Getting Settled – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Getting Settled – Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat combines aspects of a history museum, a shopping mall and a food court. Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of it:

What to Bring: Wear sturdy hiking shoes and take anything heavy out of your backpack; it’s a guarantee that whatever you take to the ruins will accompany you up and down scores of temple steps all day long. Definitely bring sunscreen (and bug repellent) to keep comfy in the hot, sweaty atmosphere. Merchants sell traditional scarves that keep out the bright rays (and make nice gifts for friends back home). Don’t forget your camera and film; it will cost you dearly to buy extra from the merchants. (We took more pictures of Angkor Wat than the rest of the vacation combined.) As far as money goes, the Cambodian riel, Thai baht and U.S. dollar are accepted at all nearby vendors. Many merchants list prices in dollars and riel on their menus.

What to Eat: There are lots of tents set up near the base of major temples. Even when on top of a five-story monument, you can still hear the vendors calling from down below, “You want cold drink?!” If you choose to eat at one of these temple-side eateries, stick with rice dishes that do NOT come with a broth (no matter what you think, the local water WILL NOT agree with you). Chicken and pork are generally safe to eat because they’re staples to Cambodians; just make sure it comes to you piping hot. Food at these establishments are cheap, but you might have more peace of mind if you go back to your guesthouse for lunch. We made it a habit of driving home at noon when it got hot, eating at Jasmine Guest House before taking a nap and then returning to the temples at 3:30 p.m.

What to Buy: Get used to having the pristine temple-discovering atmosphere disturbed by unsolicited (and distressing) shouts of “You want buy scarf?? You want buy bracelet?!” and our favorite: “Where you from? I guess the capital of your country, you buy postcard from me.” Many children sell trinkets – hand-woven wooden bracelets, toy flutes, scarves – to make money for school, where I assume they study geography so they can win more sales. In an effort to ward off one girl, I told her I was from Canada. “Oh, I from Ottawa,” she quickly replied, “You buy postcard from me when you come back.” She won that round, but the boy after her wasn’t so lucky. When I told him I was from Iceland, he let out a quick guffaw of disbelief before walking away.

How to use a Western toilet
How to use a Western toilet
Where to ‘Go’: You can use the public bathrooms for no charge if you show your Angkor Wat pass. The facilities are modern (flush toilets, nice stalls, double sinks) and clean. However, they are few and far between. Look for one across from the Terrace of the Leper King if you’re touring Angkor Thom; the other we visited was near Bantey Srei. Check your map or guidebook for more hints. And watch out for hilarious signs, like the one we saw teaching squat potty users how to work a Western toilet.

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