I've spent the last few days in Siem Reap which is the town that is the leaping off point for visiting the Angkor Wat temples. It was a joy to leave Phenom Phen to bus through the lovely and mellow Cambodian countryside. Passed by lots of corn fields, coconut trees, emaciated cows, happy Cambodian children, etc. Siem Reap is about 6 hours away on the bus, and somehow I ended up on a bus for locals instead tourists and got to chat with my seatmate who is a native Cambodian who works at a 5-star hotel in Siem Reap. He definitely shared some fascinating insights in the Cambodian culture, way of life etc. So far the people here seem to be incredibly friendly and upbeat in spite of their often difficult situations. Life is certainly tough here for residents. It took me virtually the full 6 hours on the bus to read and understand the political history section of my Lonely Planet book. The politics of this country are crazy, with some leaders who claim they favor democracy when they really have commuist ideologies and are insanely corrupt. I can't even begin to summarize what I read, but all I can say is that this country has been through a lot and I hope that democracy can truly come to this country for good.
Anyway, Siem Reap still has the Cambodian flavor of motorcycles and tuk-tuks aplenty, street vendors, etc., but the city really caters to tourism. You have no trouble finding a cappuccino or french fries here (though I haven't seen a McDonalds which makes me happy!). Since it's so hot here, I decided to suck it up and pay $25 / night for an awesome guesthouse with a pool. The place is called the Golden Banana and the hotel is a little slice of paradise in my opinion. Super nice staff, lovely bungalows, foliage, etc. I visited the Angkor Wat ruins by bicycle yesterday, which was awesome and definitely an adventure! It takes a lot of guts to brave the roads here (even just to cross the street on foot)! Today I hired a tour guide and did the "big circuit" of temples via tuk-tuk. The history is fascinating and the temples are all so intricately carved that it's mind-blowing. I opted to go for sunrise this morning and was at the site from about 5:30 am-noon, which was a nice way to sort-of avoid the hordes of tourists.
Anyway, I'm off to see some local dance shortly and to check one more local cuisine off my list (I've tried a little bit of everything food wise so far and it's really similar to Thai / Chinese food). I fly to Vientienne in Laos tomorrow!