Crammed in the Camry with 9 others breathing in stale AC air gave me the flu. So I’m sitting in Siem Riep waiting for my energy to return so that I can go to the temples and get out of town. I’m hoping with an early night tonight, I’ll be able to go to the first group of temples.
In the meantime, I’ve made the discovery that not having SG to hang out with means that I’m a lot nicer to the various touts and beggers that approach me. This is a good thing as Siem Riep is easily as bad as the nasty tourist parts of India for hassle. Last night, I was approached by beggers, sex-workers, pimps, drug-dealers and tuk-tuk/moto drivers. The drivers often functioned as pimps and drug-dealers as well.
Being all affable due to social interaction deprivation, I told the drivers who wanted to introduce me to girls that I was married. Except for one rude chap who told me I should have a little fun on the side and no one would know, all the others were greatly amused and congratulated me which in turn allowed me to ask them if they were married.
So much for interacting with the locals.
Anyway, the contrast between the abject and the tourists in the extremely trendy bars and restaurants here in Siem Riep (which would not be out of place in Australia and are in fact a whole lot nicer than the dives you find in Darwin) is shocking and somewhat disgusting. Thailand being a richer country does not have such a gulf and so I find it easier to quaff my beer with a relatively unpricked conscience. Not so easy in Siem Riep.
I never thought I’d say this but the parts of India I went to are at least spared this huge gulf between the poorest of the poor and the most affluent of Western tourists. Not that the gulf between the poor and the tourists is not huge, it’s just that on the whole, there are not so many extremely rich Western tourists around, not enough of a critical mass to see the tourist ghettoes turn into privilaged tourist gated communities. Besides, most tourists in India seem to be hippie backpackers.
In India, it did my heart good to see the sneers on the richer Indians when they see yet another pack of smelly dreadlocked western youth eating at tourist dives and emerging from flea-ridden guesthouses, shakey and pale-faced due to dysentry. All of the sneering (when it occurs) goes the other way around in Siem Riep as far as I can tell.
Oh, and the place is absolutely crawling with Aussies – but not the kind I want to associate with. Maybe it’s my proximity to home or that the Aussies in India are more my type but there you go – after eavesdropping on some Aussie conversations here in Siem Riep, I’m no longer quite as home-sick.