Why Siem Reap is better than Phnom Penh

Siem Reap is a relatively small town. It’s walkable, and a bicycle can get you pretty far. It costs $1/day to rent a bicycle here, though the bikes aren’t nearly as good as the ones typically used in the US. There’s a lot to do and see in Siem Reap, including Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. The people are friendly and helpful, and almost everyone I’ve met so far can speak English quite well.

Phnom Penh is a sprawling urban city, crowded and noisy. It feels difficult to find my way around, and there’s a lot of traffic. The weather is hot. Since Siem Reap is a bit further north, the weather seems a little more pleasant, though still warm during the middle of the day.

These observations are just my first impressions. I was only in Phnom Penh for 2 days, and Siem Reap for 1 day so far. We’ll see if my opinion changes in the coming days.

Last night, we took a bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, a 6-hour ride. At night, it takes a little less time, maybe close to 5.5 hours. We left PP at 12:30am, and arrived in SR at around 6am. We intended to get a sleeper bus, but it wasn’t. It was the first bus I’d been on that had fairly large “La-Z-Boy” chairs, though.

When A visited Siem Reap a couple years ago, she went to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, so she didn’t want to go again. I went on my own, with my tuk tuk driver M. We went to Angkor Thom first.

I was exhausted in the morning, so I scouted for a spot on the temple grounds to take a nap. The whole place was swarming with tourists, and I didn’t want someone to spot me sleeping, so I kept trudging on, constantly searching for a spot to catch a few winks. I considered some huge stones out beside the road, but they were too visible from the tourist path. I also wanted to sleep on a ledge, but there were bugs crawling there, and some spiderwebs nearby. I ended up sleeping on the floor of a nearby wooden structure, where there were no insects, and the area was well shaded.

Many kids and adults are peddling various trinkets, like magnets and postcards. No matter how low the price gets, they can always go lower. At first, I was asked $2 for a pack of 10 postcards. At my request for a lower price, they lowered this to $1. They also asked $1 for a magnet. Ultimately, I paid $1 for a pack of 10 postcards and 2 magnets; a bundle that would have cost 300% as much if I’d paid asking price.

At the top of a steep climb up one of the temples, there was a young girl selling postcards for $1. She was really cute, but that’s not a good reason for me to pay extra. I didn’t buy.

There’s an Ankor Wat photo book that many kids in the area are selling. It’s quite a nice book, actually. But I learned: no matter how low the price gets, they can always go lower. The book says $27 on the back, but they quickly go down to $20 or so. From there we bargained down to $10, $8, $6, $5… and, finally, $4. Not all sellers are willing to go that low. I talked with many different sellers to get that price. Fortunately, there are many people selling the exact same products, so pitting them against each other in a price war can be quite effective.

If I remember, I’ll edit this post later to add photos.

4 Responses to “Why Siem Reap is better than Phnom Penh”

  1. Aaron Lin says:

    I’ve had an insane blast with economic arbitrage in Taiwan. I’m not earning a lot of money online, but it’s American money, and it stretches really far in the rest of the world.

    I have no problem with bargaining in America. We earn so much money that nobody seriously starves to death because of circumstances outside of his control. You can live like a king on minimum wage. But I’ve hesitated to bargain with people in Taiwan. And I would definitely hesitate to bargain with kids in Cambodia.

    In a rich country, the free market doesn’t hurt anyone. But letting the free market take reign in a country like Cambodia could starve people to death. I heard the minimum wage there is $45/month. I don’t know how anybody can survive on a $1 a day. I’ll bet there are tons of businesses breaking the law and paying less than that.

    Here are my thoughts on [biblical social responsibility](link was greenimalist.com/2010/12/biblical-social-responsibility/ but as of 8/21/2016, it’s now broken).

    • Elliot Lee says:

      In a rich country, the free market not only doesn’t hurt anyone, but it actually helps everyone.

      In many cases, giving people money does the opposite of its intended effect. It actually harms them instead of helping them.

      And it’s not just money. Donating mosquito nets to be given out for free, for example, destroys the local businesses that are selling the same nets. Similar economic disasters occur when developed nations give food aid to, for example, poor countries in Africa.

  2. riris says:

    hi. i’m going to phnom penh-siem reap next week. can u give me information about the night bus? like where can i buy the ticket and the price. and in ur experience, is it safe? thank you so much.

  3. Kass says:

    Wow you managed to pay as less as possible to these poor children that just try to get by? What a hero!

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