13 October 2013

SIEM REAP - Part 2

Yeah, I did a post on Siem Reap over a year ago, which was labeled part 1… and I never got around to posting part two.  Bad blogger!  So here’s the rest...

I certainly couldn't go to Cambodia without seeing an Apsara show so what I thought was my last night there, I went to see one along Pub Street.  And what a beautiful display of dance and storytelling!  The costumes are gorgeous and the music is all acoustic, played by five musicians.  Each hand gesture, body pose, and costumes all have their own meaning to tell a different story.  These women and men have been studying and dancing for years and the result is nothing short of a mesmerizing and graceful art form.  

Often, I get a hankering to explore a town and go find some shops/galleries/crafts that I’ve heard about, and will rent a motorcycle or bicycle to get to these destinations… sometimes though, either the map is inaccurate or I’m just lost.  One day, I decide to go to this rehabilitation art gallery at the Children’s Hospital in town, and unfortunately I didn’t know that there were two hospitals, so I missed the opportunity to go see it.  However, along the way, I wandered into a part of town where the locals live, no tourists in sight, and come upon this huge field with at least 12 volleyball courts and just as many people to fill every single one of those courts playing games.  For someone like myself where I love and miss volleyball, this was pretty AWESOME.  I had no idea that they loved volleyball so much here!  Should I ever go back there or even live there, you can find me at the courts daily!

Another great thing to do is eat at a restaurant that supports worthy causes like Les Jardins des Delices.  The menu is amazing, the setting lovely and most of all, you’re helping students train in the hospitality industry in either front or back of house.  The prices are quite reasonable and the menu is changed seasonally.  If you get a chance, please go there and support them.

One of the many great things in Siem Reap is that they really help local students, people in rehabilitation from the affects of war and landmines (that us Americans so lovingly left behind), and support local artists like the shop Rehab Craft.  Oftentimes, when you purchase an item, there is a picture of the person that made it which really does add a nice personal touch.  So many great things, so little time there. 

One place that I fell in love with is Scenteurs d’Angkor and their workshop located a couple of miles from the center of town.  They arrange free transportation and you get a nice personalized tour to see how they make all of their beautiful baskets and boxes, candles, oils, spices, packaging, coffee, and such.  Many of the people they employ there came from the background of the art they create and are further taught additional skills.  In addition to the items they don’t make, like silver boxes, and glassware, they utilize local companies and artists.   I watched two ladies doing some packaging for one of the nicest hotels in town, so you know that everything they make are top quality products.

Another wonderful thing about Siem Reap is it’s Children’s Hospital.  Free healthcare for children, it’s that simple.  It’s a large and nice hospital where even tourist’s children can get free healthcare too.  While it’s an amazing thing for people who are so poor, many of the locals are scared of the hospital as they either don’t trust them, have misconceptions about what it is, or they don’t know that it is FREE. There is a lack of communication and education within the society that they often don’t seek the care that they need.  The country has seen so much death and hospitals are rarely thought of as a good thing, so children aren’t brought there.  I hope with time that will change.

This one night I’m out wandering the streets exploring by bicycle and come upon a little school housed in what appears to be the patio of a house.  And in this school, they were teaching English to the village children for free.  A big ol’ sign saying that people could volunteer to teach there, just email them, one could even leave a donation for school supplies.  I stood there watching a Cambodian woman teaching English for about 5 minutes when one of the teachers approached me to come and help teach a class.  I had no idea what I was doing and I could barely understand what the teacher was trying to explain to me as her English had a very thick Khmer accent.  First they introduced me to the class and then the class recited some questions they learned like what is my job and do I have any brothers or sisters.  I did a few lessons, helped correct the pronunciation of words with the kids and then we played some games like “Simon Says” and sang songs that they knew.  I had a great time, the kids were enormously appreciative and the teachers asked me back again.  That felt good.  It was a great experience and gave me a nice little intro to what it would be like to teach. 

If you get a chance, go to the McDermott Gallery (two locations but I prefer the one along the road to Angkor Wat) to see some of the most stunning photos of many of the temples.  He specializes in black and white and sepia prints that make the temples seem so magical with flowing robes of novice monks, locals riding elephants along the gates, statues on temples protecting the temples and overlooking the vast views.  I highly recommend going in there for some inspiration before heading out to the temples.  

I loved Siem Reap even with it being a tourist town… so much to do, so much to see and enjoy.   Plan a few more days there to really enjoy all the city has to offer besides temple fever.

Plus, I’ve got some recommendations for ya:

- The Night Market for the usual stuff of trinkets, scarves, and such.  There are several night markets, but the one I liked the most is the big one and the best scarf place with real handmade scarves, and not just the checked scarves, but they do have those including some made in silk and raw silk, the ones I’m talking about are a lovely weave of various cotton and they’re thick like a blanket (thus why I got one for New Zealand’s winter).  They occupy a large space and have a loom there so you can’t miss it, near the corner somewhere.
- Rehab Craft
- Scenteurs d’ Angkor
- Les Chantier Ecoles

Restaurants and bars:
- Viva Mexican Food: Not bad Mexican, but not great.  It hits the spot and it’s cheap
- Noodle
- Café Central
- X Bar at the end of Pub Street has good tunes, a more mellow and older crowd than the bars on Pub Street and has pool and foosball tables.  I spent most of my drinking time here.
- The Red Piano Restaurant is a wonderful Belgian restaurant with a great selection of Belgian beers, fries, food, and good music.
- Blue Pumpkin Restaurant for delicious gelato
- Café Central
- Le Tigre de Papier for Italian food
- Cambodian BBQ in the alley where you essentially bbq your own food but it does have an interesting selection of exotic meats including snake, crocodile, kangaroo, etc. 
- And of course I always recommend trying the street food

Apsara show:
Temple Bar on Pub Street. You can get some cheaper food there and get a great show upstairs above the bar all while staying closer in town and walking to it.  The show lasts about 1-1.5 hours with some traditional music prior to showtime at 7:30pm.  Stunning show, worth going to a backpacker bar for. 

Massages:  You can get a fish massage just about anywhere.  I went where the water was clean.  I think that’s the most you can hope for.  But don’t go over the amount of time you’re allotted.  The guy was being nice and let me stay longer, but the fish ate too much skin so my feet felt tender for a few days afterwards and then I worried about having some sort of bacterial infection… though I didn’t.  I just had that much skin to remove and my feet and nerves weren’t use to it.  I had a great Cambodian massage there from a woman with great, strong hands… but I don’t remember what the name of the place is, so too bad for you.  Either way, massages are still cheap there, like $5-8/hour.

Enjoy all that Siem Reap has to offer!!

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