asking.
Some go to lengths of personalising the TukTuks to stand out from the hundreds lined up and down the road.
The first hostel we arrived at was Urban Jungle. The owner was oblivious to the fact we had made a booking or paid online. He gave us a key, we unloaded our backpacks and went back downstairs to glance quickly at the menu. After a 12 hour bus journey we weren’t in a fussy mood and would gladly have accepted anything on offer. However, he said no food as his wife had left him. I was unsure whether he meant that his wife usually did the cooking, or just that he was too upset to bother? Even a stale bread sandwich would have sufficed at this point!
We got chatting to an Aussie guy who had been staying there that took us to Pub street, the main strip of bars and restaurants to grab some food.
The walk from the hostel had confused both myself and H, we went down several winding, mud sodden streets, a mixture of dust and (best kept) unknown liquids splashing up our bare calves. We stopped at a cheap little open restaurant with it’s seats on the pavement. Having been advised by a traveller we met in Koh Chang, having seen some of the transportation methods and also down to personal preferences – I had already decided to avoid meat in Siem Reap.
We settled for noodles and fresh spring roles. Although at times it’s hardly salivating with the backdrop of smell that comes wafting with the wrong turn of the wind.
Pub street is filled with restaurants, bars and clubs. By day there is nothing much special about it. By night, the whole street lights up and music blares loudly over the chatter of the tightly knitted crowds. People sandwiched on the club dance floors spill out onto the street to dance.
Back at the hostel, one of the guests spoke to us about how the owner’s wife had changed the login passwords before she left and he was not very computer literate so she was working on the website for him. She exclaimed how someone had made a malicious comment, falsely claiming to have been bitten by bed bugs which was apparently unfounded and cruel to write.
I woke up the next morning with my whole back and arms covered in bites, so perhaps that review was not so as unjust as she had claimed! We spent an hour or two attempting to access hostels in the area on the useless internet connection so we could move as soon as possible. All the while the owner blared out depressing power ballads while staring forlornly at the floor.
The TukTuk driver had said he would come and see us at about 11am and we had hoped he could take us to another hostel. After waiting two hours (at this point I was feeling quite rough and just wanted somewhere comfortable to lie down) we gave up hope and decided to put our backpacks on and walk down the road.
As we stepped outside we bumped into him straight away. It became apparent the poor bloke had got there early but not come in, and had been waiting 3 hours for us! We showed him the name of one of the only hostels we could find before the internet cut out and he took us there for free. He offered to come back the day after next to take us to the temples.
We went to the next guesthouse – Garden Village. It was nice enough and had a swimming pool, although there was mould in our bathroom and the food was expensive but quite unpleasant.
At Garden Village, we spent some time lazing in the sun by the pool, staring up at the blue sky through the palm leaves.
I was feeling quite drained after a few hours and took a long nap back in the room. H went for a wander, and found a hostel that she liked the look of. We had already booked 2 nights at Garden Village but agreed to go there after that.
She came back in the evening laden with street vendor noodles and spring rolls. We munched our way through those and then had an early night, ready for our 5am pickup to go to the temples.
Palm photo credit Hannah Hathaway Kells, instagram @thewildhathaway