Saturday, May 8, 2010

Temple Tour Part I

You may remember mention of our surreal trip from the bus station in Poipet to Siem Reap in a van full of tour company employees? That was Friday. One of the employees is also a tuk-tuk driver and conveniently stays just down the street from our guesthouse. He was there Saturday morning at breakfast to inquire about our plans or need for a driver or tour guide. We told him we weren't sure of our plans. Sunday morning? Once again, hanging out for breakfast asking after our plans. You have to give it to the guy; he is sure is persistent.

From the amount of tourism-dedicated infrastructure I see in this city it is obvious that during the high season (i.e. when it is not so balls hot outside) this place is just packed to the gills with tourists. However, we are here during the low season and every tuk-tuk driver and tour guide is desperate to be our friend. Right now, we are the only people staying at our guesthouse, which sits on street of guesthouses, just off another street of guesthouses. There just aren't enough tourists to go around right now.

Sunday Cale and I tried to track down the tourism office, which was also apparently the headquarters for the tour guide association and see what information we could stir up.

Let me just take a moment here to get off track.
Lonely Planet is an utter piece of crap. Before we came here I downloaded from their web site the chapters on Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam from their Southeast Asia on a Shoestring book. It is straight from the web site and supposed to be the most up-to-date. Cost me $10. Right off the bat we discovered that the guesthouse we had intended to stay at based on the info in the Lonely Planet didn't exist. We cannot locate hide nor hair of it. Internet searches don't indicate any listings for it that aren't years old.

We used to mock the
Lonely Planet: Samoa we had when we lived there. The number of inaccuracies, complete fallacies and simple fantasies in it were hilarious. In particular, the book claimed there was a hop-on, hop-off bus service that traveled continuously around the big island of Savaii. You could buy a pass and then just hop on and off the buses all day making your way from destination to destination. HA! Anyone living in Samoa knows that is a complete joke. Poor tourists who came looking for it. After two years we finally found mention of this phenomena some where else that led us to believe that it might have been existance for a very brief period of time years ago.

We always assumed it was because it wasn't the newest edition and that Samoa wasn't high up on the list of popular tourist destinations. However, I imagine that Siem Reap and Angkor Wat are pretty high up on the list of tourist destinations for
Lonely Planet readers, yet the information is generally crap. The ceramic center they say is on the road to the airport far west of town is in fact just north of town on the way to Angkor Wat. The place they refer to as the Singing Tree Cafe is in fact Peace Cafe and the woman who owns it says it has had that name for the last four years. Way to keep things up-to-date guys.

Anyway, back to our search for the tourism authority. We go to the location indicated in the Lonely Planet (and I have to admit also on all the Xeroxed maps the guesthouses hand out..speaking of that, the Lonely Planet also claims "hotels, pubs and restaurants can supply you with the free Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide" and I have yet to see one of those either). So we find this obviously abandoned building with a bunch of tuk-tuk drivers hanging out (I assume waiting for all the lost tourists who think the tourism authority is here). There is a sign on the door that says they have move to "near the Old Market and by the Royal Residence." Well, that really clears that up. Near the Old Market you say. The market only covers a city block, so near there, huh?

We biked by the Royal Residence and by luck came across a building advertising it was the tourism authority. It was still under construction. Next, we went in the direction of the Old Market. Along the way Cale happened to catch a sign out of the corner of his eye that claimed the Tour Guide Association was 60m back the way we came. We back tracked to a second sign indicating the association was down this tiny, residential-looking alley. We were game and lo and behold we discovered the Tour Guide Association tucked down a random residential alley.

Our talk with the guy there led us to believe that the tuk-tuk driver who had been visiting us every morning for breakfast was offering reasonable prices. We decided to return to our guest house and have him pick us up at 9am the next morning and bring his tour guide friend with him.

I was going to get into the entire guided-tour experience in this post, but I got sidetracked complaining about the
Lonely Planet and this post is sort of long already. So I tacked a Part I on the end of the post title and now you will have to wait to learn more about our Monday tour (that was a week ago now).

Also, I just wanted to point out that the
Lonely Planet isn't the only thing filled with lies. The Canby Publications who supposedly publish this mythical Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide have a web site. Their web site claims you can rent electric bikes in town and that there are recharging stations all around the temples and on the way to some of the further out temples. We went to the place the headquarters are supposed to be (the sign on the road seemed to agree, saying we could find electric bikes there) only to find it abandoned and a man who had no idea what we were talking about.

Several days later, as we were biking to the Bayon, Cale spied two electric bikes out of the corner of his eye next to a line of electric cars at the entrance to Angkor Thom (Cale is good at spying things out of the corners of his eyes). This company gives tours on the electric cars and they do indeed rent the bikes. However, they are only for Angkor Thom and there are no recharge stations. Maybe the Canby Publications is anticipating a time in the future when there will be an electric bike infrastructure all around Angkor?

— Sara

2 comments:

whatever said...

Yes, I was going to say that Cale has a really sharp eye for things. He can be another Rick Steve on Channel 11(the travel guy)

Luftgesheft said...

Greetings from the Singing Tree café in Siem Reap,

Hi Sarah, Cale. Pretty awesome blog…

Alas, re your comment about the Lonely Planet being utter crap: Granted that it is pretty hard to keep a tab on every room and dish in a town that serves 2Million tourists a year, and by default the way they build their gig allows for various shades of dedication on the writers’ side. But the LP guide for town here is actually updated every two years and they do seem to make a real effort.

For the record: the Singing Tree Café opened at the location you visited in Dec 2005 and is still open, though earlier this year we had to pull the name out from the current location because our business partnership with the woman you met and her partner has tragically gone awry. Maybe the fact that she blatantly chose to lie about our existence (we hear similar stories when people rediscover us almost daily…) gives you an idea of why we felt we need to disassociate ourselves from them and indeed we are relieved to have our name back where it belongs: We are alive and dancing downtown (you can see more details on our website on www.singingtreecafe.com). Oh, and the ceramic enter is still on the way to the airport (not sure what you saw on the way to the temple – maybe the exhibition center…?) – here is their site - http://www.ceramicstoday.com/articles/Khmer_pottery.htm

Anyway, peace for all.

The Tree Singers :-)