We're finishing up our first day in Siem Reap in Cambodia. To say it has been different than my expectations is an understatement. (Slow internet at hotel will mean pictures to follow)
Our flight from Manila last night was filled with the usual discount airline problems that seem to plague us regardless of the continent. They gave us all kinds of hassle about the size of our carry on bags which was kind of crazy because the plane was half empty with tons of overhead baggage space.
2A and #2 arranged to have hired a driver and guide for our full trip. So there was someone there to pick us up at the airport. We add some adventure with getting funds. All the ATM machines were giving out cash in US dollars. That seemed strange to us. I did manage to get a the money from the ATM changed to Cambodian rials. There are 4000 rials to the dollar. Get enough money for four days of holiday and you find you are a millionaire! We also found out that all over Siem Reap they use dollars as a currency of exchange. Prices all over are quoted in dollars. When you pay - whether in dollars or rials - you often get a mixture of dollars and rials back in change. Very strange.
Some background information on tourism here in Siem Reap. Around 10 years ago (according to what I've read) Siem Reap (the gateway to Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and the other splendors of the medieval Khmer kingdom) was just a backwater on the tourist circuit. The Cambodian government in order to make a bounce back from the disasters of the Khmer Rouge days and subsequent long political insecurity decided to make tourism in this area a cornerstone for economic development. They invested into infrastructure and most importantly significant language training. Today if you want to work in a hotel or as a guide or as a driver in Siem Reap, you have to have passed extensive training and tests in English. Hence it is pretty easy to get around here especially if you have a car and driver.
On Monday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel (pretty good American
style breakfast included in the price) before our driver and guide were
there to get us a 9 AM. We are starting off by getting a tour of the city. This means a visit to one of the major markets. We did some heavy duty shopping as the prices for some things like silk scarves ($8 compared to hundreds in Europe) were very enticing. Then we went to a artisans cooperative. This was very cool because it started out as a group that was supported by outside funding but now is self-sufficient training people who are disadvantaged or would have no opportunities in a wide range of traditional crafts. It now employs over 1300 people and includes all kinds of first world benefits including healthcare, child care, etc. We finished our day at the Angkor History Museum which gives a complete background to the ruins we'll be visiting the next couple of days.