Having spent 7 years of my life living in Indonesia, and traveling extensively in my 23 years, I am quite skeptical and stand off-ish towards locals when they start chatting with you. The sad thing is that 9 times out of 10, they want something from you. Usually a donation for the ‘school they are building’ or to sell you a pair of sunglasses at 10 times the price they should be sold for, saying it is “local price”, “sunset price” or even “sexy price”. Or, as we experienced this morning, giving you incense at a temple and then demanding $10 for it, “for the monks”. I notice my lack of openness when compared with El – she replies to everyone who talks to her. I don’t because I know when they say “hi, where are you from?” it leads to “transport?” or something similar. This isn’t to say that all South East Asians try to rip you off or aren’t genuinely interested in you, but it is really hard to tell at times. Sometimes they do want to talk, like this girl at the temples today asked me what I did to my knee, and then told me she runs too, she is number 2 runner and number 1 soccer player at school. However I did end the conversation earlier than required in fear of her asking for money. El and I made a new friend in KL at our hostel, Liam, and even he agreed. When you look in need, whether you arrive in a town by bus at 5am with a heavy backpack, you are thirsty or are just interested in learning more of the local language, there are always scams and cons that you have to be on guard for. It is the sad reality of traveling through Asia.
Last time I was in Cambodia, my Dad and I spent a short 3 days in Siem Reap. I found the temples and the countryside absolutely stunning, but the attitudes of most of the locals were quite shocking. It was the worst attitude towards tourists that I’d ever faced in Asia. We got out of one taxi merely because of his attitude, rudeness and unwillingness to take us where we wanted to go. The next driver said the temple was closed, even though it wasn’t, just to save himself the hassle and petrol. Further, change was withheld when paying for small items at shops and even at our very nice hotel. Sure the change is only 50 US cents, but it is the principal of the thing – you shouldn’t have to ask for your change, and be given it begrudgingly.
I was hoping that this time things would be different. I wanted to make a conscious effort to be more open, to talk to more locals and really emerge myself a mug a possible. However day one of Siem Reap (round 2) reinforced my previously held view, which is really sad. Our tuk tuk driver and everyone at our guesthouse was lovely. However not everyone else was.
We decided to go out to Kampong Phluk, a floating village. I had been warned of the floating village scams (where they ask for donations for the school, which is not really a school), but we were recommended it by our guest house and we googled it for reviews. It seemed legitimate. But due to dry season, we were told that the boats may get stuck, so it is better to just walk. This is also cheaper as a boat is $15 each as opposed to $2 for walking. When we arrived however, we were told that you can only go in the boat, you can’t walk. After a bit of arguing, I said “fine, we will just drive in and look and if we want a boat we will come back”. He then came out and talked to our driver, along with pre-printed $2 entrance tickets, which he just said didn’t exist. It was a long 20 minute walk in 30 degree heat, blue skies not a cloud to be seen, but I refused to give in and buy a boat ticket. Like I said above – it is the principal of the thing. And then on our 20 minute walk back in the heat (the ground was cracked it was that hot) a tuk tuk drove past us, with a tourist couple inside. The woman asked whether we wanted a lift, and I desperately said yes. She asked their guide, who said no, and on they went. It is just that attitude, not wanting to go any further than they have to, or trying to rip tourists off because they can.
Further, this afternoon we talked to a guy working for a NGO in Phnom Penh who had left his wallet in his tuk tuk the night before, was taken to the driver’s house to retrieve it, only to have his money stolen out of it and more demanded from him. Somehow (god knows how) he talked his was out of the situation. He made it back to his hostel, with his wallet and his cards, but minus cash. “Worst day ever.”
Going back to our village outing, the village itself was very lovely, lots of children saying “hello” and “bye bye” or just “bye bye” without the “hello”! I also had a little naked boy (around 4 years old) run at me and slap my leg before running away giggling. Odd. The people were legitimately friendly and we weren’t approached by a single person asking for money or wanting to sell us something. The houses were all built on stilts for the wet season, and they had hammocks made up underneath their houses to hide from the heat. School children rode on bikes, and there was a little local restaurant selling food and drink. Really charming. Just somewhat tainted by the ticket seller and monopoly they have going on the boat rides.
We then visited the silk farm, which was incredibly interesting, learning about silk worms, how they are processed and how the end product is made. And best of all, it was free! We got to touch the cocoons, feel the silk, and El even ate half a dead boiled worm. Tastes like potato apparently! The process is so intricate, it makes you understand the price of silk and how much care is put into the production of it. Afterwards, we visited Angkor Wat for sunset, to buy our ticket for sunrise the following morning, and for some pretty photos. And one again, children trying to sell 10 postcards for a dollar, asking you where you are from to strike up conversation. When dad and I were here, he made the mistake of saying “maybe later” to a girl selling drinks. When we didn’t buy a drink, she hit him and told him he was a bad man and she wished him very bad luck – taught me to never say maybe!!
I will upload some photos of Angkor Wat and the other temples soon in a gallery – I think they deserve their own blog post. Further, I will update this post and my Yogya post with some photos when I get time – I was going to do it tonight, however our hotel/hostel (it is a ‘hostel’ but it is so much like a hotel, it is really nice, and only like US$12 a night!) doesn’t have any USB ports in the computer here, so can’t plug my SD card in to put photos on. So they will come soon. Until then, I am trying to survive the intense heat here. It was 35 degrees here today, despite a thunderstorm. I have a tan line on my leg from where my knee brace is, from just two days here. The warmth is fantastic, but gets tiring and exhausting. Sihanoukville will be nice – get some relaxing beach time, rather than temple climbing in the heat!!