The Plan or ‘How it was meant to go’!
They say that no plan survives first contact and in this case that was entirely true!
Our first thought when planning our 3-week adventure in Thailand trip with our friends, who had never been backpacking before, was to make the experience as fun and easy as possible.
As a last-minute addition to the trip we decided to hop over to Siem Reap in Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. It was supposed to be a quick visit, fly in one evening, get some sleep and then take a tour of the temple and fly back to Thailand that evening.
Due to the fact that this trip was an after-thought we had forgotten our mantra to make travel easy and had replaced it with the “cheapest option possible”.
The reality or ‘The nightmare’!
The warning bells probably should have started ringing when we found a bed and breakfast for £5 that included WiFi, aircon, one-way airport transfer and breakfast.
Our mini adventure started well with a quick and easy flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap although one of our group hadn’t been a fan of Tuk-tuk’s in Thailand so when our hotel transfer turned out to be a home-made tuk-tuk the anxiety levels were instantly raised. Calling it a Tuk-tuk may have been generous as a more apt description would be a moped with two wooden planks welded to the rear for seats and a rickety metal frame to hold onto. The ride to the hotel wasn’t too bad despite trying to simultaneously balance your rucksack on your lap whilst gripping onto the frame for dear life.
My first impression of the hotel was that it was ‘quaint’. Nestled into a quiet side street on the outskirts of the city, the front of the guest house was nicely decorated with flowers and exotic plants and a big sign proclaimed that it had aircon which was a huge bonus as despite being late in the evening as it was still in the late 30’s. (degrees Celsius)
It turned out that the hotel did have aircon and Wi-Fi but only in the entrance room and the manager’s office/house. To his credit the manager could not have been nicer, he even provided us with remote controls. Unfortunately, we failed to find a TV anywhere in the building so we never figured out what they were for but I guess it’s the thought that counts. Perhaps they were for the aircon units in the room? Nope, you see, under closer inspection I discovered that they were just plastic shells. For what reason I couldn’t fathom; Perhaps it was a bit like displaying a fake security alarm box on the outside of your house.
Hotel or ‘Hostel’
I’m not sure my literary skills are good enough to describe our rooms. The closest pop culture reference I can think of would be the horror film ‘Hostel’. Our friends room was a lovely hue of brown and I’m pretty sure it hadn’t been decorated so who knows how it got that colour. The sticky yellow ceiling was particularly gut wrenching as were the curtains that looked to be as thin as a moth’s wings.
Our room had slightly more appealing blue walls but that was quickly ruined when we noticed a suspicious large red/brown stain that led me to believe that someone had been executed against the wall. Both rooms had sealed shut windows which were ideal to keep the hot air in and cultivate swarms of mosquitos. The pipes rattled every time the taps were turned on like a scene from the film “The Goonies” and hot water had been replaced by a luke warm brown sludge.
What’s that I hear you say; “but at least there is a power shower?” Wrong! Once again our hotel had excelled itself by installing a power shower box with all of the electric wires exposed on the side which had led to the unit burning out. There was a bath tub with a shower head but the bottom of it was so unclean I suspected it may be a portal leading to a universe of filth and grime.
Into the ‘Heart of Darkness”
There really was no choice for us. Rather than stay in our rather unsanitary room all night boiling from the inside out and swatting armies of aerial blood suckers, we decided to walk into town and have a few drinks.
This was when we realised that our guest house wasn’t in the most savoury neighbourhood. Navigating through the labyrinth of unpaved alleyways we found ourselves in what must have been the illegal gambling and pool hall district. The thought of going back to the hotel drove us on until we found ourselves in the aptly named ‘Bar Street’. We bypassed the street food stalls selling a thousand different preparations of frog from fried to stewed and ‘Crocodile’ pizza and found ourselves a cool beer and some cocktails at the ‘Heart of Darkness bar’. Just for reference the Heart of Darkness bar can be found in between the Angkor Wat bar and the Temple bar. All three claim to be owned by Angelina Jolie.
Once we had drunk our fill we ventured back to the room to sweat for a few hours. We decided to forgo the breakfast provided by the guest house for fear of that the ‘eggs dish’ would contain. The tour of Angkor Wat was incredible despite the 43-degree Celsius temperature and the masses of tourists that weren’t around when I first visited in 2001.
We had enough time for a meal, a few more drinks and a foot massage before we had to head back to the airport. Once again taxis seemed in short supply so the four of us piled onto the safest looking wood plus motorbike thingy and were treated to our final surprise of our visit to Cambodia.
A return from the ‘Heart of Darkness’.
Our driver decided to bring his 6-year-old son along for the ride which we all found very cute until he decided to let said child drive. Our driver (dad) spent more time turning around and pointing out to us that his boy was in control than he did driving or even supervising his son. To his credit, the boy was happily weaving in and out of the traffic and managed not to kill anyone and we made our flight with time to spare.
I think it’s fair to say that we gave our friends an interesting introduction to backpacking and a great story to tell their kids. Not to mention a million mosquito bites, heat stroke and zero desire to return to Cambodia.
Despite our poor choice of accomodation and the somewhat sketchy transport options we did have a great time on our day trip so I thought I’d include a few photo’s to prove it.
I have visited Cambodia on a number of occasions and I love the country. It's an incredible place and even on this occassion I loved every minute. This article is not meant to deter anyone from visiting the Country and I hope that no-one takes offence to the story.