Talk about keeping it weird. Cambodia caught us off guard immediately. When we arrived in Siem Reap we didn’t have anything to convert to Cambodian currency. Luckily our hostel arranged a tuk tuk to pick us up for free. Incidentally this was our first tuk tuk ride even after all of our time in Thailand. It was a good christening. The tuk tuks are designed like old fashioned carriages.
When we arrived at our hostel they informed us that Cambodia runs mostly on US currency. We got price recommendations for food and promptly went to the ATM. Sure enough we got American bills without even asking for them. After filling our stomachs we got the change, like cents, in Cambodian. So basically they use both, but the Cambodian is only used as coins. We also found that once you leave the country with Cambodian currency, NO ONE will exchange it. Instead they recommend you head to a hostel and trade with someone who is heading to Cambodia.
After the money excitement wore off we set to exploring. We discovered, much to our surprise, anything not related to food or suvenir shopping was more expensive than we anticipated. The thing you do in Cambodia is walk the temples. A one day ticket (which was not enough for most of our room mates) was already more than we wanted to spend and the pricing is similar for cooking classes and bike tours. We chose the one that mattered the most and set of for an expensive day exploring temples. It didn’t dissapoint.
My favorite was Tah Prom because of the trees growing out of the temple walls and the Tomb Raider reference.
The next day we did the cheapest things we could find, which ended up being pretty interesting. We paid a tuk tuk next to nothing to drive us around the whole day. He dropped us off at different museums and history sights. We gained a lot of knowledge about the Khmer Rouge and why Cambodia is still recovering.
The evening was spent with friends at the markets and eating at Pub street which turned into a street party at night. I did not try any grasshoppers, scorpions, or other bugs. But we learned why they are such a popular snack. After the Khmer Rouge, Vientam took control of Cambodia and baisically treated the as slaves on the farms. They wer fed a handfull of rice per day. Thats it. Since they were starving they would eat anything they could find out in the fields which consisted mostly of bugs. After Cambodia found their country in their own hands again, bugs had become very popular. I guess if you eat something long enough and out of sheer need it can start to taste good.
All in all, Cambodia was great once we got over our new frugal tendencies. We had decided to go on a whim and I’m glad it happened that way. I think spending more time there would have taken the novelty away. Instead we were left with new cultural experiences and happy memories with friends and good food.