travel

Places Not To Go: Siem Reap/Angkor Wat

After a splendid couple of weeks spent in the beautiful Thai island Koh Mak, my friend Ale and I decided to go to Cambodia for a visa run. Instead of illegally crossing and recrossing the border in a day with a small bribe, we planned to stay in Siem Reap a couple nights to see Angkor Wat and visit Cambodia properly. We had only briefly been to one dingy border town previously and so desired to give the country another chance.

To get from Koh Mak to the border, we had to take a taxi to the Koh Mak pier, a speedboat to Trat pier on the mainland, a taxi to the Trat bus station–where I had to hold the bus to wait for my friend to get her money transfer–a bus from Trat to Sra Kaeo, another bus from Sra Kaeo to the bus station at the border, and a tuk tuk to the border. The closer and closer we got to the border, the lower the vibration. It was palpable in the dreary gray sky that seemed to map upon the landscape and people that we crossed.

When we arrived at the border, a light rain fell. A man ran alongside our tuk tuk and would not leave us alone. Persistent manipulation. He promised to take us in a taxi from the border to Siem Reap. I had done some research in the bus as to how to safely conduct this whole process. What I had read had frankly scared me, so I did not know whom to trust.

We crossed through border patrol, and resisted the Cambodian bribe. The proper mounted sign says $30 for a visa, but the paper sign adds a 300 baht alleged processing fee, which if you don’t pay, means you must wait longer to get out of the hellhole. While waiting, a Korean man approached us and asked if we would like to share the taxi with him to Siem Reap. I got a totally harmless vibe from him, and we decided why not.

The taxi was a very old Toyota Corrolla. We couldn’t even see outside the windows. The fare was fair thankfully. Two and a half long hours later, we made it to Siem Reap at nightfall.

Another tuk tuk took us to the Airbnb apartment we rented. Our accommodation was definitely a high point of our trip. I highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in Siem Reap.

The tuk tuk driver urged us to book him the next day for Angkor Wat. More manipulation. We both had major decision fatigue and low blood sugar after our twelve hours of travel. After listening to his argument for ten minutes, we agreed to meet him outside the gate to our place at 10:00am. We checked in and immediately went out to find vegetables and fruit at the markets. We found what we needed and made an epic dinner, delighted to score some fresh avocados!

The next morning I woke early to run and practice yoga. At about nine, we decided to check out a local restaurant with raw food choices. Unbeknownst to us, the tuk tuk driver from the previous night had sent his brother to pick us up. He was early and agreed to take us to the restaurant.

Right away, he began to convince us not to go to Angkor Wat that day, because it was too late and ticket prices are expensive. More manipulation. He offered alternative tours and proposed Angkor Wat for the following day, thus extending our time as his customers. I told him to hold up, and that we would talk to him about our plans after we had eaten. Boundaries!

The ARTillery Cafe was another godsend of the trip. The restaurant is neither raw nor vegan, but has some great raw vegan options and super fresh ingredients. We dined there three times over the course of our stay, and enjoyed everything we ordered.

We decided to postpone Angkor Wat to the following day when we would get an earlier start. Our driver offered alternative plans including buying bus tickets back to Bangkok, a $30 tour of a floating village, walking around the old market, and driving around the city a bit.

It was all laughs and smiles initially. Ale and I were in awe of how much we were liking Cambodia. We rode happily along in our tuk tuk past colorful people and buildings. We drove past lotus farms with small girls selling the edible parts of the flowers.

Gradually, the scenery changed to less and less exciting. We were headed to the middle of nowhere apparently. Finally, we arrived at a run down building where tour groups congregated before taking one of thirty or forty long tour boats.

Our driver handed us off to our tour guide, a Cambodian man in his late thirties who looked like he’d had a stroke that had resulted in a droopy¬†mouth and completely out of commission leg and foot that he dragged along. He was quite nice at first, excited that we were American as opposed to the majority of unfriendly Chinese tourists he usually interacted with. We loaded up one of the ghetto skinny boats, and the driver began to take us down the river, stalling out a number of times on the tour.

The tour had sounded cool, like a Cambodian Venice or something. In reality, we had signed up for a floating slum. I cannot describe how sad and low vibe the place was.

From the second we boarded the boat, the guide’s affect changed from amicable to pitiful. He told us of the horrors and dangers of living in the floating village. He told us of the poor people who had no money and food to eat. He told us how the river and lake had been over fished so there was no fish to eat or to sell at the market. He told us of the sick people who died because there was no hospital nearby. He told us of the tsunami in Thailand that had caused flooding in the village and killed many people, including his brother. He told us of the 600 orphaned children who lived in the floating school where five volunteer teachers taught them in Cambodian and Vietnamese.

He begged us to buy them bags of rice from the floating store that were at least twice as expensive as bags bought from other places. He said if we had good hearts we would buy them rice, yet neither of us had the cash on hand to do so! We saw a couple in another boat buy the rice and deliver it to the floating school. A little kid had joined them for the end of their tour and was massaging the woman’s back. It all seemed like a show.

The guide begged us for money for himself and the driver, as he claimed they were volunteers and were not paid for their work despite the $60 we had paid for the tour.

By the end of the tour, Ale and I were sad and confused. We would have rather used the $60 we had spent on the tour to buy the kids some rice. We did not enjoy our experience.

It was all a victim narrative of learned helplessness. I’m not saying they don’t have a hard time there; our tour guide clearly does! We spoke with him about the political situation, and he said everyone lives in the village for free, but that the government is corrupt and doesn’t take care of the poor.

Sad, sad, sad! We reunited with our driver and told him of our experience and further discussed the political situation there. Apparently, 80% of the population wants the whole government to change. In the last election, the power was turned off to prevent voting. Everyone was furious! He said when people speak out and ask for change, they are killed.

Ale and I walked around the market, defeated and irritated. Everyone was hustling. The vampiric energy was inescapable! On the streets, drivers were harassing us for rides, and in the market, vendors were harassing us for sales. We just wanted to look and be unbothered. Impossible!

Ultimately, we got massages at a “professional” massage place, had dinner at ARTillery, and bought some more produce. Our driver helped us negotiate prices at the massage place, but got pissy after we ate dinner and rushed us home. He convinced us to pay for the whole rest of the trip upfront, and set his asking price very high. We negotiated him down a little bit, and were ok with the agreement that the price included the full day he had driven us, one full day for Angkor Wat, and a morning ride to the bus.

The following day we met our driver at 7am for the Angkor Wat tour. It was our original driver who was less creepy and flirtatious. Did I mention how creepy his brother was? Yep.

Angkor Wat offered more of the same. We began the day with high hopes and open minds. Very early on, I noticed an abundance of dark energy. The temples were very dark, especially the first large one. It is surrounded by a huge square moat to keep people out and keep people in. I had the very distinct feeling that the temple housed slavery, specifically alien races enslaving humans for their energy. I meditated into the vibration and tapped into a fair amount of discomfort and darkness. My favorite part of the grounds were the green spaces and the monkey families in the trees.

We saw four other similarly dark temples. We got temple fatigue really quickly. Inside, monks were hustling for donations. Outside, drivers were hustling for passengers, vendors were hustling for sales, and restaurant workers were hustling for diners. Even little girls were hustling to sell useless shit to tourists. The conduct code dissuades tourists from giving them money, as it reinforces their absence from school.

Ale and I both had the distinct feeling of energy being siphoned off of us. After five hours or so, it was lunch time, and our driver urged us to stay and eat at a temple restaurant. We were not about to do that. We wanted to retreat back to the safety of the ARTillery Cafe, have a good meal, and decide if we wanted to visit additional temples after lunch or just skip it. Of course, our driver did not want to drive us back to town. He did, and refused to talk to us the rest of the day even though he got to go home early with a full day’s pay.

The rest of the day Ale and I stayed in. We dared not leave and get harassed. We were sick of feeling drained dry. We made dinner in and were excited to return to Thailand the following day.

I had a niggling feeling that neither driver would show up to take us to our bus in the morning.

Unfortunately, I was right. They no showed. We rushed to get another tuk tuk and tried to figure out where our bus was departing from. It wasn’t the bus station. Thankfully, the driver pieced together where to go, and we made it on time. I was momentarily panicked until we got there, thinking we would be stuck in this godforsaken country another day!

Upon crossing the border, our hearts filled with joy, and the lightness returned to our being. We finally arrived in Bangkok in the evening and went straight to an amazing raw vegan restaurant for dinner, determined to lift our spirits out of the darkness for good.

Much rest and recovery has been required since our trip to Cambodia, and neither of us has recovered fully yet. We’ve experience GI disturbances, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, mental fog, and all manner of symptoms associated with psychic attack and loads of travel.

I know I will not be returning to Cambodia for a long time, if ever. I will not be doing any future border runs that way, as I do not wish to channel any further energy in that direction. There are more interesting and hospitable neighboring countries to visit when in Thailand.

I am grateful I went and learned what I did. I pray that Cambodia and all who dwell within its borders are blessed with happiness, health, safety, freedom from suffering, and peace.

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